Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Long Weekend

In Taiwan, unlike the United States, most holidays are on the same date every year, rather than moving it to a convenient Friday or Monday. The ones that are not on the same date every year are dictated by the lunar calendar. So, Lunar New Year may be January 21 one year, and February 13 the next year. And so on.

Unfortunately, most of the holidays this year have fallen on a Saturday or Sunday. And so we just don't get them. I've been pretty bitter about it this year, because there are only about 5 national holidays, and at least 3 of them have been on the weekend.

The Vatican is one of the two dozen or so countries that maintains full diplomatic ties with Taiwan. (For the record, the others are poor Central American and African countries.) A few months ago, a Vatican official was in Taiwan, and he suggested that they make Christmas a holiday. It used to be a holiday (Constitution Day fell on Dec. 25), but they cancelled it when the workweek was supposedly shortened from 48 to 44 hours. The Taiwanese official replied that another holiday was not necessary, since workers already get 2 days off every other week. In the mysteries of the Chinese language, every Saturday or Sunday is a "holiday," so we get over 100 "holidays" a year. And they think that's enough.

We did have a real "holiday" this week. But that excuse about the holidays is just shit. What it boils down to is that all the politicians are also a bunch of money-grubbing businessmen who would rather die than pay a few hours of overtime.

The Taiwanese think they're so hard-working. But it's really just that they're always at work. Of course they get a lot done.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Today's Discussion Question:

Imagine that you drive a 2-wheeled vehicle to work every day. About 6 miles each way, in the open air, rain or shine.

Now, imagine that you have a pocketful of change. Quite a bit of it. It's not enough to buy a pizza or anything, but you could probably buy lunch at McDonalds. With the McFried Apple Pie.

And finally, imagine that as you're speeding to work on a long stretch of road where all the green lights are really working in your favor, you sense some of the change falling out of your pocket and clattering onto the pavement. How much money would you have to think you lost before you stopped and went back for it?

I realize that part of this hinges on the perceived value of your money. In America for instance, you're not likely to have anything more valuable than quarters, which are just barely useful these days. But some countries have higher-value coins. My pockets often fill up with 10NT coins which are worth about 35 cents US but have a much higher psychological value here. Ten New Taiwan Dollars could buy you, for instance, a fresh cup of ice tea, a plastic soap dish, a newspaper, a ball-point pen, or 5 local phone calls. But there are also 50NT coins, and you'd probably go back for even one of those. Wouldn't you?

Well? How much would you lose before you went back for it? Keep in mind it didn't just land where it fell out of your pocket. It hit the ground at 60KPH and bounced while you raced forward, watching it skitter away in your rear-view mirror.

For extra credit, factor in the possibilty that it's not daytime, but nighttime.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.

update: Apparently it's not just me. Other people have had problems with Thursdays in Taiwan. Sir Elton didn't think much of the media hounding he received. It's the same gang of media thugs who follow criminals and victims alike into hospital rooms, police stations, and government buildings.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

True Story:

A common criminal act in Taiwan is to "kidnap" peoples' cars. They notify the person whose car has gone missing and make arrangements for ransom, whereupon the location of the car is revealed. Most of the time, these ransoms just get paid. I've also heard of this same thing happening to people's pets.

So anyway, a scooter repairman has his car stolen. As a profession, they don't make a lot of money, so it probably wasn't even a nice car. While he's at the police station, his cell phone rings. The "carnappers" are demanding 50,000 NT ransom (about 1800$ US). He doesn't have that kind of money, so there in the police station, he wheedles them down to 10,000 NT (about $400 US). They agree, and then--get this--they give him the bank account number in to which he needs to transfer the money. I should add that this is a very common payment method here, probably second to cash in terms of popularity. But there's no such thing as an anonymous account here. They ache for paperwork to amass on every last thing.

The police, being presented with
a) a man reporting a stolen car,
b) the bank account number of the theives,
c) the cell phone number of the thieves, and
d) officers who witnessed the car being ransomed over the phone
advise the man to pay the ransom and get his car back. So he does.

