Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Oct 26 2015

New developments

Things have been busy since I got back from my trip to the states; the main thing has been preparing for and teaching my photography course at the Zhongzheng Community College. I’ve never really taught before, so it has taken some getting used to. Over the past couple of months, however, I’ve gotten into the swing of it, and of course Chenbl has been a tremendous help in organizing things. I’ve been purposely avoiding telling students how and what to shoot, preferring instead to give them the confidence and tools to find what they’re looking for, photographically speaking. Having been wrung through the Taiwanese educational system, however, most students feel the need to be told every little thing and what it means, whereas I’ve mostly been emphasizing the importance of intent, of communicating one’s personal truths by telling them what others have done and how, showing them quality work and analyzing it together. And I’ve been incorporating photo walks along the way, which have been pretty successful. Most of them have responded positively to this kind of instruction. But it’s a little difficult to overcome the feeling that being a teacher means that one must know everything and be right all the time, which of course is BS. Teacher Xu warned me about this when we were talking about teaching Tai-chi. Now I can see what he was talking about.

Speaking of Teacher Xu: He’s back, back in the park and teaching again. Everyone is happy about this, and a lot of old faces have been showing up in the park, as well as some new students.  Practicing tuishou is different with everyone, and it’s always refreshing to switch styles. I’ve stopped updating the tuishou blog, by the way; I’m planning to incorporate all of my various blogs (although I’m not entirely sure how to do this in WP…importing? Exporting? I have no idea) once I can get my website updated, somehow. Finding someone to do this has been a challenge, so for now I’m continuing with my antediluvian design. It’s not as if people still read blogs anyway.

I noticed that a large temple procession was taking place in front of the Presidential Office by the park as I practiced on Sunday, so afterwards I went over to take a look. It was for the Chenghuang Temple, and involved seemingly hundreds of palanquins, costumed dancers, flags, trucks, fireworks, etc. After that I decided to walk over to the CKS Hall MRT station, but on the way I found myself in the midst of a large Retrocession Day activity in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where I used to work. Well, when I say “large” I mean the preparations were large-scale, but there weren’t many people there, and the ones who were were rather old. The only young people there were police and completely obvious plainclothes officers, as well as brigades of black-shirted young men who wouldn’t have seemed out of place standing in the background while jets and sharks danced with each other. New Party banners waved over the small crowd, and the “military” brigade posed for photos by the East Gate. I’d actually forgotten that Sunday was Retrocession Day, and I imagine that most of the country had as well. A for-hire military band stood in front of the stage, and policemen ringed the barriers, standing outside the yellow police tape and checking the bags of people who wanted in. They weren’t very busy. 

Curious, I went in just as President Ma took the stage to give a speech on the Potsdam and Cairo declarations. After a few minutes I felt a prod on my shoulder. It was my old college roomie, Yao Fu-wen, who has worked for the Kuomintang for many years. We chatted for a bit; he seemed a bit discouraged; the whole thing was really kind of sad. The production felt cheap, and the regurgitation of references to ancient Japanese aggression felt as old and tired as the audience. It’s hard to believe that the KMT doesn’t know how out-of-touch they seem these days. Chu’s initial refusal to run for president, followed by Hung Hsiu-chu’s bizarre nomination and subsequent hard-core unificationist rants, resulting in the party’s realization that they’d not only lose the presidency but also the Legislature if this shit continued, and their dumping of Hung in favor of a still-reluctant Chu, all point to a party that has lost its way. It’s almost a certainty that Tsai Ying-wen will win the presidency; the KMT must know this; the only thing they can hope for is to maintain a majority in the Legislature, otherwise they wouldn’t have even bothered to replace Hung as their candidate, but it seems that internal bickering has taken priority over the actual reform they so desperately need. I guess we’ll see what happens, but it seems to me that if the KMT were willing to focus on the future of Taiwan rather than the past of other countries, it might stand a better chance.

Leaving the Retrocession event, I walked over to CKS Hall, where huge crowds of people were watching military-themed demonstrations, including hand-to-hand combat, paratrooper “training” rides, tanks and other equipment, all under a Discovery Channel banner. It seems that the uniforms have changed again, to a grayer, more “digital” design from the camos that we wore in our time. Hopefully this will result in higher recruitment rates for the volunteer military, because the numbers have been disappointing so far.

Behind all this, right in front of the CKS Memorial, was a “Chinese Culture” exhibition, including wood carvings and people in ancient costumes, and a female choir singing on the stage. Only a handful of people sat in the hundreds of chairs set out for an audience. I could only hope that this was a rehearsal and not the actual performance, because, well, damn that would have been embarrassing.

The weather’s been strange lately, quick successions of wet and dry that we’d expect in Spring rather than Fall, and the water in Bitan is still a murky yellow from the typhoons. It might be a while before we once again see that beautiful jade-colored expanse again. In any case, it seems that change is on the way.

 

posted by Poagao at 11:04 am  
Oct 22 2010

It’s that time again

It’s that time again…the five city mayor elections are scheduled for November 27th, and things have already gotten fairly interesting. The cities and counties of Taichung, Kaohsiung and Tainan are consolidating into greater municipalities, while Taipei County is being elevated to municipality status under the new name of Xinbei City, one of the few cities that surround another city, in this case Taipei.

