DAN BLOOM NEW BOOK
A good man in Kaohsiung makes international headlines
The main reason I like living in Taiwan and why I love Taiwan is the Taiwan people. There are so many wonderful and intersting people on this island. I will never get tired of living here. It is never boring in Taiwan!
A good example of an intersting man is a man named Duh Chun-yuan who lives in Koahsiung. Last year, a newspaper in England wrote a news article in ENglish about him. It was titled "The Taiwan millionaire who sweeps the streets
The newspaper reported: "at 6:30 am every day, a 63-year-old man leaves his home in the Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung with a dustpan and brush to sweep the streets around his home. He spends half an hour making his neighborhood clean - he even cleans up dog dirt - before returning home to have breakfast with his wife."
"There is something more meaningful in my life other than material purposes," Duh Chun-yuan said.
Duh is a multi-millionaire businessman who heads two of Taiwan's top IT companies.
Dr Duh Chun-yuan carries out his morning routine not because he has to, but because, like an increasing number of Taiwanese, he feels he wants to put something back into his community, the British newspaper said.
He said: "People see me cleaning the street and say, 'How can this guy do that job,' but I feel very good, very calm. I feel it's helping me spiritually."
Despite rising economic prosperity over recent years, many people on the island, like Duh, are turning to voluntary work and other good deeds to fulfil the spiritual side of their lives, the newspaper reported.
Duh is one of Taiwan's most successful businessmen. He was a pioneer of the island's semi-conductor industry and holds senior positions in two companies he founded, Orient Semiconductor Electronics and Silicon Integrated Systems.
His life seemed to be going along a traditional path until 1987 when he had a life-changing experience. He suffered a heart attack during a trip to Hawaii and began to reassess his life.
He soon became involved with the Tzu Chi Foundation in Taiwan, a Buddhist charity that focuses on such things as health and educational projects both on the island and overseas.
Dr Duh, who has three children, is a key foundation supporter. Just two of his donations of land and shares to the organisation were together worth nearly $100 million US dollars.
Like many others with less money to give, he also donates his time to good causes, such as his street sweeping.
"Before joining the foundation, I was just like every other businessman, fighting for the growth of the business, for profit, for personal reasons," he said.
"Now I feel there is something more meaningful in my life other than material purposes. I feel personally I am now a much more humble person."
A spokesman for the Tzu Chi foundation told a British reporter:
"People get a sense of satisfaction and sense of pride from contributing to society," she said. "People become spiritually wealthy because when you help others you actually help yourself."
Duh's final comment to the British newspaper was: "Speaking from my heart, I would prefer to be remembered as a devoted volunteer of Tzu Chi rather than as a businessman."
Taiwan needs more national treasures like Duh Chun-yuan!
Kenting Time is Taiwan time
"Kenting time!" excalims Mrs. Chen, the co-owner of a small Internet cafe in the resort town of Kenting. "Just slip into Kenting time and let all your worries go away! That's what happened to me 12 years ago when I first came here on a vacation from Taipei."
"Yes, slip into Kenting time, into the relaxed mode," Mrs. Chen adds. "Everyone just chills out here."
Indeed. To describe Kenting as laid back would suggest a level of energy greater than appears to exist in this rural region of Taiwan, the southern part of this Treasure Island experience we all yearn for. Early on a recent weekday morning, a couple was walking on the hard sand of a local beach, a mind-staggering expanse of seashore that is at least a quarter of a mile in width and stretches on and on and on. They were completely naked. Well, not completely. Each was wearing a baseball cap, protection for at least a part of the body from the strong rays of the sun. When they reached some rocks, they picked up their shorts and tops, put them on, and walked off to their car. "We are definitely in the middle of nowhere," notes Mrs. Chen.
"I was traveling around Taiwan for my business as a saleswoman, and I got stuck here," says Edwina Wu, another resident of Kenting who lives on Kenting time.
Stuck? "I was enjoying myself," she added. "I slipped into Kenting time. I have friends who did exactly that. They came seven years ago for holiday. They're still here. They slipped into Kenting time."
Cherish your time on this Treasure Island. Keep your own time, and once in a while, find the time to slip into Kenting time. Yes!
Night markets, flea markets, day markets, fish markets....
As you know, as a night market book vendor selling my own books in Taiwan, I often visit night markets around Taiwan, and i like the carnival atmosphere i find there. Night markets are surely one of Taiwan's unique gifts to the world!
in English, we call night markets "night markets" because they are "markets" that are open at "night". But some English-speaking people also call night markets by another term -- "flea markets." And there are many, many open-air flea markets around this Treasure Island, too.
There is a big flea market in Taipei where local residents sell many kinds of items -- from jewelry to hats to clothes to food, everything you can imagine. There is music, there is dancing, there are painted faces, there is a wonderful carnival atmosphere in the air, and parents, children, grandparents, uncles, aunts, the entire Taiwanese family structure is there in full force, having fun, chatting away, sampling the delicious food and enjoying an afternoon outing in the open air!
