Sunday, 1 March 2015

Comment At "Thinking Taiwan" Piece On KMT Reform

"Chen ascribes much of the KMT’s unpopularity and recent electoral defeat to slow economic growth and unequal wealth distribution. Those are unquestionably serious issues and a real source of grievance with the public."

I disagree with this. To call something "unquestionable" when it is an opinion rather than a fact is to beg the very question thus dismissed. It is your opinion that "unequal wealth distribution" is a serious issue, but it is not a fact. I don't doubt for one moment that some majority of people will agree with your contention, but that alone does not make them correct (nor convert your opinion to a fact). The complaint against unequal wealth distribution matters because it is either one of two things (or a combination thereof): pure envy or the conflation of inequality of wealth with material poverty. Yet they are not the same thing and to conflate them is to commit the zero-sum fallacy. What gets people out of poverty is the day-to-day work of creating wealth, not "make-it-so" star trek people in government presuming to "redistribute" (i.e. steal) it.

The Taiwanese people who have been dispossessed by interest groups using the levers of political power (e.g. the Land Theft Act) to their advantage need their freedom, and in particular, their right to private property protected. If the Taiwanese are to have a future as an independent nation, then they must first demand their independence as individuals, and that requires a defense of rights, not as privileges bestowed by a newly "empathic" ruling class, but as protections from political power and the necessary premises for their sovereignty over themselves as individual human beings.

Complaints about "unequal wealth distribution" directly undermine any such effort, and indirectly insult the pride and intelligence of people who might otherwise be willing and able to try to better their circumstances without being treated like infants by their ruling Empaths.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Wan-wan


Wan-wan on the north suspension bridge at Agongdian reservoir earlier this afternoon. It was a long drive down from Tainan carrying him with me, but we're both glad I did it. He's never been that far away from home before bless him. I just wish his brother was still here.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Comment On Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) Speech Republished In "Thinking Taiwan"

"However, setbacks have never deterred us. In the years after I transformed into a career politician, I have made a profound realization: What is truly amazing about this country is that the more difficult the times get, the more unstoppable the flame of hope within us becomes."

It may only be a bog-standard rhetorical passage, but as much as it is set in the context of Taiwanese people struggling against the odds to thrive, it may actually describe the fault of dogmatism as much as it describes the admirable quality of perseverance. It is commonplace for people to enter into university courses and low-paid or low-margin occupations in which there is considerable competition in numbers - no doubt partly due to the validating function of social comparison.

Arguably what Taiwan lacks the most is people with the creativity and complementary courage to buck the social conventions and social norms that govern them and to actually start new ideas that will inevitably be regarded by their peers as "odd". I regularly tell students that if they believe they have what it takes, they should eschew university and spend their four years doing something unusual that they find interesting. Nobody ever takes me up on my advice, and instead they go along with the crowd and the expectations / demands of their parents and end up, after four years of pointless university indoctrination, in low-paid, long-hour jobs with little prospects.

Taiwanese are always in the position of looking for and following international trends, and seldom in the position of starting new ones because of the cultural and psychological restraint of conformity. A brave politician would not praise or even just ignore this tendency, but actually challenge the very same Taiwanese electorate they are so used to paying "face" to.

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Day Of Doggie Drama

Today is Monday, the last day of the Chinese New Year period (this year is the Goat - my year apparently), and I'm tired. There was reasonably heavy rainfall on Saturday night, and the subsequent weather both yesterday and today has been overcast and dull. Nonetheless I made a half-hearted trip down to Kaohsiung again yesterday with the vague purpose of looking for things I may have missed in and around the watershed of Agongdian reservoir which stretches up into Tianliao district. In particular, I had a new hypothesis as to the position of the flood control channel leaving the Yanchao control gates. Finding the exit, however, is akin to finding a needle in a haystack as that area is full of myriad tiny streams and ponds, as this image from google maps indicates...


I drove down through the farmers' roads but passed by the reservoir to go up into the hills to the north east. I stopped briefly at the foot of the mountain to stare at the ancient mud-formations...



Once near the summit, I stopped at the hairpin bend overlooking the tunnel mouth for freeway number three. The haze hanging over the mudslopes of Tianliao was immense so there was no reason to bother with the DSLR, so I just continued using my phone camera. I wonder if a new set of filters might help me do something useful in this kind of weather...


But while I was there a little tan-coloured pup ran up to play with me...