The biggest upset so far happened a while back when two-term Kaohsiung County Magistrate Yang Qiu-xing took umbrage at the DPP’s primary methods and decided to run for the mayor of Greater Kaohsiung as in independent against DPP elder Chen Chu. Yang is a local boy, born and bred in Kaohsiung County, while Chen is from Yilan. Yang has always won handily, while Chen squeaked by after accusing her opponent of vote-buying in the media on election day. But Chen is big in the DPP, so that was the party’s decision, and she’s been leading in the polls so far. The KMT’s candidate is so far behind in the polls that it’s not even worth mentioning her.

Now, however, James Soong has come out of the woodwork in support of Yang, just to shake things up a bit. Whether this will give Yang a fighting chance or not is difficult to say, but Soong’s broadside isn’t hard to understand; the KMT has come out against candidates formerly of Soong’s People First Party, an offshoot of the KMT, campaigning for other PFP candidates. Soong also has little love for the Taipei mayoral candidate, Hau Lung-bin, whom he ran against and lost last time around. Hau’s status as a former New Party chairman doesn’t exactly endear him to Soong either.

The DPP candidate for Taipei City, Su Zhen-chang, took advantage of Soong’s anmity for Hau by announcing recently that “James Soong agrees with me” in his criticism of Hau’s administration. Although this is most likely just part of Su’s strategy, I wouldn’t rule out Soong openly endorsing Su if the KMT continues to piss him off. Between allegations of corruption on an overpass project and being on Soong’s bad side, I’d say Hau’s chances of winning are looking pretty slim.

The Xinbei candidate, Eric Chu, doesn’t have any problem with Soong, but his victory over DPP chairwoman and former vice-premier Tsai Ying-wen is less than certain. She is seen as a moderate and is lagging only slightly behind Chu in the polls. In Taichung, sadly, Jason Hu’s doddering figure still leads, as the DPP didn’t bother to put up a strong candidate there. Either Su or even Frank Hsieh could have handily beaten him, but Su is after bigger fish, and Hsieh’s been busy with his own political troubles lately. Tainan will almost certainly go to the DPP, as always, though for a while there was speculation that mayor Hsu Tian-cai would follow Yang’s lead and run as an independent.

If the KMT loses two of the five contested positions and Yang creates an effective tie by winning Kaohsiung, the KMT will call it a tie and move on. However, if they lose three, President Ma will be in a bad position, probably forced to step down as KMT chairman, and if they lose four of the elections, there is the possibility that Ma will be forced to decline to run in the 2012 presidential election. Of course, in this case, the KMT will be in a bad way, and whomever steps up will have to be ready for an election gift-wrapped for the DPP (if the DPP plays its cards right…Tsai has hinted that she plans to run, and Su Zhen-chang, though he has promised to serve out his term if elected Taipei mayor, is another possibility). Who in the KMT could possibly be up to the task? Premier Wu Den-yi would almost certainly have to shoulder part of the burden of the election losses, and is an enemy of Soong. Eric Chu, while friendly to Soong and half Taiwanese and half mainlander, is not yet 50 years old and doesn’t have enough leadership experience. Vice president Vincent Siew is probably not even well enough to accompany Ma on another election campaign, much less run himself.

My suggestion would be Wang Jin-pyng, the current legislative speaker. He’s got plenty of experience, has kept a careful distance from Ma, is Taiwanese, and knows how to delegate and share power better than Ma has done. Once in office, Ma appointed deep blue New Party people, all mainlanders and his people, to head most of the major government departments, stirring up not a little antagonism throughout both sides of the political fence, and taking the party in a direction with which not all the members are happy, particularly Wu Po-hsiung, whom he replaced as party chairman. Ma trusts only a small group of close associates, and decisions are far from transparent. Wang obviously anticipated this when he turned down Ma’s offer of the VP post in 2008; he didn’t want to go down with the ship.

If Wang, with the support of once-again-best-friends-forever Lee Teng-hui and James Soong, chooses Eric Chu as his VP candidate, the KMT might just have a shot at making a reality of at least some of the reforms it talks about making. It won’t be easy, though. And in politics, anything can happen at any moment. Something could happen tomorrow that turns this whole analysis on its head. But that’s all part of the game, I guess.

posted by Poagao at 10:14 pm  
Mar 23 2008

A historic day

Prince Roy wanted to watch me vote, for some reason. He was touring polling stations around town with his AIT pass, so he came down to Bitan and came to the station down here to talk with some of the officials while I cast my ballot in the presidential elections. As usual, nobody stared, pointed, commented or indicated in any way that they thought my participation was anything but completely normal.

Afterwards we had a nice lunch at Rosemary’s Kitchen, overlooking the construction chaos, and then retired to the Water Curtain Cave to watch TV news reporters give their Oscar-night commentary about various celebrities at the poll stations for a while before PR had to leave to catch some more hot vote-on-vote action. I, on the other hand, went downtown to while away the hours before the election results were announced at a badminton competition with my friend Xian-rui, who is also into badminton and quite a good player. The finals weren’t until the next day, but I’d never been to a badminton competition so it was interesting to see. Kind of made me wish I’d taken up the sport at an earlier age, though.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the election, however, and kept checking the Central Election Commission’s website for the latest count after the polls closed at 4pm. Ma Ying-jeou got an early lead, but I recalled that that didn’t necessarily mean anything (Lien Chan also had an early lead in 2004), so I decided to log off and wait instead of torturing myself by checking every few minutes.