A flea market in Taiwan usually takes place during the day, although sometimes its hours will be extended into the early evening, too. But why is it called a "flea market" in English? Is it because there are many dogs at the flea market and many fleas in the dogs' hair? Or is it because there are many fleas in the food in those kinds of markets? Or is it, as one wag in Taipei once suggested, because people in flea markets look like fleas?
The term flea market is actually a translation of the French expression "marche aux puces," literally meaning a "market with fleas," an open-air market where second hand goods are sold.
In Taiwan, on this Treasure Island, flea markets, day markets, wet markets, fish markets, night markets, yes, and even "stock markets", are up and running almost everywhere islandwide. Long live all the fascinating day and night markets in Taiwan!
Selling my books in the night markets of Taiwan is my new career!
Writing books in Taiwan, and trying to find readers to read them, is not easy, not for local writers and not for foreigner writers, either. the book indsutry is a wonderful business, and I love being a writer. But it is not easy find an audience, if you are not a celebrity or a Nobel prize-winning author. and, of course, I am neither! I am just a country boy who lives in CHiayi and loves to write and communicate with people.
When I published my first book about Taiwan, in September 2001, sales in bookstores were very low and I was sad. But then I had a good idea: I would take my books to the night markets of Taiwan, and sell my book directly to people one by one. I did that, and as a result, my first book became a bestseller, selling over 10,000 copies in two years! Not bad.
This is what a prestigious magazine in New York, Publishers Weekly, wrote about me and book night market book sales methods in Taiwan:
[An American Uses Street Smarts Handselling His Book in Taiwan
By Sally Taylor
Publishers Weekly PW DAILY BOOKSELLER
January 16, 2002
In a secondary Taiwan city, alongside the new Carrefour shopping complex, a busy outdoor night market proves the old Asian retailing theory that you must go to the buyer, not just wait for him to come to you.
Here amidst the throng of lights and shoppers you can find betel-nut- chewing, Boston-born Dan Bloom standing next to his red bicycle, hawking his new book, "I'm Just Crazy About Taiwan!" (Eurasian Press, Taipei)
The 42-year-old journalist has lived in Taiwan for five years and wrote the book, which is available only in Chinese, to describe his love for his adopted country.
"Hello, hello. Come one, come all. Take a look at my new book, just published. Yes, I really love Taiwan?" Bloom barks to the crowd in heavily American-accented Chinese.
With his "big nose" (as the Chinese call North Americans and Europeans) and his French beret, Bloom can't possibly hope to blend in here. But he offers his self-published book for NT$100, around US$3, half the bookstore price.
"I don't make any money selling my book so cheaply," Bloom admits, "But this is the only way I have to introduce the book to the people of Taiwan, to the reading public. The bookstores around the island have not been promoting my book very well since I am not a star or a celebrity or a bestselling author. So I took matters into my own hands. The night market here is my advertising vehicle."
A public relations consultant for Taipei's annual book fair (TIBE 2004) and an occasional reporter for PW, Bloom reports his handselling technique is working.
"I sold only three books the first night I came here. I was quite shy and nervous about doing this in public. But now I can sell around 25 books every night, and the night market strollers seem happy to meet a real American writer face to face. They chat with me for a few minutes and get a signed copy of my book at a great price. I've never enjoyed myself so much."
And now the Taiwan media is fascinated. "This might be the first time any author has ever taken to selling his newly published book in a night market in Taiwan," says the United Daily News. Several major weeklies have sent journalists to write up the phenomenon. And now Bloom's book is blossoming in bookstores -- many of them are taking copies.
So when my second book was published in September 2002, I was hoping that it would be easier to find readers, since my first book had become a night market bestseller. However, guess what, bookstore sales for my second book were also very very slow, and I am sure it will be the same for this third book you are reading now. Bookstores -- and I love bookstores -- cannot sell my books very well. Why? I think it is because I am not a famous writer, I am not a great writer, I am not a prize-winning writer and never will be, my name is not famous, I am not a superstar on TV or radio, nobody knows me. Who is Dan Bloom? Nobody knows Dan Bloom in Taiwan!
But when my second book was published, my publisher arranged a press conference in Taipei for me. I was excited, because this would be a good chance for me to promote my book to the taiwan media and get some positive news stories into the newpapers and on TV news programs. For my first book, my publisher did not arrange a press conference, and I had to do all the press contact work myself, picking up the telephone and calling reporters in Taipei, CHiayi and Kaohsiung.
So when the day came for my first press conference, I was very excited. I was so excited I could not sleep the night before. I kept rehearsing all the questions and answers I expected to talk about at the press conference.
But when the press conference began on Septemner 24, 2002, not one reporter was in the room. For two hours, I just sat at the table with my editor, wondering why the media did not come to my press conference. of course, there were other important news stories that day in Taipei, stories starrring celebrities and movie stars and superstars and TV stars. So for two hours, not one reporter came to my press conference. I wanted to cry. But instead I laughed. This is life, I said, to myself. I just have to be patient.