What happened here? Police corruption? Indifference? Incompetence? Miscommunication? Another angle to the story that we don't know about (maybe the victim was a complete asshole in the station and got told off by weary police)? Keep in mind that this is Taiwanese-on-Taiwanese confrontation here. No foreigners getting ignored by xenophobic locals. Just an average day.


Friday, September 10, 2004

So, how 'bout this weather, huh?

Lots and lots of people in Taiwan think that Taichung has the best weather. They'll tell you this as a matter of simple fact. "You live in Taichung? Oh yes, the weather there is very good. The best in Taiwan." For a long time, I was a little confused about this. But today I understood.

You see, Taiwan is a tropical island. Actually, it's sub-tropical and tropical. The line runs right through Taiwan in the southern part. It's a tiny island with an enormous mountain range running up its spine. I mean really huge. Taiwan is only about 100 miles wide, but the mountains reach excesses of 10,000 feet. Those mountains and Taiwan's place in the Pacific makes for some bad weather. In some places.

I always thought Taichung seemed kind of hot, dirty, and too dry. In the miserable summer months, the temperature is always a few degrees higher here than Taipei. Also, Taichung is slightly inland, with mountains of various sizes on three sides--so lots of the pollution generated here (and there's more than enough) hangs in the air on bad days. The other major cities are all closer to the sea. And whereas we go long stretches without rain, northern parts of Taiwan see afternoon rain showers often throughout the year.

So I took issue with the "best weather" thing. But today on the news, I see that northern and southern Taiwan are still getting flooding from some rain that fell this week. Taipei is still cleaning up after Typhoon Aere last month totally covered parts of that city in water. The east coast, on the Pacific side of the mountains (which is stunningly beautiful compared to the megalopolis that stretches out on Taiwan's western plains), always gets absolutely shit on during typhoon season. And the mountainous regions are prone to massive landslides after heavy rains. And in the middle of all this, is Taichung (which means "Central Taiwan") just sits and smiles benignly on the misery that surrounds her this time of year.

Taichung doesn't have the best weather because it's the mildest and most pleasant. It's the best weather because the weather-related disasters that ruin other bits of the island on a regular basis simply never make it here.

And that's your weather for today. Now, back to Veronica in the studio.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Yeah, so? Bite me.

Among the things I hate for the moment, Sunday morning at 9 am:

1. Can no longer seem to sleep in on weekend mornings.
2. Dog only bothers me while I sleep, not when I'm awake.
3. Have been up since 6:30. And it's frigging Sunday.

The hell of it is, it's much nicer to be up this early. The city is quiet--even peaceful. The tropical sun hasn't yet started mixing with the haze of particles and fumes that rise out of the city on any given day. Old ladies really are doing tai chi in the park. A lot of them. So in a lot of ways, the negatives could be outweighed if I were in the mood.

I'm trying to adjust to life as an adult. My back hurts sometimes. I want to be in bed at 10:30. But I still feel a stab of nostalgia for the deeply-slumbering mornings I used to manage well into college. Pretty soon, I'll be like my dad, up at 4 am--in bed by 9pm. God help me.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Heavy Metal

Today was "Heavy Machinery in the Road" Day. I don't know if they have this where you live, but in a crowded, constantly under-construction place like Taiwan, it's pretty common.

I constantly share the road with forklifts, dump trucks loaded with rocks, 20-story cement-pump cranes, bulldozers, cement mixers, millions of smaller delivery vehicles, car-hauling trailers, and flatbed trailers with more of the above.

But oddly, the one thing I almost never see here are western-style pickup trucks. When people want a work truck here, they get what I've always called a "blue truck." They're the ones that look like this. That's what Taiwan is filled with. And, they really are nearly always blue. They're always sold that way new, and most people here wouldn't waste money on something like painting a vehicle.

If I ever make it back to N. America, I want one of these instead. They're the true workhorses of this place. And when they get beat to hell, they don't get fixed. What a deal.