Xian-rui had to go to the gym to work off some election-day jitters, so I sat outside the Starbucks amid the mosquitoes, looking at the huge screen on the new stadium. On the second floor, a crowd of people surrounded the TV set, watching the latest poll counts. The only last-minute tactic the DPP had left, it seemed, was to drape as many surfaces of the city as possible with banners claiming that Chinese workers bearing AK-47s would be flooding the island and putting everyone out of a job tomorrow morning, and Ma, who is actually an American, would then fly off to his Haight-Ashbury mansion, where he would sip tea with his pinkie in the air just so.

I hoped that such tactics wouldn’t work, as the negative campaign focusing entirely on niggling doubts and minor transgressions allegedly committed by the other candidates’ wife and family members 30 years ago just made Hsieh seem like a petty little man who had nothing to say about what kind of president he would be. I have to admit I was expecting a much better campaign from the DPP.

Apparently so were most other people. I checked the numbers again, and Ma was still ahead. Way ahead. A call to Prince Roy confirmed that it was indeed a landslide, and he was headed over to the Ma-Siew headquarters to case the scene there. I decided to join him. On the way, every TV screen facing the street was surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. When I saw fireworks being set off around the city, I knew that Ma had attained an unassailable lead.

Xiaonanmen Station, I believe, had never seen the amount of traffic it saw last night, as it was the nearest MRT station. I followed the crowds and the noise to the intersection of Zhonghua and Aiguo roads (note the symbolism of the names), where a huge throng surrounded the stage and spilled out across both roads. Fireworks were being set off, and it seemed that every person there had purchased at least one of those irritating air horns you see at baseball games here. I bought three ROC flags for NT$100 and stuck them in my backpack, and then, fingers in my ears to block the noise, accompanied PR into the fray.

Ma winsIt was madness. I half expected to see a huge statue of Chen Shui-bian, dressed in an Emporer Palpatine-like robe, being toppled. People were waving flags, setting off fireworks, shouting and even dancing. KMT officials were making speeches on stage, punctuated by huge applause and more air horns. I looked at the CEC site to find that Ma had officially won by a whopping 2.2 millon votes, or 17%. The crowd went nuts. Everyone was very friendly, even apologizing to each other when pushing through the dense crowd. “That’s a great flag!” a man called out to me, pointing to the flags sticking out of my backpack and giving me a thumbs-up sign.

“It’s my flag!” I called back at him.

After listening to some of the speeches, PR and I retreated, ears aching, back to the little South Gate. As it happened, this was apparently the pick-up/drop-off area for high-ranking officials. We saw chairman Wu Poh-hsiung, legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng and PFP chairman James Soong getting into their cars. I managed to shake hands with Wang and Soong, while PR snapped some nice shots. It was amazing how accessible these guys are, actually. I refrained from asking Wang if he regretted turning down the vice-presidential spot or inquiring whether Soong was feeling at all jealous. Didn’t seem quite appropriate.

Later, Wayne and Grace appeared, followed by Maoman and Vanessa, and eventually Mark and David. We chatted by the gate while policemen milled around us, unconcerned about the big bag o’ beer Maoman had brought along. At one point a woman who apparently didn’t have any teeth tapped on Vanessa’s shoulder, wanting to express her joy at Ma’s victory to a complete stranger. “Oh, it’s been such a hard eight years!” I’m pretty sure she said. The lack of teeth made it kind of hard to tell. Maoman and Vanessa both turned away from the woman and looked at me, and I wondered if I was expected to come up with some kind of way to get rid of the unwelcome guest. Fortunately, however, she took the hint and continued her search for another stranger to talk to.

We all realized, seemingly simultaneously, that we hadn’t eaten since lunch, so we took the subway to the Shi-da area, where we had some middle eastern food at a place called Baba Kababa. I had two pitas, which were good, but the pitas weren’t on the same level as Sababa. It was sort of like the Wonder Bread version of a pita. But the chicken/potato/eggplant filling was delicious. The table next to us was quite boisterous, but it had nothing to do with the election; they were celebrating someone’s birthday.

Outside, it had finally started to rain. The weather forecasters had predicted rain, and some people worried that it would affect the elections, but the day had been very nice up to that point. We retired, stuffed with pitas and other things, to the park along Shi-da Road. Daniel showed up and pried Mark with computer questions. The rain was coming down harder on the roof of the pavilion under which we stood. As the beers ran out, one-by-one, people left, until only PR, Mark, Daniel and I remained.

Now, of course, the hard work begins. I wonder if the first thing president-elect Ma thought when he woke up this morning wasn’t actually “It wasn’t a dream; I really won!” but rather, “Damn, now I have to actually do all the things I promised!” I guess we’ll find out. Interesting times, to be sure.

posted by Poagao at 2:53 am  
Feb 29 2008

2/28 events, and Chalaw’s CD party

IMG_9296-01I met Prince Roy yesterday afternoon at the best Sababa in Taiwan, the one near Yongkang Street, for lunch and conversation on the veranda. I’d brought my trumpet because David Chen and I were going to play at Chalaw’s CD release party in Gongguan later that night. Neither of us had to work as it was a national holiday to commemorate the 2/28 Incident of 1947. It was also one of the DPP’s last chances for publicity before the presidential election next month, and many events were scheduled. PR had arranged to meet up with several other bloggers at CKS Hall, where the DPP was holding an event and marching from there to the Songshan Soccer Stadium, so I thought I’d tag along. I didn’t feel like going all the way back to Bitan, and it was just a short walk from Yongkang Street.

