Wednesday, 16 April 2014

When Our Nine Lives Run Out...

I ought to have posted this last week, but a combination of events and me not feeling like it resulted in me putting it off.

I had taken the cat to the vet on, I think the Monday (March 31st), and the vet called me on the Friday to say she was doing much better - indeed her eyes had all cleared up and she was making noise. However, he advised me to keep her on the IV drip for another few days as she was still too weak.

On the following Tuesday (the 8th) I got another call from the vet to tell me she had died of lung failure. When I asked how old he thought she had been, the vet replied: about seven years old. For how much of that time she had survived by herself on the streets we will never know. I paid off the vet bill for the cat, including the cremation costs, which was at a discounted rate due to the cat being an unfortunate stray.


These were among my last looks at her, already lifted out of the recovery cage and into the little cardboard box for her final journey, eyes cast down with the soul already departed...


I did what I could for her. I just wish other people had done what they could have done for her whilst she was still alive.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

In Precisely What Does The CSSTA's Clear And Demonstrable National Security Threat Consist?

The more complaints I read about the CSSTA, the more I find myself concerned (a) not that it should be defeated, but that its' opponents should be defeated, but also (b) that there may be something within the CSSTA that I am missing.

On the opposition to the CSSTA, I have noticed a tendency to conflate fears of Chinese competition and losses for smaller Taiwanese businesses with threats to Taiwan's national security, rather than to discuss these two issues separately. Consider this report in the Taipei Times last year for instance (misleadingly headlined "Pact is a national security threat..." it is actually all about fears of business and job losses). Of the two issues, it is the fears of market competition that seem to have garnered more attention in the press. This makes me suspect either that there is little in the CSSTA in the way of a direct national security threat, or that if there is, it is highly uncertain and difficult to clearly demonstrate. Certainly, I have not yet come across such a clearly demonstrated threat.

The importance of distinguishing national security issues from fears of market competition is that they would have different kinds of consequences. The obvious national security threat would be to online freedom of speech either through ISPs or through self-censorship in media companies with substantial Chinese investment. Freedom of speech is a basic right requisite to any free society, and its infringement must not be tolerated.

However, fears of market competition and possible business and job losses arise not from any threat against basic rights, but from fear of other people's choices. Where Taiwanese suppliers must compete with Chinese counterparts offering the same (or even lower quality) services at a 10% or 20% discount in price, the fear is that other Taiwanese people will choose the Chinese supplier. Nobody can have a right to have their services purchased or a right to a job, because that implies that other people have an obligation to pay that person irrespective of whether they want to or not.

Thus the insistence that the CSSTA be revoked on these grounds is nothing less than a claim to reverse the logic of market capitalism: rather than serving consumers, certain Taiwanese business owners would rather the consumers serve them by having the government restrictions on their market choices continue.

As I said, I could be wrong: it may be that there is some genuine and clear threat to "national security" buried in the details of the CSSTA (or what I really mean: people's basic rights viz freedom of speech, freedom of association and other anti-coercion rights). Readers may feel free to inform me otherwise in the comments...

Monday, 14 April 2014

Sunday Afternoon Trip To Baihe Reservoir (白河水庫), The Dongshan Coffee Road (東山咖啡公路 - 175) & The Tseng-Wen River To Guantian River Sinkhole For Wushantou Reservoir (西口小瑞士)

I got up late yesterday (Sunday) morning again - about 9am. Spent the morning pottering about and taking the dogs to the park, before heading out just before noon. This time I thought I might try to take a raft through Baihe reservoir's northern channel connecting the eastern and western ends. This channel is the only area of the reservoir I haven't yet seen.

However, when I arrived at the southern harbour I found that all of the rafts were chained up and the fishermen who were sat there fishing had no interest in helping me find one of the owners to ask to borrow one. So I thought sod it. In any case, the water level was the lowest I've ever seen it - so much so that if I wanted to I could just walk north-eastwards across the reservoir bed...


One thing I immediately noticed was that the eastern bank, which precedes the "gate" guarding the eastern half of the reservoir, was now totally covered in lush green reeds that were taller than me, which meant that there would be no way through and I would have to go around. When I had previously walked across it with Niki in November 2012 it had been completely bald - so that growth has all occurred in the past eighteen months.


The mud-flats were still squishy in some places, but were mostly solid enough. My initial guess was that those without plant cover and thus greater exposure to the sun would be the driest, which turned out to be wrong - it was those with plant cover that were driest (possibly because the plants consumed the moisture).