Fianlly, after two hours, one reporter came to the press conference, and later, an hour later, one more reporter came to the press conferece. I was happy to talk with them. So what if the room was not full of newsppaer reporters or TV cameramen? I was happy that at least two reporters came to meet me. One reporter wrote a very nice story about my new book, and it appeared in the newspapers the next day. The second reporter's story appeared two months later, a very nice story, too - but too late to help book sales in the bookstores.
So I went back to selling my second book in the night markets of Taiwan, and guess what, it became a bestseller there too. For me, bookstores are useless; but night markets are essential. So I am happy to be a non-famous writer from America who sells his books in the night markets of Taiwan. I love my life here, and I plan to continue selling my books this way. IF you see me in the night markets one day, please stop and say hello.
"Bei la bei la, sho sho a bei i pai quai ji pa ko man man kan my new book take a look Bei la bei la, sho sho a bei Wo ha san taiwan!"
Trains can be a lonely place, too.
When I first came to taiwan in 1996, i had a part-time job as a buxiban teacher at a cram school in Dorio in Yunlin COunty, about a 30-minute train ride from Chiayi. Every day, five days a week, I would take the train from Chiayi to Dorio around 1 pm and come back to Chaiyi around 9 or 10 pm, sometimes as late as 11 pm.
Those late night train rides from Dorio to Chiayi were lonely, very lonely. At that time of night, most of the trains lonely places, with very few passengers, and even if there are some passengers, most of them are sleeping on their way down to Tainan or Kaohsiung. So whenever I took the late night trains from Dorio to Chiayi, i felt very lonely indeed. A train that is not crowded, that is quiet and dark and noisy, can be a very lonely place.
I tried to fight the loneliness on those late night train rides by standing in the back of the train and looking out at the passing countryside. I could smell flowers and vegetables and pigs and chicken farms! I could hear the train as it speeded over small bridges over small rivers. Outside, it was dark and lonely, and although I enjoyed watching the night scenery go by, it was a lonely time of day for me!
Sometimes on the lonely night train I would read the newspapers or read a book to try to get rid of the boredom and the loneliness. SOmetimes i would start a conversation with a high school student or a collge student returnging home late at night. But even when the train arrivefd at Chiayi trian station at 11 pm, the station platform was lonely and dark, and I remmeber those nights, even now, many years later.
trains have memories, trains give us memories, trains store memories. I love travelling by train because usually trains are happy, well-lighted places full of chattering people talking back and forth, but at night, on a late night train from a small town to a small city in southern Taiwan, it can be a lonely place indeed.
Selling my books on the Taiwan trains
I don't know if this is legal or not, and perhaps it is not really legal at all, but sometimes when i am travelling around Taiwan by train, I carry about 25 of my books with me in a small book bag and I sell them to fellow passengers on the train! Sometimes i sell one book during a four-hour trip, sometimes I sell 5 or 10 books. Once I sold 25 books on a long trip from Kaohsiung to taipei!
let me tell you how my train- selling adentures began:
As you know, I have written two books about my life in Taiwan. The first book is titled  and the second book is titled . Both books are sold in the bookstores in Taiwan, and I also sell the books myself in the night markets of Taiwan, too. I first began selling my books in the night markets two years ago, and I had so much fun, and met so many people, and really enjoyed the night market culture so much, that I now sell my books every night in a night market in Chiayi or Kaohsiung or Taipei or Taichung. I have sold over 10,000 books this way, and while my publishers think I am crazy to spend so much time selling my books in the night markets, I love my new night market part-time job!
Someone once told me, a very smart business that I met on the train in Taipei, that "if the customers won't come to your store, you should go to the customers directly." This is an important business philosophy and even though I know very little about how to be a businessman, I decided to try my luck by selling my books in the night markets. And it worked: since the bookstores didn't sell my books too well, and since many people do not enter bookstores these days, I decided to bring my books directly to people at the night markets.
My "side business" -- selling my books from the back seat of my bicycle at the night markets -- was so succcessful that many TV stations and weekly magazines wrote news articles about me and my "success" as a bookseller and writer! Even NEXT magazine sent a team of reporters and cameramen to Chiayi to write a 4 page article about me! And TVBS-TV reported on me when I was selling my books at the Liu Ho Night MArket in Kaohsiung and many people in taiwan saw that news story.
So I learned something very important in Taiwan: if the customer won't come to you, you must go to the customer. Using this business philosophy, I decided one day to try selling my books on the trains, too.
On a trip to taipei one afternoon, I walked up and down the aisles of the train car I was riding on and held up my book for the other passengers to see. I didn't shout or speak a loud voice, I just walked silently down the aisles and held up my book. Whenever someone became curious and wanted to know what I was selling, I would sit down and start talking to them -- in my own funny mixture of Chinese, taiwanes , ENglish, and japanese. That is how I communicate with people in taiwan -- in my own funny DAN BLOOM language.