A large stage was set up for a symphony performance in front of the actual hall, but the actual event was being held by the gate. PR and I were both reminded what a poor job the designers had done with the new inscription, which looks like it was drawn by four different people and then photoshopped together by drunken lemurs. Ok, maybe it’s not that bad, but lord, it ain’t good. At least they didn’t tear down the walls, as they had threatened to at one point.

presidentDue to the importance of the event and the lovely weather, I was expecting a huge crowd, but there weren’t that many people there, less than had witnessed the changing of the inscription. President Chen showed up and walked around a bodyguard-controlled corridor shaking hands. PR and I were just standing around and somehow got within a foot of him; PR even shook his hand. I saw the symbol of irony that is the Minister of Education, Tu Cheng-sheng, posing for pictures. We also saw Craig Ferguson and spotted David Reid, who, having had his cheek stamped with a DPP stamp, got a good spot amongst the wall of TV cameras and wasn’t going to budge. I also saw Darren there. Later, Wayne and Mark showed up, but it wasn’t clear exactly what was going to happen. The small crowd seemed lackluster and muted.

birdgateAs the sun dipped towards the horizon the weather got substantially cooler. Large flocks of birds flew around between the gate and nearby trees. Eventually some marchers who had been making their way on foot up the island showed up with flags, along with some loudspeaker trucks, and people began to move off towards the street. Wayne and Mark followed, while the rest of us headed for the subway. David and Craig were going to take the MRT up to Zhongshan to get ahead of the marchers, while PR, wallowing in indecision, said he was going home.

I met up with Chalaw, Honghao, Doug and the others at a noodle shop next to the Riverside and Kafka by the Sea for some dumplings. There was also a guy I hadn’t met, a Spanish guitar player named Ramses who is in Taiwan studying Chinese. He’s hoping to switch to a kind of musician’s visa soon, he told me. After we’d eaten we went up to the cafe and drank some rice wine Honghao had thoughtfully provided. It tasted like those little Yakult yogurt drinks you see everywhere here in lunch boxes.

I was a bit nervous as I hadn’t played the songs from the album in months, and I hadn’t even picked up my trumpet since well before the new year. I’d forgotten the pieces I’d learned for the album, but I was able to follow along and accompany well enough. As we were running through a few of the songs from the album, a heavyset young man with long dreadlocks walked in. Later he played a few songs with Chalaw, including a couple of Cui Jian covers as well as his own works. I was impressed with his voice as well as his songs, but most of all the way the music seemed to move him. His name is Matzka, from the Paiwan tribe, and he’s just starting out.

I glanced out the window and saw a long line of people waiting to get into Riverside downstairs. Apparently the drummer from Matzka’s group was playing down there. We finished up and moved our stuff so that people would have a place to sit while they opened the doors.

kafka showThe crowd wasn’t huge, but they were enthusiastic. David and I got off stage after we’d finished the songs we played on. I sat at a table in the back, by the window, watching the show and traffic outside. The original band members’ voices mixed well, the harmonies tighter and better than before. David had pointed out that Honghao was still wearing his shiny black police shoes, and I wondered if he might be on standby in case of a 2/28-related incident.

During the break later, fans ran around getting people from the band to sign their CDs. It didn’t seem fair that so many people wanted Ramses’ signature, even though he didn’t play on the album; the excellent slide guitar work on the actual album is actually David Chen’s doing.

Matzka, at least, knew this, and was impressed by David’s slide guitar work on the album, he told me in the smoking room towards the end of the show. These days he plays at a dive in Bali on Tuesday nights with two other guys playing bass and drums. His songs have a kind of reggae/ska vibe and could some more instrumentation, I think.

The show ended late, after 11pm. I said good-bye to everyone who remained (David, quite drunk, had departed with Robyn already), and went to a nearby KFC for a snack. I was reading one of Asimov’s robot novels when I looked up to see Wayne and Mark staring hungrily through the window at my fries. They’d lost interest in the DPP march halfway through and gone for dinner with Prince Roy instead. We chatted a bit before they, too, headed home.

I took the MRT back, reaching Bitan after midnight and dreading the view of the desolation along the riverbank. All of the buildings have been torn down on both sides of the water, save for the public restrooms, leaving a only huge swath of debris where once we lounged, talked, ate and played. It’s a truly depressing sight, somehow even worse in the emptiness of the night.

posted by Poagao at 4:54 am  
Feb 29 2008

2/28 events, and Chalaw’s CD party

IMG_9296-01I met Prince Roy yesterday afternoon at the best Sababa in Taiwan, the one near Yongkang Street, for lunch and conversation on the veranda. I’d brought my trumpet because David Chen and I were going to play at Chalaw’s CD release party in Gongguan later that night. Neither of us had to work as it was a national holiday to commemorate the 2/28 Incident of 1947. It was also one of the DPP’s last chances for publicity before the presidential election next month, and many events were scheduled. PR had arranged to meet up with several other bloggers at CKS Hall, where the DPP was holding an event and marching from there to the Songshan Soccer Stadium, so I thought I’d tag along. I didn’t feel like going all the way back to Bitan, and it was just a short walk from Yongkang Street.