Above: I recall these same marker posts and laid-down bamboo slide last time I had moored the raft with Niki in November 2012. At that time the water level on this side of the escarpment was similar with the posts partially rather than fully exposed. However, the water level on the other side of the escarpment, in the pool preceding the gate, must have been substantially higher because Niki had to wait behind on the escarpment whilst I swam through the gate.


Above: looking back the way I had came toward the southern harbour with the landmark mountain and its communications towers in the background. The northern edge right at the top of that mountain is where I have previously taken shots overlooking Baihe reservoir. Below: the little stream running west-to-east to feed the eastern half of the reservoir...


Both of Baihe reservoir's main feeder rivers enter the southern half of the reservoir's western end. The eastern end of the reservoir, hidden from the western end has no major sources of its own. Below: the narrow annexing stream was in places only a foot or two across...


Notice what looks like a purposely located bit of bamboo dug into either side of the annexing stream's muddy borders; it has held back an accumulation of foam (maybe a concoction of pesticides and various salts, possibly including the one that killed Shao Bai - phosphorous).


Below: looking eastward as the annexing stream winds its' way toward the pool that prefaces the "gate"...


Below: looking back toward the mountain across the now empty pool. The height of that escarpment shoreline is about four to six meters (not including the height of the green reeds that surmount it). That shore was where I previously swam across the pool and through the gate into the eastern end which I then glimpsed for the first time about eighteen months ago. I have since explored the eastern end thoroughly.


One of several large white wading birds (not egrets) nesting in a tree overlooking the southern end of the pool...


Looking across the empty pool from north to south with the "gate" entry to the reservoir's eastern end in the centre of the image...


And here is the "gate" itself, this time in close-up and seen from the bottom of the reservoir looking up. When I swam through this gate in November 2012 I recall pausing by the dead tree as I had been slightly concerned about submerged bamboo struts. Yet judging by what I saw this afternoon there must have been eight to nine feet of clear water beneath me...


One of the numerous small inconveniences of getting the pictures you want...


Seen through the gate on the other side: a leaping fish, snapped at a shutter speed of 1/1000. I'm no expert, as I have revealed myself in previous comments, but from the shape of the tail, and the general size of this fish I would guess it must have been a snakehead...


After I scrambled out of the mud back onto the dry left shoulder of the gate, I took a few snaps looking through to the reservoir's eastern end...


The central peninsula dead ahead, which splits the eastern end into a "fractal fork" with both sides of the fork themselves further split up into little corridors and cul-de-sacs. I should have used a filter for this shot to better accentuate the clouds...


A telephoto shot looking down the southern fork with the distant mountains introduced by hanging electricity cables...


Making my way back the way I had came I plodged my way across the annexing stream to inspect the two rafts I had spied earlier. They were tied up to a mooring post but there were no paddles present...


By the time I had followed the annexing stream back out around the reeds to face the southern harbour, there were now more clouds than when I had first arrived. I took a few shots with one of the filters attached. Some people don't use filters, but I love them for shots like these...




When I left Baihe reservoir behind, I decided to take the 175 coffee road up through the mountains, rather than the 165 which runs through the plains and which I had taken to get to Baihe reservoir earlier in the afternoon. Before heading off to the 175, I stopped briefly at the top of the mountain pictured above at one of the many tourist traps to buy a bottle of my favourite outdoor drink... (favourite partly because ordering it always gets you baffled / disapproving looks from the local women)... Paolyta. It's a slightly adventurous concoction, as it contains more taurine than Red Bull, more caffeine than coffee and more alcohol than some wines, as well as a bunch of other "poisons" and even B vitamins. It is generally drank by construction workers in dilution with either a soft drink such as Sasparilla or Coke, but I just swig it straight...


Some scenic shots of the mountains to be seen along the 175 Dongshan Coffee Road. Again, these were taken using one of the filters to substantial effect in accentuating the cloud formations without darkening the topographic skin of the land below...



Looking out westward just before sunset. Over in the bright distance, visible to the camera only under a high F-stop or shutter speed, lies Taiwan's west coast and the Taiwan Strait - on the other side of which is Hong Kong. In the foreground, there is a little round hill with what looks like a small retirement village or holiday resort nestled among the trees at the hill's summit. It has some kind of round pavillion sticking out at the top, which I had initially mistaken for a water tower...



Looking back the way I had came... a solitary dead tree illuminated by the soon-to-be-setting sun. No eagles, however...


Another peek outward from the roadside foliage over the valleys toward the west-coast...


