Sunday, December 09, 2007

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

I went to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall on Saturday at around noon. On Friday, workers had removed the Chinese characters glorifying Chiang Kai-shek from the massive arch in front of the hall, amid both protests and cheers.

This is part of the government's massive effort to de-Chiangify Taiwan - the main international airport, which was Chiang Kai-shek International Airport when I first came to Taiwan, has already been renamed Taoyuan International Airport. The subway station still bears Chiang's name. (It's been confirmed that the station's name will not be changed, says the Taipei Times.)This is what the scene looked like at around noon on Saturday. The three points of interest: (1) CKS Memorial Hall is completely sealed off with barbed wire, (2) the grand archway is completely devoid of any lettering, and (3) there are no large crowds. That last one really surprised me.Lots of news crews, though.Overall, I was surprised at the general peacefulness and the lack of crowds. I'd expected more protests.

I returned with Jenna at around 3:00, when workers were beginning to put the new lettering up on the archway - and things were getting more interesting.

Here's the scene when we came back. The guys on the crane are putting the first of the new letters up. There's a much bigger crowd. Still not many protesters - most of the people seemed more cheerful and/or curious than anything.The work begins.Despite a few people who were upset (mostly pro-KMT folk who didn't want to see the name changed), it was a very safe and peaceful crowd, as evidenced by all the little dogs.And the guy with the parrot.The crowds grew as the work progressed. There was much cheering after the first letter was firmly placed on the archway.One person brought red wine and distributed it in plastic cups.The work is half done.A popular sentiment among the Green (anti-KMT) supporters.The whole scene was very peaceful. Even among the protesting KMT contingent, few people became unruly, though there was one middle-aged woman wielding a Taiwan/ROC flag and shouting what I think were pro-KMT slogans, and one or two people seeking a verbal confrontation with the police officers. I was very surprised at the lack of organization among the pro-KMT people - I really expected more of an organized protest.

We did not stay to see the work completed, but the full scoop on the day's events and a picture of the completed work can be seen at the Taipei Times website.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Elections Coming Up

Both of the Asian countries i've lived in have Presidential elections coming up soon. And I feel almost bad because I don't think I care enough about either of them.

In Korea, President Roh Moo-hyun is legally prevented from running for another five-year term (he's quite unpopular, so it might not have mattered much anyway). Practically everybody expects the December 19 election to be won by former Seoul mayor Lee Myung-bak of the GNP (Grand National Party). It's not clear exactly who Lee's main opponent is; for the past few years the Uri Party has been the GNP's main foe, but the Uri Party has completely disintegrated over the past year. (Korean political parties are very unstable; despite being the main left-wing party for much of this decade, the Uri Party did not exist yet when the last Presidential election was held in 2002, and no longer exists now that the country's holding another Presidential election.)

There's an assortment of candidates opposing Lee. The main center-left party now is the UNDP (United New Democratic Party) and their candidate is Chung Dong-young, but one recent poll shows independent candidate Lee Hoi-chang as the main challenger.

I expect Lee Myung-bak will probably win (although Roh scored quite a come-from-behind victory in 2002, and I suppose it could happen again), but I find I'm not all that concerned with the outcome.

Then there's Taiwan, which has its Presidential election on March 22. President Chen Shui-bian is barred from running again due to term limits. Ma Ying-jeou, former mayor of Taipei and charman of the KMT, is expected to win. There's still plenty of time for Frank Hsieh of the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) to close the gap. (About half of Taiwanese politicians use Anglicized given names. It's really rare to see that in Korea.)

Taiwan has as many political parties as Korea, but in Taiwan they align themselves into two broad alliances: the Pan-Blue Coalition, centered on the KMT, and the Pan-Green coalition, centered on the DPP.

Even though I live in Taiwan, I don't have strong feelings about the upcoming election. On the single most fundamental issue in Taiwanese politics (independence from China, or unification with China?) I generally agree with the pro-independence Greens. Otherwise, I don't think the world will end if Ma wins, as he's expected to.

But the election dominates domestic news here, and always leads the front page of the English-language Taipei Times (which has a fairly obvious pro-DPP, anti-KMT slant - someday I'm going to pick up the other major English-language daily, the China Post, to see if it's as obvious about leaning the opposite way).
That huge sign in Yonghe is pretty typical of the huge election signs that have sprung up. That's Ma on the left; he's shaking the hand of some pan-Blue politician seeking local office.