A large stage was set up for a symphony performance in front of the actual hall, but the actual event was being held by the gate. PR and I were both reminded what a poor job the designers had done with the new inscription, which looks like it was drawn by four different people and then photoshopped together by drunken lemurs. Ok, maybe it’s not that bad, but lord, it ain’t good. At least they didn’t tear down the walls, as they had threatened to at one point.

presidentDue to the importance of the event and the lovely weather, I was expecting a huge crowd, but there weren’t that many people there, less than had witnessed the changing of the inscription. President Chen showed up and walked around a bodyguard-controlled corridor shaking hands. PR and I were just standing around and somehow got within a foot of him; PR even shook his hand. I saw the symbol of irony that is the Minister of Education, Tu Cheng-sheng, posing for pictures. We also saw Craig Ferguson and spotted David Reid, who, having had his cheek stamped with a DPP stamp, got a good spot amongst the wall of TV cameras and wasn’t going to budge. I also saw Darren there. Later, Wayne and Mark showed up, but it wasn’t clear exactly what was going to happen. The small crowd seemed lackluster and muted.

birdgateAs the sun dipped towards the horizon the weather got substantially cooler. Large flocks of birds flew around between the gate and nearby trees. Eventually some marchers who had been making their way on foot up the island showed up with flags, along with some loudspeaker trucks, and people began to move off towards the street. Wayne and Mark followed, while the rest of us headed for the subway. David and Craig were going to take the MRT up to Zhongshan to get ahead of the marchers, while PR, wallowing in indecision, said he was going home.

I met up with Chalaw, Honghao, Doug and the others at a noodle shop next to the Riverside and Kafka by the Sea for some dumplings. There was also a guy I hadn’t met, a Spanish guitar player named Ramses who is in Taiwan studying Chinese. He’s hoping to switch to a kind of musician’s visa soon, he told me. After we’d eaten we went up to the cafe and drank some rice wine Honghao had thoughtfully provided. It tasted like those little Yakult yogurt drinks you see everywhere here in lunch boxes.

I was a bit nervous as I hadn’t played the songs from the album in months, and I hadn’t even picked up my trumpet since well before the new year. I’d forgotten the pieces I’d learned for the album, but I was able to follow along and accompany well enough. As we were running through a few of the songs from the album, a heavyset young man with long dreadlocks walked in. Later he played a few songs with Chalaw, including a couple of Cui Jian covers as well as his own works. I was impressed with his voice as well as his songs, but most of all the way the music seemed to move him. His name is Matzka, from the Paiwan tribe, and he’s just starting out.

I glanced out the window and saw a long line of people waiting to get into Riverside downstairs. Apparently the drummer from Matzka’s group was playing down there. We finished up and moved our stuff so that people would have a place to sit while they opened the doors.

kafka showThe crowd wasn’t huge, but they were enthusiastic. David and I got off stage after we’d finished the songs we played on. I sat at a table in the back, by the window, watching the show and traffic outside. The original band members’ voices mixed well, the harmonies tighter and better than before. David had pointed out that Honghao was still wearing his shiny black police shoes, and I wondered if he might be on standby in case of a 2/28-related incident.

During the break later, fans ran around getting people from the band to sign their CDs. It didn’t seem fair that so many people wanted Ramses’ signature, even though he didn’t play on the album; the excellent slide guitar work on the actual album is actually David Chen’s doing.

Matzka, at least, knew this, and was impressed by David’s slide guitar work on the album, he told me in the smoking room towards the end of the show. These days he plays at a dive in Bali on Tuesday nights with two other guys playing bass and drums. His songs have a kind of reggae/ska vibe and could some more instrumentation, I think.

The show ended late, after 11pm. I said good-bye to everyone who remained (David, quite drunk, had departed with Robyn already), and went to a nearby KFC for a snack. I was reading one of Asimov’s robot novels when I looked up to see Wayne and Mark staring hungrily through the window at my fries. They’d lost interest in the DPP march halfway through and gone for dinner with Prince Roy instead. We chatted a bit before they, too, headed home.

I took the MRT back, reaching Bitan after midnight and dreading the view of the desolation along the riverbank. All of the buildings have been torn down on both sides of the water, save for the public restrooms, leaving a only huge swath of debris where once we lounged, talked, ate and played. It’s a truly depressing sight, somehow even worse in the emptiness of the night.

posted by Poagao at 4:54 am  
Jan 14 2008

A full schedule

101 circusThursday was the going-away party for Forumosa’s Stray Dog, aka Sean, so I decided to take the opportunity to check out the new Alleycat’s on Songren Road. It was quite a walk from the City Hall MRT Station, but I took some interesting shots over the wall of some construction nearby with Taipei 101 in the background. Thankfully nobody saw me sticking my camera over the metal enclosure.

The Songren Alleycat’s is nice. It was officially the Forumosa.com Happy Happy Dance Dance Hour, but I wasn’t really in the mood for socializing and spent most of my dinner eating alone and reading. Afterwards, I thought I’d make my way, aided by GPS, through the alleys to Liuzhangli Station instead of walking back the way I came. Guided by the Google Maps app on my phone, I found my way through the maze very easily, and got some more interesting shots in the process.

I’d gotten a call from Thumper late Wednesday night. He was in Da-an Park with a group of guys who were playing country music. “They need a washtub bass player to fill in for theirs on Friday,” he told me. He said he was going to play with them there at Bliss as well, and Slim was going to come, so I thought I’d go and check it out. After dinner on Friday in Gongguan at a hot-pocket stand and picking up a new backpack, I went back to Bitan to retrieve my tub and stick, and took the MRT to Da-an Station, where I got another call from Thumper, this time informing that their bass player had decided to show up anyway. But I was practically there, so I figured I’d go anyway.

The band consisted of three guys, all enthusiastic young foreigners, one on guitar, another on banjo, and one playing his bass, which was a metal soup pot with a steel wire attached to a plank. It wasn’t as deep or resonant as my plastic tub, and the action of the stick was a lot more sensitive to the slightest movement. I tried to play it a little and managed to get some notes out of it, but I prefer my tub.