The first time I tried selling my book in the train, I sold only three books during a long four hour trip. but I enjoyed meeting new people and the time passed quickly during the long train trip. I decided to do it again. And again. Now, whenever I travel in Taiwan by train, I bring my books with me and "introduce" them to my fellow passeners. It's a good way to make new friends, it helps pass the time, and I also learn new things about Taiwan.
So now, I am a night market bookseller and a train book vendor, too. But I always do it quietly in order not to distrub the other passengters who are reading their newspapers or sleeping or taking a nap or talking on their cellphones. I don't realy care if I sell my books on the train or not, it's just another way to interact and communicate with taiwanes people as I travel around Taiwan. And on the trains, some people are bored and they do enjoy meeting me and looking at my book. If they want to buy it, I always sell it at a nice discoiunt for just NT$100, and then I sign the book and shake their hands. it's fun. If you ever see me on the train selling my books, please come over and talk to me. I love to meet new friends. ANd trains are a wonderufl plcae to meet new people.
Sometimes I give my books free to fellow passengers as a gift, and sometimes i give my books to the train conductors or ticket officers or the waitresses on the trains sellin the biantangs! For me, my books are a way to interact with the people of Taiwan, and making money has never been my goal. I do not believe that "time is money"! I believe that "time" is the most important gift in the world and we should use it wisely to make ourselves and others happy.
The trains have offered me a new way to meet people and introduce my books around Taiwan. If the bookstores cannot sell my books because I am not a superstar or a celebrity, then I can take the books with me whereveer I go in Taiwan and sell them directly to readers anywhere. THis is my new hobby, and I will sell this book too -- the book you are reading right now !!! -- this way too.
Bookstores, night markets and trains -- this is how I sell my books. This is how I enjoy my life in Taiwan. This is how I can be a dreamer in daily life and make my dreams come true.
Who knows, maybe someday, I will sell my book to a friendly Taiwanese woman, and we will become friends and have good conversations, and later i will marry her! Wouldn't that be nice!
In Taiwan, anything can happen. That is what I love about living here.
Sometimes people travelling on the trains recognize my face from the newspaper or magazine stories they have read about me, or the TV shows about me, and they will come over to me and say: "Excuse me, sir, are you Dan Bloom, the writer who sells his books in the night markets? I saw your picture in NEXT magazine, and I think I recognize you!"
I always am polite and say "Yes, I am dan bloom, and it's nice to meet you. What is your name?"
ANd then we have a nice conversation on the train and time passes quickly and life is wonderful. If you ever see me in Taiwan, in the night markets or on the trains or on the subway in Taipei or on the sky train in Tamshui, please say hello.
I received a letter from a man who bought my book on the train. He wrote:
"Dear Dan Bloom,
Your enthousiam for Taiwan, and your enthousiam for life is contagious! It is so nice to meet someone who really enjoys his life and has fun living, and I congratulate you for having the courage to sell your books in public the way you do. Your courage gives me courage to try even harder in my own business and do "conect" with the world outside my own little world. You are a brave man and a creative man, Dan bloom. good luck to you! and I hope you will enjoy the rest of your journeys in Taiwan."
Mr Wu, age 35 restaurant owner Taichung
Why I love the Chiayi train station
Train stations in Taiwan have a nostalgic appeal for many people, especially the older generation which has seen many changes to their favorite stations over the years. But young people also have a special feeling for train stations, and many of these memories may be associated with going to high school and college.
Whoever said "every station is the same, they are all alike" was wrong. No, every train station is a universe of its own, a special world made up of the design, the architecture, the employees working there and the rhythm and flow of passenger traffic throughout the day. EVery train station is special, and perhaps you, too, dear reader, have your own special train station of fond memories and appeal.
(Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me which train station you love the best in Taiwan. I want to know how Taiwanese people feel about this!)
Sometimes a train station in Taiwan might be associated with a childhood memory, or a love affair with a boyfriend or girlfriend a long time ago. Or a train station might be a memory of a special family reunion, when you saw your grandmother or grandfather for the first time as a young person. Or a train station could also have a special memory for someone who served in the ROC military as a soldier and remembers taking the train to their army base. Or maybe you remember a special train station in Taiwan because you often went there as a university student or with colleagues on a weekend company trip.
Although I have not visited all the train stations in Taiwan, I do feel that some RR stations are very special. Let me tell you about them.
Since I have spent most of my time in Taiwan living in Chiayi, I have fallen in love with the CHiayi railroad station! It is a familiar sight for me, when I go there to take the train to Taipei, and it is again a familiar (and reassuring) sight for me when i return to Chiayi after a long trip to Taipei or Kaohsiung.
The Chiayi train station is my compass, my map, my home. The ticket clerks who work inside the glass windows are my friends and acquaitances, and they are not strangers to me. they are part of my life in CHiayi and often see the ticket clerks outside the train station at the local night markets or while shopping at a department store or eating noodles on Culture Road.
Chiayi train station is not the most beautiful train station in Taiwan, but for me it has the most memories, good memories, happy memories. I remmember waiting for trains on hot summer days, I remember waiting for trains on cold December nights with a mild rain falling on the tracks. I remember the smell of the sausage food stand outside the station, and the smell of grilled corn and chodofu.