The other day, I was walking down Zhongxiao East Road when a car with loudspeakers blaring a patriotic-sounding song I couldn't understand sped by - while waving the flag of the People's Republic of China. It's not unusual to hear political songs being blasted out of cars festooned with political signs and slogans, but I was amazed to see a pro-PRC version. You wouldn't expect the Beijing government to be popular here, to say the least. I think there's a lot I have to learn about Taiwanese politics.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Couple of More Sunday Pictures

Here are some more pictures I took on our Sunday hike.
This cat was reasonably friendly. We weren't sure if he was a stray or not; he sure didn't act much like one, but he didn't have any visible owners around (halfway up the hill).
These statues guard the path to...

...a Christian gravesite.

A Hill near Jingmei

On Sunday, Jenna and I climbed up a big hill near our apartment in Jingmei.
Here's the view looking towards downtown Taipei.
And the view looking towards Xinyi.
Jenna photographing a bit of painted sculpture on the path.
The path.
There is a temple halfway up that seems to double as a community center.
There are some excellent viewing areas in the temple.
A super close-up picture of the inside of an incense bowl.

Another look at the face.

My neighborhood

Here's my street - Wanqing St., Lane 32 - at street level:
And here are some pictures I took from the big open balcony across the landing from us:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Japan pictures

It's been nearly a month - but here are some pictures from my trip to Japan with Jenna in September, to visit our Japan expat friends Jennie and Gerome.
This is the path leading to the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. It's near the center of the biggest city in the world - and yet it's so quiet and tranquil.
Jenna and Jennie at the Meiji Shrine.
The entryway to the shrine.
We went to a sumo tournament on Saturday. My knowledge of sumo is next to nothing, but I was swept away by the whole pageantry and ritual of it all. I knew the individual sumo matches would go by quickly, but the ones that lasted as long as ten seconds or more were exciting to watch.
Popular wrestlers got people carrying banners proclaiming corporate sponsorships.
After a while members of the royal family showed up. They were preceded by very creepy black-suited people who took up the seats on either side of the royal box. When the royals actually showed up, they got applause from everyone present, and bows from the wrestlers.
From left to right: Prince Naruhito, Princess Aiko, Princess Masako, big bodyguard.
This picture was taken from a 53rd floor restaurant in an office building. (When you just get drinks and dessert, it's not too expensive.) I believe the large dark area on the right is a park or a shrine.
On Sunday we went to Kamakura to see the world-famous Buddha statue. (That's Jennie and Gerome in the right foreground.)
Some pictures of statues at a shrine we visited at Kamakura.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Taipei MRT Renamed

Gareth of Gareth, Vivian and Fiona has fully translated the Taipei subway map into English, in what I must say is a beautiful piece of work.

I can't quite follow everything he has done here (I'm not sure how he got "The Hot Branches 1911 Revolution" out of "Xinhai") but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Japan Impressions

Jenna and I just spent the weekend in Tokyo visiting friends. There will be pictures up later, but first, my initial impressions of Japan. These are the impressions of someone who is accustomed to living in Korea and Taiwan, but has never been to Japan before except for a single day spent in Osaka in 2003:

- Tokyo is pricey, but not as horrifically expensive as I'd expected. As far as food and other minor purchases go, it's a good deal cheaper than London. The mass transit system can be expensive, though - especially since you must buy a new ticket when transferring to a train run by a different company (and Tokyo light rail and subways seem to be divided between several transportation companies).

- The Japanese have raised the art of separating garbage to a very high level. I wandered around for hours holding an empty Pocari Sweat bottle because I couldn't find a suitable place to throw it away. There is no such thing as ordinary garbage - everything must be seperated into burnables, cans, bottles, PET bottles, and probably a couple more categories I can't remember. And leaving your garbage at a restaurant you've just eaten at for the waitstaff to throw away is apparently highly rude in Japan - though it's perfectly normal in Taiwan.

- I saw cigarette vending machines for the first time since I was a kid. Korea and Taiwan don't have 'em.

- One more thing that was new to me: the whole system of ordering food in a restaurant by buying tickets from a machine and giving the tickets to a server. It seems like it would be beneficial for people with little Japanese ability since you don't have to actually say anything to order, but you still have to be able to read the monolingual labels on the ticket machine.

Friday, September 07, 2007

My first earthquake.

Got woken up by an earthquake last night. Didn't do any damage but there was a lot of rattling.

It was my first earthquake. I've apparently slept through earthquakes before but this time I was awake and aware of what was happening.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Second Day of Hiking

On Sunday we tackled Shulongjian, the highest peak in the area.
Here are some pictures of the way up.
The view from near the top.

If you look closely, you can see Taipei 101 in the far distance in the center of this picture.
After we ate lunch on the summit, the sky began to darken and storm clouds began to roll in. We heard thunder. We headed back down the mountain quickly - we never got rained on, although things might have become unpleasant at the top of the mountain had we stayed.
Jenna on the summit.