The band said that it was their third public performance. They were nervous before taking the stage. As for the show…well, let me put it this way: the highlight of the evening, music-wise, was when we all stopped playing at the same time at the end of one song. I know it sounds strange for a member of a band highly lacking in the polish department to call another band “unpolished”, but there you have it: They need work. During the show the band members were supposed to tell jokes in between songs. The banjo player decided to make me the subject of his, which was a story that included me wishing to a talking frog for a beautiful princess. I didn’t know which part of that combination was less likely, but before I could think of something clever to say another guy yelled out, “Maybe he’d wish for a prince instead!”

“Nah, he’s a guy, he’d wish for a princess; come on, let me tell the joke!” the banjo player complained, and went on with the joke.

Afterwards, I was ready to go home and go to bed, for it had been a long, tiring day, but Thumper and Slim were going to hang out at a local park for a bit, so I nabbed some fried rice from a convenience store and joined them. As always, it turned out to be a lot of fun, and we stayed up until the wee hours and the not-so-wee hours talking. The sky was getting light when a group of old ladies swept across the park, picking through our trash for recyclables. The city was coming to life around us, and suddenly the park wasn’t the private enclave it had been during the night, so we bade Thumper farewell and grabbed a taxi back south.

Saturday was election day for the legislature. Our voting post was located in the old Bitan KTV Club. The voting went smoothly. As usual, nobody had a problem or even raised an eyebrow when I showed up with my voting notice, though I got scolded for taking pictures from the street. I skipped the referendums because I don’t agree with using them for election campaigning instead of on real, meaningful issues. Afterwards, it turned out that about 75% of voters agreed with me.

The DPP was completely routed, of course. Chen Shui-bian, as predicted, stepped down from the party chairmanship to let Frank Hsieh emerge from his cocoon and start campaigning with as little stigma from the election loss as possible. If there’s one thing the DPP knows, it’s how to run an election campaign, I’ll give them that. I see the results more as a vote against the DPP than for the KMT, and I hope the latter doesn’t let it go to their heads or take it to mean that everything they stand for is hunky dorey with everyone. I’m still waiting for the usual bizarre turn of events that precedes every election here. I’m thinking it will happen in March, but I could be wrong.

After voting, I went to Darrell’s for some looping with Graham, who was back in town on vacation before returning to Singapore. Dow Jones is moving him to Tokyo in late February, and a long chain of foreigners sitting in the various musical chairs related to the job are all moving around correspondingly; it seems I know quite a few of them.

b/w bitan and skySunday morning I had just awakened to the sound of jackhammers pounding away at the Bitan riverfront steps when I got a call from Harry, who was on his way to the Dimu temple in Wantan with his religious friends. I dressed and walked across the bridge and down the “niaoley” (the piss-covered alley) between the buildings to the ferry dock. On the way over I chatted with the ferryman, who told me some unsettling news. According to him, some legal knot has been resolved, and they’re planning to develop the lovely rural fields of Wantan with ugly high-rises. He told me they were even planning to build a 12-meter-wide bridge from Bitan over to Wantan. I had thought that there was no development on Wantan because it was a water preservation site, but it seems that even that’s not enough to stand in the way of developers with their eyes on the money they could make from such developments. It would be a great loss, as I love to walk through that area.

At the Dimu temple, Harry and his group, some of whom were dressed all in Temple Yellow sweat suits, did their thing while I sat by quietly, listening to the things going on around me. I like going there to just sit. It’s not really meditation, as I’m not disciplined enough for that. It’s just sitting and being quiet. Spacing out.

colorviewThat afternoon Slim and I took a cab up to Conor’s lofty Muzha mountaintop pad for some MBR practice, including some dangerously racy songs about Jesus. Conor’s pad has the usual foreigner-pad style from the rugs hanging on the walls to the various instruments from a plethora of cultures. Outside, rainclouds hung over a great view of the city; the weather had become typical winter fare, cold and wet with just enough rain to make you miserable without actually raining hard enough to make an umbrella worth the trouble.

posted by Poagao at 11:44 am  
Dec 07 2007

Barbarians at the Gate

protest gateI was going to name this post “20 years at CKS Hall”, but it hasn’t quite been that long since I sat for four days and three nights in the large square between the opera house and the concert hall as part of the “Wild Lily” student protest in early 1990. Of course, your perspective changes as you get older, but I couldn’t help but recall those times when I saw the protests against President and DPP Chairman Chen Shui-bian’s moves to change the name of the hall and remove the inscription from the main gate in the run-up to legislative and presidential elections.

I knew about the appropriation of the inane title “Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall” (is Democracy spread out on a slab inside now? Maybe they’ll put it where CKS’ Cadillacs used to be), but I didn’t know about the latest developments in the DPP’s campaign to remove the characters “Da Zhong Zhi Zheng” that allude to the formal title of late President Chiang Kai-shek until the government announced that it now had jurisdiction over the hall and would commence with the move on Thursday. The DPP’s choice to replace the offending inscription is the painfully unoriginal title of “Liberty Square”.

protestI noticed a few protesters sitting under the massive gate as I walked by on Tuesday evening after badminton practice, so I went over to talk to them. A couple of them were dressed in red from head to foot, and they had improvised a small fake “shrine” to Chen Shui-bian with a cardboard sign predicting that anyone who took down the inscription would suffer a stroke, just as controversial Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu did after doing something similar down there. They huddled in the cold wind and sat on cardboard, waiting just in case the DPP was planning to jump the gun and tear down the inscription in the middle of the night.