For me, the Chiayi train station is the center of Taiwan. Because everyone begins and ends there for me. It is the first train station I visited when I first came to Taiwan in 1996, and it has been the train station where I always depart on my trips around this Treasure Island. And of course, Chiayi CIty is where the Alishan narrow-guage railway begins its long journey into the scenic mountains of Central Taiwan, or what I like to call "The Taiwan Alps."
My apartment is just 400 meters from the main train tracks in Chiayi, and every morning I can hear the trains going to Taipei and heading down to Kaohsiung. From my bedroom window, I can actually see the train cars as they pass by, and I often dream that I am on that train going somewhere! I love trains, and I love looking at trains! They are a symbol, for me, of comfortable sleek transportation, and since I was a child in America, I have always been in love with trains.
One day I was going on a trip to Taipei to visit an editor for a meeting about one of my books, and while I was waiting on the platform at CHiayi train station, one of the platform employees began talking with me.
"Aren;t you Dan Bloom, the writer who sells his books at the night market in Chaiyi?" he asked me.
"yes, I am dan bloom" I replied. "I'm going to Taipei now to meet with an editor about a new book I am planning to write."
"What will the book be about?" Mr Chen asked me.
"It is going to be a book about trains in Taiwan" i said.
"Oh, that is very interseting" he said. "For many Taiwan people, trains are a link to the past, with many memories stored up about their early train trips around Taiwan. That's one reason I wanted to become a railway worker when I was still a teenager. I always thought that working for the trains would be a good way to travel and meet new people."
"You have a good job, Mr Chen," I said. "I envy you."
"By the way, DAn Bloom, I am wondering if you could teach me English?| Mr chen asked. "are you an English teacher?|
"No," I said, "I am not an English teacher, I am a reporter, a journalist, and I like to write books and sell them in the night markets around Taiwan. But sometimes I do teach students one by one, in a private class. Why do you want to study ENglish.?|
Actually, Mr Chen's ENglish skills were already very good and he could talk to me very fluently in ENglish. I told him this, and he said: "But i want to improve my English, so I can talk better with foreigners who travel on our trains in Taiwan. Can you help me?|
I told Mr cHen that I could have a conversation class with him once a week, for 90 minutes, and we could talk about many different things in ENglish, and also I could teach him a few things about AMerican slang.
"Thanks, Dan Bloom," Mr CHen said, shaking my hand. "It is a real pleasure to know you. I will do my best to improve my English!"
That's what I like about the Chiayi train station: the employees are friendly and they make me feel comfortable living and working there. They don't treat me as a foreigner, but instead they treat me as a "New Taiwanese" and i like that. I am happy to call Chiayi my home, and I am happy to make the Chiayi train station the point of departure for all my trips around Taiwan.
Long live the Chiayi train station! ANd long live the many people, men and women, who work there and keep the entire station in good working order!
Just the Ticket: Around Taiwan by Train
The official website of the ROC Tourism Bureau has a special section devoted to train travel, and while it sometimes reads like a tourist brochure, it also serves as a good online jumping off point to plan an around-Taiwan train trip.
"Taiwan's railways offer an endless variety of experience, and the scenery lining their routes provides an infinite range of fascinating scenery. If you want to get a close look at the island's beauties without having to suffer the problems of unfamiliar roads and the frustrations of traffic congestion, then you could do no better than choose a railroad tour and immerse yourself in the delights of enchanting coastlines, awesome mountains, placid farmlands, and engrossing countryside."
Sounds like a nice idea: purchase a ticket, hop on the train, and tour the entire island by the old and trusty "iron horse." The Taiwan Railway Association (TRA) now offers a special 15-day passport for train lovers who want to see the island by rail, and it's not expensive. For NT$1,700, you can ride the trains around the island -- in one direction only, however, once you begin your trip, but you can choose the way you want to go ! -- for 15 days. When asked about this special offer, Mr Liu, a railway official in southern Taiwan, told me:
"Passengers can be kids, teens, students, adults, the entire public can use this offer. Riders can go around the island, starting anywhere, and finish where they began, if they wish, and you can get off anywhere you like,although only seven stops are allowed. No reservations are necessary, and you can overnight anywhere you want to. The special rail passport, however, does not cover the narrow-guage train to Alishan. If passengers want to go there, too, that's extra. But anywhere else in Taiwan, wherever our trains go, you can go. And if you want to extend your travel time to 30 days, and go at a slower pace around the entire island, taking more time to get off and visit the cities and towns you want to, the cost is just double, of course. We think it's a pretty inexpensive way to see Taiwan, up close! and personal."
I began my "Taiwan circle trip" in Taipei and headed first to Keelung Port for a two-day visit. Then I took the train for a one-day visit to Chiufen, later continuing down the track to Ilan City. Two days in Ilan, one day in Suao and Nanfanao, two days in Hualien, another three days in Taitung, three days in Pintung and a week in Kaohsiung. Travelling up the west coast, after the spectacular scenery of the east coast, I touched base in Tainan for two days and spent a day each in Tounan and Changhwa on the way back to Taipei. Later, i visited Taichung for three days, Hsinchu for two days, and Yangmei and Chungli for a day each, before making the final leg to Taipei City.