After leaving the 175 for the 174 which heads toward the back end of Wushantou reservoir, I stopped off at the sink hole connecting the Tseng-wen river diversion to the Guantian river that feeds Wushantou reservoir. The locals confusingly refer to this sink hole as "Little Swiss" (西口小瑞士), or literally "West Mouth Little Swiss". I still don't really know why they call it this. I once asked my ex-girlfriend about it a couple of years ago and I recall she said something about there being a similar such sinkhole in Switzerland. Yet this kind of structure is not so rare as for there to be only one other in the world - there are one or two in Britain and quite a few elsewhere in Europe and the United States (and possibly in other territories in other parts of the world too). So why it should be named after Switzerland is a minor mystery to me...


Some kind of dam structure off in a corner of the river...


As I stopped off to look around, one of the locals hopped onto a pipe-raft and paddled off to... (as I later discovered) ... check something involving a diesel generator; presumably a water pump somewhere...



On the other side of the river looking across toward the sinkhole from the little harbour where the chap above had set off. The large structure in the background is the intake tower for the hydro-electric power plant on the other side of the dam (off to the left of this image below)...


I remember this friendly black Formosan dog last time I had been here, again I think two years ago. I don't know whether he remembered me or his friendliness was just a dispositional trait. When the local chap returned with the engine, I spoke to him about locating the point at which the river exits the three kilometer mountain tunnel. I had searched for this previously without finding anything. He informed me that it could only be reached by boat which is what I had supposed last time, so I asked whether I could come early one morning and borrow his - he agreed. When I do go, I'll have to remember to take some treats for the dog...


On my way out I stopped for a swig of Paolyta and decided to snap myself in one of those twisty, switchback mirrors found on mountain roads. It's not easy to photograph yourself by holding the camera up to one side and aiming the lens unsighted - it's easy to end up with off-centre angles.


I had a "better" shot of myself than this one, but this is the one I prefer because despite me blowing my nose like a savage, I've caught the setting sun off to the left which I think makes it a good choice with which to end this post. On the way back through Xinshih district I did spot a falcon of some sort hovering by the highway, but though I whipped the camera back out again with the 250mm I had the settings too dark to really identify it. It may have been either a Kestrel or a Merlin.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Email Out Regarding The Sunflower Protests

I simply don't have time to write the essay concerning the Sunflower movement that I've thought about doing. It's already after 1am on Friday night, and I have an early start on Saturday morning. In liu of that then here is a brief email reply I just sent out to Nathan Novak in relation to comments posted here.


***

Nate,

You write that you cannot help yourself but support the movement as you find it to be an improvement over the KMT. Yet why does the movement need your support? Or mine? They did what they did quite without my "support", so what reason is there for either of us to show support? Unless we are talking about buying water bottles or tents or something, then I don't see any reason our "support" would make any difference whatsoever. I don't have the time or ability to go publicity campaigning on their behalf, and neither I suspect do you - and I certainly wouldn't want to do something like that without real confidence.

I am not sure about the Sunflower movement yet. On the one hand, I can agree to civic restriction of the government's operation particularly because I think there are other reforms to be prioritized ahead of trade liberalization - especially trade liberalization with China. I indicated the nature of these reforms in my comments about depoliticization.

However, I have yet to see any sign that those types of reforms have been seriously considered by either Chen Wei-ting or Lin Fei-fan or anyone else. Moreover, though there are some aspects of their protest I can agree to, there are others that contain the dubious elements typically found among throughout the political culture, e.g. the income inequality trope you mentioned. 

I have nothing to bet with except my life, so I am not about to go all in on a two-pair bet pre-flop. For the time being, I have nothing to offer them beyond bottles of water and an alternative way of looking at things. That'll have to do.

***

I will keep watching to see how things develop. Naturally, however, I will be as appalled as almost everyone else if the government succeeds in putting either Lin Fei-fan or Chen Wei-ting behind bars for their occupation of the Legislative Yuan. 

Monday, 7 April 2014

Osprey Afternoon At Wushantou Reservoir

On Sunday afternoon, which was all grey and overcast, I drove out to Wushantou reservoir again intending to paddle around the hitherto unexplored northern extremities of the reservoir. But the only rafts sitting there all had outboard motors attached, so I went back down to the southern harbour, grabbed the paddle-only raft I usually use, and headed off toward the back of the reservoir's south end skirting by the Guantian river I had followed last summer.

Despite the recent rainfall, the shallow southern plain of the reservoir was still only a few feet deep; when the reservoir is full, the upper branches of these little bushes below would be a minor hindrance to my paddle - as they would be entirely submerged...


All of my necessary research is done here in southern Taiwan, so I really just came to hang out and watch the birds with no particular aim in mind. This egret flew particularly close to me early on...


As I was passing by the Guantian river as it enters the reservoir, guess who showed up...