There was another guy on a scooter there, but when I asked him if she was his dog he said no and when I asked if it was a stray dog he said it was somebody else's and when I asked who, he said he didn't know. So that was that then. She was crawling all over me wanting to play, and it was clear she wasn't being looked after properly (running around on her own on a narrow hairpin bend where she could have been run over any minute). As she wasn't in the least bit afraid of me, I decided to try and take her back to Tainan.

The difficulty with this was that I was on my motorbike rather than my scooter, and so I had nowhere to put her - nor did I have a bag or box or anything like that. So I held her in one hand and rolled down the mountain in neutral, then tied my cardigan to the handlebars and zipped her up inside it like a makeshift sling - this allowed me limited freedom to occasionally use my left hand for clutch control, besides keeping her flat on the gas tank. I drove into Yanchao in third gear, and stopped to get some gear to strap her up to me more securely to leave me with two hands free to control the bike. However, as it was still the holiday period there weren't many shops open so I ended up buying an atrocious backpack from a street vendor. It fell to pieces almost immediately but I managed to stitch her up inside the bag using stationary clamps. I strapped the bag on to my front so I could see and speak to her, and then did the hour long drive back to Tainan city. It was an uncomfortable trip, and I was relieved to get back. She will go to the vets' tommorow for an examination (she has some kind of skin problem) and to get vaccinated.

I am calling her "Erhjen" after the river which divides Tainan and Kaohsiung.

Naturally, I've been getting the silly "hero's treatment" from various friends and acquaintances as I already have five dogs (after Shao Bai was murdered in March last year). This is common, but I am uncomfortable with accepting the compliment. In the grand scheme of things it's not that big a deal really. Once the initial three or four months are over and she becomes accustomed to going out to the park several times a day for toilet time, rather than peeing in the house and making me mop up after her, then I expect things will be easy. One thing I've noticed about her already however, is that she likes to think she's tough - growling and snapping at my other dogs when they come over to sniff her. None of my dogs have yet bitten her or otherwise put her in her place - probably because of me - though that will inevitably change at some point. As long as she's still alive and not seriously injured when I get back home, then I'm not too bothered. She will have to learn her place as subordinate to the others who are older than her.

All of that was yesterday.

This morning I took the dogs to the park two at a time, but with the little pup on her own in a box on my scooter. A large, striped Taiwanese hunting dog called "Diamond" (similar in appearance to Erhjen but five or six times larger) was in the park - without his owner. He followed me and my dogs around and was friendly with me. I had first met him and his owner in the park sometime last week, which is how I knew his name. On that occasion he got into a fight with a stray dog and I got the distinct impression that his owner was reluctant to come and sort it out - as if he was content to leave it to me to sort out (he did come in the end, but he dragged his heels). This morning, with the owner absent, and Diamond following me around, a woman with her children and a bulldog were out walking around and the bulldog approached Diamond. A fight ensued. I quickly pulled Diamond off of the bulldog and gave him a kick - not vicious, but just hard enough to let him know he was thus advised to behave himself in my presence. My friend Natalia eventually arrived at the park and she wanted to take him to a vet to have his microchip checked in order to track the owner. I reminded her it was Chinese New Year and that they'd all be closed, but she later found one that was open and drove him there by herself. They found no chip.

The obvious two possibilities were that the dog had either "escaped" from the owner somehow, or that the owner had deliberately abandoned him at the park. We suspected the latter, as it is a common practice in Taiwan, having encountered it many times previously and as evinced by the sheer numbers of stray dogs in Taiwan. We later found out that we were apparently wrong, and that the dog had in fact escaped from the owner.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Day Trip To Houtopi (虎 頭埤), Xinhua District

Today I took my first ever trip to the small lake at Houtopi in Tainan's Xinhua district. Previously, I'd always put this off in favour of visiting the large "proper" reservoirs elsewhere. I went at the invitation of a female friend who wanted somewhere not too far away to take her dog for a change of scenery. I took my first dog too, since she hasn't been out for a drive in a long time due to my commitment to the reservoir project almost every weekend.

I will have to make several return trips, possibly with my other dogs, as the weather was dull and overcast at first, though the sun did come out as the afternoon wore on. Being so close to Tainan city, it is a very much a tourist spot with silly water-spraying serpents for the kids to look at, and peddle boats out on the lake itself...




And a fountain to make people laugh as they get wet in their peddle boats...





The harbor where peddle boats are rented out...


An island inhabited by ducks and geese...


Me and Natalia with our dogs; mine is the black one...



We climbed a small hill to walk around the perimeter and get views over the lake...


A motorboat was out giving kids joyrides around the lake...


Looking across to the feeder stream's entry point under the bridge...