It was a long, tiring trip, and yet relaxing at the same time. Most of the time i took the slow trains with the open windows, but occasionally i sat back in the express trains and watched the scenery speed by. Or rather, we! looked out the large train windows, as we sped by. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, train talk, plain talk, Walkman plugged in or open ears.
"The history of the railroad in Taiwan dates back to 1887, in the declining years of the Qing Dynasty, when authorities started work on a section of track in the northern part of the island," a TRA official explained. "The Japanese expanded on that beginning when they occupied Taiwan from 1895 to 1945, and the round-the-island network was completed after the island was restored to Taiwan rule."
Today, more than a century after its small beginning, Taiwan's railway network consists of the West Coast Trunk Railway, the East Coast Trunk Railway, the North-Link Railway and the South-Link Railway. Passenger service is divided into four classes, offering travelers a choice depending on their destination, the urgency of their trip, and the amount of money they want to spend.
One of my side-trips, allowed on the 15-day passport special, was a trip on the Neiwan line from Hsinchu, a laidback excursion into the! backcountry that includes scenic views of the Beipu Scenic Area and the Wu-zhi-shan Scenic Area.
If you want to travel the complete length of Taiwan's railway system, you can purchase round-the-island tickets from the Taiwan Railway Administration. These seven separate tickets allow you to stop at seven stations along the way, so along as you get back on at the same stations. The tickets are valid for 15 days from the date of your first ride.
Trains have an allure for some people that planes and automobiles can never match. There's romance, there's great photo opportunities at every station and at every bend in the track, and it's convenient, inexpensive way to travel around Taiwan. If you have 10-15 days off on your next vacation, the special TRA passport might just be the thing you need. Happy voyages!
An American Expat's Notes from Taiwan
I have lived in Taiwan for 8 years now and plan to remain here for the rest of my life. Many people have asked me "why?"
Am I married to a Taiwanese woman? No, that is not the reason?
Do I have a huge high-paying job here? No, I eke out a meager living writing and editing textbooks and writing stories for local newspapers.
So what is it that keeps you in Taiwan, of all places?
The answer is in this book, but I can preface it all by saying that two things fascinate me about Taiwan.
One is the Taiwan people themselves, a very interesting population composed of ethnic Chinese who have successfully built a little island nation of their own just 100 kilometers off the coast of mainland China.
The second reason that I find life in Taiwan fascinating, and rewarding, is that at this time in history Taiwan is fighting a very important battle for democracy and human freedom -- using international PR and diplomacy to try to tell the world at large that China is a communist bully and Taiwan is a freedom-loving, democratic nation that deserves a place on the world stage.
This fight keeps me in Taiwan, not as a paid agent of any country, but merely as an interested observer: an American reporter on Isla Formosa. Great country, great people. If you don't believe me, come here someday and see for yourself!
I hope my little book will help you understand the Taiwan Story a little better.
Imagine living in a country where almost every day the newspapers carry stories and headlinlines like this:
BEIJING SHOULD BE CONDEMNED FOR DEPLOYING MISSILES AIMED AT TAIWAN
"Beijing should be condemned for deploying missiles aimed at Taiwan," Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien said Monday. Addressing a workshop for ambassadors and heads of diplomatic missions stationed abroad who have returned to Taiwan for consultations, Chien said that Beijing has recdently deployed some 400 missiles targeting Taiwan.
"It should be condemned by the internationalcommunity," he added. Chien encouraged the diplomats to make the whole world aware that Taiwan is a free, democratic and peace-loving country and hopes that Beijing dismantles the missiles aimed at Taiwan. "Disputes between nations can never be settled by means of war or any other bloody violence," the foreign minister stressed. Taiwan does not want to be threatened or intimated by missiles when the people of the nation are electing their leaders, Chien went on.
And so it goes, day after day, on this little feisty country called Taiwan. On one side of the Taiwan Strait, the bully of Communist China continually threatens to invade and interfere with the lives of the 23 million people who live here. It's a fascinating place to live, at this time in history, and I support the notion of a free, independent nation of Taiwan completely. It already is a free, independent nation. Come here and see for yourself!
And in the meantime, read my book for some background reflections. I don't have a PHD in geopolitics and I am not an expert in anything. I am just an American wanderer who washed up on these shores a few years ago and have called Taiwan home ever since. I like it here. I love the people. Long live Taiwan!
Why I like living in Taiwan in the 21st Century!
One of the reasons I like living in Taiwan is that life here is not as "modern" (and therefore not as stressful and decadent) as in my own country of America.
While it is 2003, maybe 2004 already as you read this, in America and in the Western world, in Taiwan it feels as if it is only about 1960 or maybe 1983. I say that as a compliment and as a positive feeling, not as a complaint.