I love the Ospreys; they are so difficult to photograph well because you are always at too much of a distance. It's shots like these that convince me I've come to the end of the line with my 250mm; for the type of shots I'm typically trying to take these days it just doesn't have enough reach.


This particular bird was all business and knew where the fish were. In the shallow area of Wushantou's southern plain, there are always fish leaping out of the water in and around the raft. Since I cannot be sure where and when they will next make an appearance, photographing them is even harder than photographing the Ospreys.



Typically the Ospreys will trail the surface of the water with their talons before ending up halfway submerged in the water themselves in a determined attempt to retrieve the fish...


This chap had two or three attempts, and it may be likely that, on average, Ospreys must make some considerable number of attempts before finally catching a fish...





Later this summer I plan to upgrade to a longer telephoto lens, so I should be able to make some substantial improvement on these kinds of shots. The major issue is cost, but even if money were no issue then the problem would be lens-length vs weight; a 300mm is not really any heavier than my current 250mm but it would probably have made a big difference today. Anything longer than 300mm is going to get be somewhat heavy and unwieldly; I'm not really sure what a 900mm or 1000mm lens is going to be like in practice.

At any rate, this shot wasn't too bad since the bird flew directly over my head...


Still, reasonably good though that is, it's not good enough to blow up at the printers to be framed. With a better lens, then yes, possibly it might have been. I'll get a true stunner eventually.

Friday, 4 April 2014

One Life Gone, But One Life Saved (Maybe...)

On Tuesday earlier this week it seems I was able to save the life of a stray cat.

I had been walking three of my dogs (without leashes) in the little park at the back of my house when I heard several dogs barking in unmistakably frenzied tones. When I strolled over to see what was going on, I saw an old woman poking a cat with a stick whilst two of her dogs were tied up to a lampost behind her barking away at the cat. The cat had its tail up in a defensive posture but seemed unwilling or unable to run away from the old woman. At one point it tried to climb a tree trunk but almost immediately fell to earth. Realizing that the cat was obviously sick and/or injured, that's when I intervened.

The poor thing was wretchedly thin, covered in dirt and had some kind of gooey discharge coming out of her eyes.

I let the old woman go, telling her I would take care of it, though having my own three dogs with me at the time meant that it wasn't obvious how I might accomplish this. I wasn't about to pick up the cat and carry her to the vet down the road with my dogs following me; with the exception of Black & White, I never let any of my dogs walk anywhere near the main roads for fear of the traffic. A moment or two later, I noticed a younger woman walking her dog on the leash and so I stopped her to explain the situation and ask her if she could get the vet down the road to come while I stayed here to keep an eye on the cat. The poor thing just lay on her side breathing but otherwise not moving.

When the vet came and tried to handle the cat, she tried to scratch and bite him out of fear, so he put her in a cardboard box and took her back to his clinic. After I finished walking my dogs I went to the vet's clinic to get the news. Rather than sedating the cat, the vet used some kind of technique with the cardboard box which seemed to induce sleep; she must have been exhausted to begin with. He then cut her claws and examined her mouth - it was full of dirt. He shaved some fur on a front paw and gave her a couple of shots and then hooked her up to an IV drip. He said that the cat was likely suffering from either feline chlamydiosis, feline calicivirus or feline rhinotracheitis - or some combination of all three. Any of those three or a combination of them meant that the cat would also be suffering from dehydration as well as stomach and/or intestinal inflammation. The vet also said that the cat was old, not young, had no microchip under the fur to identify an owner (meaning she was most likely a stray) and that he thought she would probably die in a few days.

Yesterday afternoon, he called me back and said the cat was now doing much better and that I could come and see. So this afternoon I went and indeed she was doing better; her eye discharge had all cleared up, and she woke up and began miaowing when we entered the pen at the back of the clinic. The vet said that although she had produced a runny, watery stool yesterday, she had yet to take any food and he was uncertain yet whether she would make a full recovery. So she will stay on the IV drip for another week, or until she begins eating food - at which point I get to pay the vet some non-trivial amount of cash and take her home.

Of course, I have five dogs. So what I will do is put her in the spare room upstairs with a rug to lie on, some cat litter and bowls for food and water. I'll only buy a small bag of cat food and supplement that with chicken - now that Shao Bai is gone, there's always one or two extra chicken legs left when I've finished cooking for the dogs. If all goes well, I'll leave the upstairs spare room window open and if she is strong enough, she can come and go as she pleases.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Sunday Morning Trip To Wushantou Reservoir: From The South Harbor To The Spillway & Dam

I had little sleep on Saturday night, which has only exacerbated my general tiredness, but I still got up early enough to get to the south harbor of Wushantou reservoir at about 7.40am and was on the water in ten minutes or so. Operating the long bamboo paddle was harder than usual because of the internal bruising in my right hand, but I still made decent time and was well out of sight of the south harbor within half an hour.