I didn’t have my 20D on me at the time, so I went back the next evening with it and took some pictures. The number of protesters had grown, but it was by no means a massive crowd. The media practically outnumbered them. The protesters were a motley group and included serious young men, dumpy middle-aged housewives and one dapper elderly gentleman with white hair wearing a black overcoat and red scarf, looking not unlike a Chinese Peter O’Toole. Another man wore camos and boots. “The Second-wave Anti-Chen Movement: Now is the Time for a Million People to Bravely Take to the Streets!” read his placard. Police barricaded the main memorial stairs and milled around, apparently not sure what they were doing there. I went up to one officer and asked, but he looked away, ignoring me. I picked out another, apparently senior officer, and asked him what the workmen were doing. “I don’t know,” he said. “We’ve just got orders to be here to ‘assist’.”

There weren’t even a hundred protesters, much less a million, of course. Most people know that the move is purely for election uses, to gain the support of our deep-green friends down south as well as goad the deep-blue contingent into making themselves look bad on TV. At one point yesterday a small truck ran into the crowd, which had spilled out onto the streets after police put up a barbed-wire barricade around the gate, seriously injuring a cameraman. Police are investigating whether or not it was on purpose.

forbiddenI went back to the gate last night to take another look, and the gate was still behind barbed wire and barriers reading “Safety First”. The politically incorrect characters had been torn off in the afternoon by a couple of workers who took hours and many tools to wrest them from the gate, though their imprint could still be seen on the stone surface. The workers had painted over the company name on the crane before the job.

That night, police and reporters still lingered on the scene, chatting and playing chess on makeshift tables by the TV trucks. Only a handful of protesters remained, however, moving a single ROC flag around in front of the wall of barbed wire and taking pictures of the empty space.

posted by Poagao at 12:20 pm  
Aug 23 2007

If the KMT wanted to win

Somebody asked me the other night who I thought would win the 2008 presidential election, Hsieh or Ma? I said Hsieh.

Here’s why: The DPP is simply better at election campaigning than the KMT. The DPP can take any kind of piss-poor governance record and stand it on its head, while the KMT can (and does) do the exact opposite, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the last two elections. Poor advertising, poor choice of candidates, just bad management of the whole campaign. The DPP’s Hsieh and Su were forced to recognize that, in the face of a not-guilty verdict in Ma’s corruption trial, that the only chance they stood of defeating him was to put aside their considerable differences and previous conflict and run on the same ticket. If Wang Jin-pyng had agreed to run with Ma, the KMT would stand a very good change at winning. But Wang turned Ma’s offer down, time after time. Some say he was duped by false rumors of a guilty verdict for Ma. I’d think if he were that easily duped, maybe he shouldn’t be in consideration. Most likely, I’m guessing, was that tantalizing vision of his own presidential candidacy.

The DPP gave Yeh Chu-lan the party’s secretary-general position as a consolation prize after Hsieh was forced to pick Su over her. But over on the KMT’s side, Ma doesn’t have a grip on all the party factions, all laboring under the illusion of a certain KMT victory. Wang having basically sunk the KMT’s chances over a matter of personal pride, Ma picked Vincent Siao as his running mate. A better choice would probably have been former Kaohsiung Mayor Wu Den-yih, who, although he has his enemies, is at least on the radar and a good ten years younger than Siao. Perhaps some deal was made to pacify certain old-guard factions of the KMT with a VP position for Siao. I think I see Lien Chan’s icy touch here.

I still think the election is the KMT’s to win, if they really wanted to. The steps are pretty obvious. First and foremost, change the party’s Chinese name to remove the “China” part of it, and make it match the English “Kuomintang” moniker. It would be a big statement of their localization efforts, and they wouldn’t even have to change the English stationary and letterheads. In fact, I have half a mind to march into KMT headquarters and tell them “If you change your Chinese name to just the ‘Nationalist Party’, I’ll sign up right now.”

Another thing they should do, though this could have a limited effect at this point, is invent a “personal crisis” for Vincent Siao and get Wang Jin-pyng on the ticket as Ma’s running mate. Though I personally don’t see much difference between the two as to their abilities, Wang has the greater following in the center and south. The party assets issue needs to be put to rest as well. Also, though I know Ma speaks basic Taiwanese and understands the language, he really needs to improve on this front. The man has lived in Taiwan since he was a baby; he should certainly be able to speak better than, say, I can.

Finally, they need to spend a little money and hire a competent campaign director. Someone who actually knows what he or she is doing. The DPP have run brilliant campaigns both in 2000 and 2004, and there’s no doubt they’re prepared to do everything they can to win this time, and you can be sure that includes paying for a sleek, top-notch, international standard campaign, with moving slogans, compelling commercials and heart-felt exhortations designed to compel anyone and everyone to vote their way. Though the economic angle is a good one, the KMT’s clumsy, cheap and anachronistic appeals have not served them well in the past; it’s really time to retire them. The party needs to stop trying to “balance” the deep greens and play more to the center.