The modern world is full of anxiety and stress and complicated social and religious problems, espcially in America and Europe and the Middle East, but the world of Taiwan "feels" lesss stressful and less full of anxiety and social problems.
That's one reason why I enjoy my life here. And I think you Taiwanese are lucky to be living in a more gentle country than most people in the Western world.Some foreigners and Tawianesem like to compareTaiwan in 2003 and some sophisticated Western metropolis like New York or Paris or London or Los Angeles. But no, Taiwan is growing at its own pace, which is slower (and therefore more gentle and less stressful) than the modern cities of the West. And I prefer living in Taiwan to living in the West.
In fact, I plan to stay in Taiwan for the rest of my life: I have found my Paradise right here on your Treasure Island.
A friend of mine who lives and works in Taipei told me:
"In terms of economic and cultural development Taiwan often seems to me to be in the early 1960s, which isn't so surprising given its history and development level.
Taiwan's a pretty homogenous society, not really used to non-Asian outsiders, and therefore attitudes toward foreigners are still developing and evolving. In comparing Taiwan to other countries, probably any European major city is more cosmopolitan than Taipei, some of them -- London, Paris, vastly more so. But look at the racial problems both those places still have!.
My point is,look at the journey Taiwan society has made in the past 50 years and don't expect it to have exactly caught up with the one that the West made in the past 200 or so. Taiwan is Taiwan, the West is the West. But in many ways, Taiwan is a more enjoyable place to live in than Western countries, precisely because Taiwan is a young country living in a different time frame than the West.
I like it here, too, as you do, Dan Bloom!
The people are friendly and generous and open-minded, and while there are some strange attitudes towards foreigners expressed on certain TV entertainment shows and newspaper articles, for the most part, we foreigners are treated very well here, with respect and kindness and compassion. I love living here, too, Dan Bloom."
I think my friend in taipei said it very well: Taiwan is a nice place to live, a friendly place to foreigners and full of passionate and intersting people.
I know that a lot of people in Taiwan want to move to America or ENgland to live or work or study. Maybe they will go to France or Canada or Australia or New Zealand. And yes, those countries have many things to offer, good job opportunities and excellent universities to study for graduate degrees. ANd if you do go overseas to live or work, I hope you will have a good experience there, and I hope the people you live among will treat you with the same degree of kindness and generosity as the Taiwawnese people have treated me during my six years here.
And maybe when you return to Taiwan, after your long sojourn overseas, you will appreciate life in taiwan even more, and maybe you will even feel as I do, that Taiwan is one of the best countries to live in in the entire world. I feel safe here, I feel comfortable here, I feel passion and curiosity and creativity here. I feel that something very interesting and important in human civilization is germianting and evolving here in Taiwan and I hope that someday the international community will welcome Taiwan into the United Nations and other international organizations like WHO and UNESCO with open arms.
Taiwan has alot to teach the world. I wonder if the world is listening...
Is a train just a convenient and fast way to get from one place to another? Yes, that is one way to look at trains. But for me, train travel, anywhere in the world -- the USA, France, Japan -- and here, too, is a way to enjoy life in a special way, a relaxed, entertaining daydreaming kind of way.
I always take the train in taiwan, instead of a bus (which would be cheaper) or a plane (which would be faster, but more expensive), because
1. I dislike longdistance bus rides because you cannot get up and walk around very far
2. I never fly in airplanes; i have a fear of flying ever since 1983 when I was in a plane accident and almost died
3. I love the romance and adventure and open doors of train cars.
4. I like meeting new people on the train, perhaps the person sitting next to me, or another person I meet in the dining car, or another person I meet just walking through the aisles selling my book (yes, sometimes I sell my books on long train trips, just holding up my book as I do in the night markets and offering anyone a chance to take a look!)
I like trains in Taiwan -- and in every country -- because they are a special way to travel. I like the large windows in the train cars, giving you a wide view of the scenery as you pass by. each trip i take by train is a new experience -- never boring and never the same. I always see new things when I travel by train, even when i travel on the same route over and over again.
I also like to take the slow trains in taiwan, because then I can stand in the back car and look on the back door at the passing scenery -- farms, palm trees, villages, people working in the fields, farm animals, views of distant mountains and the nearby ocea, too!
When I board a train in taiwan, I am like an excited schoolboy! Each time I feel this way! Of course, for much of the train trip I sit down in my seat and read the newspapers or a book, or gaze out the windows at the passing scenery. But I also get up and walk around, moving from one car to another, sometimes just for exercise, sometimes just to change the scenery. You can't do that in a bus or an airplane. Yes, long live trains.
When the train comes to a small station or even a big station, I like to get out and walk around on the platform, just to swing my legs and arms and get some more exercise...
A train is a symbol of transportation, and a special kind of transportation. I love train stations, train platforms, train whistles, train conductors, train engineers (drivers), train stewards and dining car servers. I love train tracks and train routes and maps that should the different train routes around Taiwan.