Above: looking back eastward toward the south harbor (hidden behind the far peninsula in the background) at about 8.30am. Below: looking westward through the "gap" in one of the many peninsulas that obviates the need to circumnavigate this peninsula because it allows the smaller rafts to take a short cut through to the other side...


The gap is, however, too small for the larger rafts and other boats to pass through without risking damage to their outboard motors (due to the shallow depth). The image below shows the view looking back eastward through the gap. Note also the long bamboo branch caught on my raft and bent out of shape; it normally stretches out across the gap from right to left...


At about 9am, I had reached my first position well within sight of both the spillway and dam from the south-west area of the reservoir. The dam is the long green horizontal strip to the right, and the spillway is to the left of the white house which gives the appearance of sitting between the dam and the spillway, but is actually on part of the dam itself...


Another long-range shot taken with the 18mm; the water intake tower is just visible in the distance off to the right. Water from Wushantou reservoir exits in one of four ways: irrigation water for the extensive Chia-nan canal network flows out through copper pipes under the dam; water for industrial and residential use is pumped out through a large-diameter pipe running up and over the dam down into a water treatment facility located on the premises; water for use in the (front) hydro-electric power plant passes out through a water intake tower; and finally, excess water during flood events passes out through the spillway.


Nearing the spillway and dam, but still some distance off with the breeze lapping the waves up against my raft and pushing me back whenever I stopped to mess about with the camera...


The spillway to the left of the white house. That mansion was originally one of Chiang Kai-shek's many residences throughout Taiwan, but is now used primarily as the office headquarters for the Chia-nan irrigation association. I have always found the people there to be very helpful and friendly.


Closer still...


Looking back eastwards the way I had came; by this point it must have been about 9.30am or just after, and I used one of the filters since the sun was so bright...


Below is the view directly onto the perforated arch of the spillway. This is primarily what I had came for because although I did have previous pictures, this is the first time I've reached this point relatively early in the morning on a sunny day with the sun behind me to the east. Each concrete pillar in the spillway arch is just over two meters in height and their function is to disperse flood waters evenly into multiple streams to prevent the erosion to the spillway channel that might occur were the flood waters allowed to coalesce...


I am informed that the difference in height between the spillway and the dam crest is approximately eight meters, though if you eyeball only the concrete buttress immediately to the right of the spillway arch and bear in mind that each pillar is about two meters high, then you might think the dam is only three times that, i.e. six meters higher. However, the mansion rests upon a slight upward slope which presumably is sufficient to make up the extra two meters...


There was an older man fishing with (presumably) his daughter in front of the spillway. Wushantou reservoir is teeming with fish - I often see them leaping out of the water and though I haven't yet bothered to identify particular species, I'm guessing they're mostly trout.


The official harbor for the reservoir authorities at the foot of the dam - this section of the dam juts out eastward from its' more general curvature. The passenger boat is to ferry people to and from one of the little islands in the reservoir, though I still don't know what exactly the attraction is.


Another shot of the dam and harbor facing dead-on; note the speed-boat parked under protective canvas covers...


When I rounded the jutting toe of the dam, I had a little bit of a surprise: an inflatable yellow duck/goose thingy had been installed in the corner - obviously in an attempt to cash in on the recent giant yellow duck craze. In my experience however, though they may all like to pay hero-worship to the chief architect of the reservoir (Yoichi Hatta), very few Taiwanese people actually visit Wushantou reservoir itself so the duck thing may have been pointless. Their regard for the creator far exceeds their regard for the actual creation...


And here is a shot looking up at the general curve of Yoichi Hatta's earthwork dam; the dam is special because of the methods used in its' construction and the fortuitously fine-grained nature of the local clay that allowed those methods to work. Previous dams using this method in the U.S. had failed due to the clay being insufficiently fine.


On my way back I passed by One-Tree Island and although I was relatively pleased with my work, I was somewhat disappointed not to have taken any good shots of the eagles or ospreys. I did get sight of the eagles, but at too great a distance to be worth bothering with. One of the ospreys surprised me on my way back through the gap, but I didn't have the camera ready and it was too late.


I think I will probably leave Wushantou reservoir for a while now, and go elsewhere. I have a lot of work to do in Miaoli County still, but precious little time and opportunity to do it. Down here in the south, I still have some work to do at the two Taiwan Sugar Company-owned reservoirs, Jianshanpei reservoir and Luliao reservoir - though entry to Luliao reservoir is a problem that must be solved somehow.