But will they do any of these things? The election is also the KMT’s to lose, and so far it looks like it will be too late before they wake up to that fact.

posted by Poagao at 11:17 pm  
Apr 20 2007

Primary games

Taiwan should ensure its international reputation with a show called “Who Wants to Be President?” I’m wondering if anyone does. Both parties seem to be tripping over their own feet, making colossal mistakes even though the race is still in the primary stage. Su Zheng-chang and Frank Hsieh have been at each other with such animosity that it will hard to believe they could ever share a ticket. Hsieh, in any case, has made it clear that he has chosen Yeh Chu-lan as his running mate, with the whole “Say Yes!” campaign slogan all picked out (“Hsieh-Yeh” sounds like a Taiwanese person trying to say “Say Yes”). Su has wasted no time in pointing out that he is “cleaner” than Hsieh, who has been involved in several corruption cases in Kaohsiung concerning the MRT and the city council elections. Hsieh says Su is a bad premier, and Su says he would be a better premier if the last premier (Hsieh) hadn’t left such a mess behind him.

One of the interesting things about this mess is that Su is favored by the New Tide faction of the DPP, which has historically supported every winner the DPP has had (including Chen Shui-bian, who is from the Justice Alliance faction) while Hsieh belongs to the less influential Social Welfare faction. Su has all the resources of the premiership available, yet Hsieh, who doesn’t have the experience Su has, remains more popular in the polls (Su threw a fit when the pan-green camp published polls suggesting Hsieh was more popular, and the party has passed a rule that candidates cannot publish polls in the future). Su also successfully dodged Losheng-related accusations that he did nothing to obstruct the plans to tear down the leprosarium when he was Taipei County magistrate by deciding as premiere that it should be saved. We’ll see how that works out.


The main reason for Hsieh’s popularity, which many say was exhibited in the Taipei mayoral election, is that he is simply more charismatic than Su. Another is that he panders more to the moderates and undecideds. He recently caught flack from deep greens when he suggested that he didn’t have a problem with the constitution’s China policy. I suspect he isn’t actually that moderate, but he does recognize that he needs those votes to win an election. The reason I say this is because Hsieh’s GIO minister appointment, Pasuya Yao, was a lot more aggressive about controlling the media than Su’s man Zheng Wen-tsang, who is scheduled to leave his office soon after being caught suggesting that TTV should be sold to the pro-DPP Liberty Times Group.

The way the DPP primary works, however, is 30% party vote and 70% opinion polls. Hsieh is favored to win the opinion poll, while current party Chairman Yu Shyi-kun has an advantage in the party vote, though he is last in the popular polls (being bested by Lu has to hurt). Where does this leave Su? Something tells me that Chen Shui-bian, though he would prefer to see his man Yu take over his job, he knows that Yu is not as electable, and that Su is the next best choice. Chen and Hsieh have been rivals for a long time, and I can’t see him supporting Hsieh if Su is still in the race. Chen’s influence is waning, however, so there may not be much he can do at this point. In the spirit of the tradtional DPP male/female tickets, I’m guessing that Su would most likely choose vice-premier Tsai Ying-wen as his running mate. Everyone’s waiting to see what happens in the primary. When that’s settled, many things will be able to proceed, e.g. the budget will have to be settled before a potential new premier takes office, requiring a new budget review, and a new GIO minister, presumably hand-picked by the new premier, as is the usual custom. The new powergrid will affect things like the current power struggle about who gets to control the CEC and the NCC. The opposition is trying to gain the upper hand by pushing a bill to make membership of the CEC party-proportional, rather than being entirely picked by the ruling party. The fact that the NCC’s makeup was chosen in such a fashion rankles the DPP to no end, resulting in a ruling that such a method was “unconstitutional.”

Meanwhile, back at the equally disorganized opposition camp, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng was apparently not content to just wait for Ma Ying-jeou’s corruption trial verdict, and came out a few days with a bizarre set of comments straight out of the DPP’s campaign book. He said, all but pointing to himself as he did do, that a “majority” candidate should lead Taiwan rather than a “minority” candidate (guess who that’s directed at). Imagine if Rudy Guliani said people shouldn’t vote for Obama because he was a minority (or just wait; you might not have to imagine it). In any case, it was a poor choice of words. But Ma couldn’t be graceful about it and hinted that Taiwan would be “lucky” to have a minority leader, when he should have quoted Chiang Ching-kuo and proclaimed himself Taiwanese. Which he later did. Though I have to admire the man’s pure testicular fortitude in saying he’ll run even if he’s judged guilty of corruption, I wonder how much of it is balls and how much of it is cluelessness. Perhaps we’ll find out. Similar investigations into the special funds of all four DPP hopefuls has just begun, but I can’t believe that after seeing what happened to Ma they haven’t made moves to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to them.

The KMT, fearing a guilty verdict, has moved its primary up to later this month, but the DPP is trying to push through a bill effectively barring Ma from running by making candidates found guilty in the first trial ineligible to run at all. Their only hope to pass such a bill lies with the disaffected members of the PFP, who want more autonomy in elections from the KMT.

Wang won’t participate in the primary, because Ma is still much more popular than he is, corruption allegations and all. Are there any other KMT candidates worth mentioning? There’s former Kaohsiung Mayor Wu Den-yi, who is a bit past his prime. Wu lost the position to Frank Hsieh after Hsieh accused him at the last hour of having inappropriate relations with a reporter (later proven false, but Hsieh was in power already. It’s a common political tactic here). Health concerns rule Taichung Mayor Jason Hu out. Taoyuan County Magistrate Zhu Li-lun is a rising star, popular with younger voters and might have a chance for running mate status this time around. But it seems to me that the KMT is just waiting for the trial verdict, just as the DPP is waiting to see who wins its primary. Once we have real candidates to play with, it will be another game altogether.

posted by Poagao at 3:53 am