Looking back across the late as the sun began to descend (filter attached)...



Standing on the bridge, looking at the feeder stream...


Walking back around the lake was much easier as the path hugged the shoreline tightly and was thus much quicker. At one point my dog dashed off into the lake itself for a little swim (entirely unprompted by me) before rampaging around the weeds for a while. My friend's dog followed her excitedly, but they eventually got stuck and whilst her dog was able to jump up back onto the raised pavement, I had to jump down and pick mine up to put her back on the pavement. Eventually we made it to the spillway...


By now it was getting late, and on the way back to the car park we paused only briefly so I could deliver a shortened history lesson on Taiwan's camphor trees. On the drive back I wanted to stop for something to eat in Xinhua, but my favourite restaurant there was closed for the New Year so we kept going until we hit Yongkang and got some dumplings there before heading off home.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Chinese New Year First Trip: Kaohsiung's Three Reservoirs

Stopped at Agongdian reservoir first today, but air wasn't good, so went down to Cheng Ching Lake and got lucky; then headed down to Fongshan reservoir and got lucky again ridding myself of a long-standing problem to solve: photographing the fountainhead water intake. Will write stuff to accompany these images later - I'm pushed for time now.

Later...

The only thing I was sure about where I wanted to go for Chinese New Year, was that I wanted to avoid the trains. So I'm limited to southern Taiwan. I could conceivably go to the Yushan National Park to look for eagles, and I might do that later when I can get up early enough. Yesterday I again woke up too late, and found myself with insufficient time to do anything serious, so eventually I decided to head south to Kaohsiung as I have a few loose ends to tie up there. First stop was Agongdian reservoir, but the haze was bad, so I left it and took the 186 straight down to my old patch in Niaosong district, Kaohsiung.


When you live close to a place and are quite familiar with it, you tend not to make it a destination and to pay too much attention to it - thus it was with me and Cheng Ching Lake, as I used to live just down the road from here. There have been a few changes over the years; presumably in order to quell parents' fears of their bicycle riding children falling into the lake, additional metal restraints have been installed surmounting the original, chest-height wall that surrounds the eastern half of the lake. Otherwise the baseball stadium, palm trees, villas and apartment buildings are all still how I remember them...


One thing I had known for a long time, but hadn't followed up on (one of my "loose ends") was that Cheng Ching Lake was fed by underground pipe from a treatment center in Dashu district, which in turn receives its water from the intake on the Kaoping river. Where exactly the water entered into the lake was what I didn't know - until today. After taking pictures around the perimeter I approached the gates of the Water Corporation's 7th Branch hoping to scrounge a few pamphlets, but instead the guard just let me in without a word. So I drove in and found the answer to my question... there are in fact two fountainhead water intakes through which water is delivered (and thereby aerated) to the lake. The concrete sculpture in the background next to the second fountainhead is just ornamental...


In this shot below, taken earlier from the eastern perimeter of the lake, you can see that ornamental sculpture in the background to the right with the second fountainhead just in front of it - I had somehow missed this detail. In the foreground of the image is what seems to be a floating shelf, topped with several potted plants which is an oddity...


Back inside the 7th Branch premises, here is a close up shot of the old concrete sculpture - it is at least thirty years old because I later found out from a Taiwanese friend that he remembers it from when he was a small boy...


The lake also had a sectioned off area for the deposition of sediments, which will have to be removed. If they cannot be sold to the construction industry, then money will have to be spent to dump them at sea. The amount of sediment on the lower reaches of the Kaoping river is probably several orders of magnitude greater than what can be seen here.


I spent some time talking to several of the 7th Branch chiefs, including a retiree, who were there with their wives having a picnic. I asked about permission to visit and photograph the fountainhead intake at Fongshan reservoir in Xiaogang, which I have wanted to capture for a long time. They were all in favour of letting me do so, but I gathered that the premises on which they could offer such a permit were restricted to civil engineering graduate students and employees of relevant companies. The old man instead advised me on another way to get the photographs. I took my leave from them sometime after 4pm and decided to head on down to Xiaogang and try my luck. Unlike most other reservoirs in Taiwan, visiting times at Fongshan reservoir are restricted to two time windows per day, with the second one beginning at 5pm. When I arrived I found, as I had expected, that the old man's advice was useless, and so I contented myself to walk down the regular path with everyone else to get some sunset pictures...


On the way down however, I discovered something: a path had been cut through the trees in order to transport massive pipe sections on truck (the V intersection at the top of the road must have been too tight to allow a long vehicle turn). That path led through the trees and directly onto the "forbidden" road and onto the bridge from which I could see the fountainhead. The reason access is restricted is that on the other side of that bridge lies a complex of buildings for Taipower which must have some basic security. I was not interested in that however.


The faded sign giving the vital statistics of Fongshan reservoir - the volumetric capacity is between eight and nine million cubic meters, which is similar in size to Baihe reservoir (i.e. on the smallish end of the scale).


The fountainhead, it is something like twelve meters tall...


At a distance from across the bridge with the sun going down at about 5.30pm...

Sunday, 15 February 2015

"Mirror Signal Move"

Having now spent almost a decade in Taiwan (it will be ten years this May), one of the things I have learned to do in living here is to shrug my shoulders. Where once I would stare, mouth open in disbelief at some impossible thing, I now just shake my head, shrug my shoulders and walk on. However, I cannot always manage this feat. A couple of weeks ago, I got myself wound up over something that I probably should have left well alone.

I had tried to point out a technical error in a document concerning driving and road safety. It described the necessary procedure for changing lanes as "First use your turn signal and then check your mirrors". When I pointed out that this should in fact be the other way around, in accordance with the "mirror, signal, manoeuvre" procedural principal that is taught in driving lessons in the UK and elsewhere in the West, I was given the response: "what does it matter?"

(A brief digression may be in order: there are at least two reasons for prioritizing the use of mirrors prior to signalling. First, there is a necessary coordination function to be performed - the timing of the signal is important in many situations since the driver must allow those behind him sufficient time/space to notice the signal and react accordingly either by slowing down, or changing lanes. Second, there is the more general imperative for drivers to be aware of their surroundings at all times, since potentially fatal accidents can occur due to lapses in concentration, hence it makes sense to emphasize the prioritization of checking mirrors as part of maintaining the requisite awareness).

Upon questioning others about this, I was informed by one that "it's a matter of opinion", and by another that "it's just a cultural difference", and someone else even told me that I was flat out wrong, and that the correct order is "signal, mirror, manoeuvre". These were all Taiwanese people. Appalled by this, I asked eight of my other Taiwanese friends and acquaintances and only two of them gave me the "mirror first" response. But it wasn't just that. When I asked why, I was told that obviously you must use your turn signal first so that other people behind you can anticipate what you want to do. That response was particularly frustrating because it demonstrated that they hadn't even understood the question. Why first? Why should you use your turn signal before you check your mirrors? Your turn signal will be flashing anyway whether you've already checked your mirrors first or not. I pushed a little harder to try to get them to understand the question - which just upset them. I was met with the point-blank refusal to think about the matter any further.

This apparent failure on the part of my friends, colleagues and acquaintances to grasp the logic of the sequence did not sit well with me. So what did I do? I took my question straight to the DMV office to check with the driving school administrators there. I explained things to the woman who met me there several times in my best Chinese and she appeared to agree with me - mirror first, then signal. I asked her if she had some literature I could take away with me to prove my case and she answered that she could give me a poster to take away and went off to collect one for me from the store cupboard. However, she found that there weren't any left so she said I could just use my phone to take a picture of their only display version of the poster on the wall. This I did, but when I checked the Chinese text featured on the poster, it made no mention whatsoever of checking mirrors, let alone the imperative of checking mirrors before signalling. I couldn't believe it. All I could do was facepalm and go home. I really shouldn't have been surprised that the DMV would let me down, but I was baffled by the woman's apparent agreement with me - she agreed with me and then pointed me to a poster that pretty much said the exact opposite of what she was agreeing with. It is a disjunction that I find troubling - was she just agreeing with me thoughtlessly and on reflex just to get me out of the office? Or did she just not even understand what the hell I was on about? Some foreigner babbling about mirrors and signalling - whatever, just agree with him and give him something to take away. Here's the poster...

Previously I had always assumed that the countless instances of bad driving I see on the roads here every day was due to people disregarding what they had been taught, even if that had been taught to them flippantly and without the proper seriousness. It seems it may actually be much worse than that; the authorities at the DMV themselves do not even understand the basic principles of responsible driving. For a country with a very high traffic accident rate, this just isn't excusable. What I usually hear from the Taiwanese is that the accident rate is very high here "because there are so many scooters and motorcycles". It's one of those typical face-saving semi-lies that you get from time to time which is designed to prevent any further penetration of the issue.

No. I am convinced, and have been for a long time now, that the traffic accident rate in Taiwan is so high because of human error, compounded by cultural psychosis. When you cannot even begin to explain to your Taiwanese friends what the problem is, you know that it's actually much worse than you realized.