I guess I am what you might call a train lover, a man who is in love not with trains themselves, but the very idea of trains, too. For me, a train journey is more than just a way to get from one place to another. It is a magic carpet wide with my imagination in full force. It was a romantic cafe on wheels. It is ... my secret studio!
yes, i love trains.
Now I want to tell you one funny story about a train ride I once had in taiwan....
Letter from a reader:
Hello Dan Bloom,
How are you?
My name is Ariel Huang. Actually, I wrote an email letter to you before but it was in Chinese, so maybe you could not read it. I just wanted to express my feelings to you in Chinese because i was touched after reading your book.
Dan Bloom, I would like to thank you for loving Taiwan so much! I > am so happy you are really enjoying Taiwan's culture every day in your life here. In > general, most of the foreigners and even many Taiwanese can't understand or love Taiwan's wonderful culture. Most > Taiwanese are friendly, easy going, courteous, polite and honest. That is why I love my country and its people!
Dan Bloom, I admire and envy you for travelling and living in so many countries all over the > world. Up to now, I did not have enough courage to > travel around. However, I did work in mainland China for a year, and that was an intersting experience, although in a negative way: My feeling is that China is now a happy country to live or work in,k compared to Taiwan. The people in China seemed to be very utilitariat and cold, cool, not open or friendly. They think money is more important than anything else in life. I really didn't like living there so much, and it was good to come home to Taiwan.
In the future, I will go to other countries to see different cultures. Your book gives me courage to go out and explore the world. This year I am planning going to the US. My purpose is > learn English and US culture. Have you any > suggestions for me? May I know where is your > hometown? Is there a good place to go? > Have a nice day. > Ariel Huang
How American drummer Dino Zavolta helped put Wu Bai and China Blue on the Asian rock'n'roll map
When Dino Zavolta was growing up in America in the 1960s and 1970s, little did he know that one day he would be part of a major rock band in Asia, playing the drums as a founding member of Taipei's The Magic and bringing in a little-known but up-and-coming guitarist and singer named Wu Bai to join them. But that's exactly what Dino Zavolta did after coming to Taiwan in the late 1980s as a drummer for a foreign rock band called Motif.
Today, hitting his stride after turning 40 in early March, Zavolta's sitting on top of the rock world in Taiwan, one happy camper, pumped up and primed, full of rock'n'roll stories and good cheer and planning to continue making Taiwan his home away from home for a long time to come.
Home for Zavolta as a kid was a surburb of Los Angeles, where his Italian-American parents still live, and home was where he first took up the drums as a kid and played football on the local high school team and got nicknamed "Rhino" because he was big. Home is where he might return when he retires, if he ever retires, but home is also an apartment in Taipei and an adopted country he thoroughly enjoys living in.
Dino told Prime Time in a recent email that he spent a few sunny days at Spring Scream in Kenting in April checking out new local bands, and he was recently in the studio with Wu Bai and China Blue working on some new material as well. The band plays three major arena concerts islandwide on May 11, May 18 and May 25 in Taipei, Changhwa and Kaohsiung, respectively.
"I love Taiwan," he says. "It's given me a great career, a great time, great friends, great adventures. It's really been a dream come true living here, working here as a musician, bringing China Blue together and then getting together with Wu Bai. I've been real lucky here, and real fortunate, and I count my blessings every day. I love what I do, and what we -- Wu Bai and China Blue, all of us as a unit -- have been able to accomplish. Man, wait until my mother reads this in the newspaper back in California! She'll be in heaven!"
Dino's parents don't get over to Taiwan very often, but they did get a chance to hear the band play in Las Vegas two years ago, at a private Christmas party sponsored by some Taiwanese business bigwigs, according to Dino. Zavolta's father, the son of a man from Naples, Italy, is 75 years old and "doesn't look a day over 60," according to Dino, who adds that "my grandfather on my mother's side played the accordian a lot and that influenced me, too. My mother's side of the family came over from Bologna, Italy. So I got both northern and southern Italian blood in me!"
"Yeh, my parents came to that show in Las Vegas, and they loved it," Dino tells Prime Time on the telephone. "It was a great treat for my mom to be there and see Wu Bai and China Blue in action. All this over here in Taiwan, it's so far away for her over there. But in Vegas, she saw what we are all about and it was a wonderful night, for me to have her there with the band and all."
First, some background music.
According to the "official" biography of Wu Bai, probably written by a public relations marketing expert with an ear for a good story ... "as he became known as Taiwan's 'King of Live' music in the early 1990s, Wu Bai needed a dedicated backing band to follow up his breakthrough album. With Shiao Ju on bass, Big Cat on keyboards and Dino Zavolta on drums, Wu Bai created China Blue, a group of highly professional and experienced musicians to back him up on his mission to revolutionize Taiwanese rock."
That's the official story. Now listen to drummer Dino Zavolta's take on the what "really" happened.
"Well, actually, the story's a bit more complicated than that," Dino said in a recent telephone interview. You see, at the time, I was in Taipei playing with a foreign band, and I was also getting to know some of the other musicians in town, meeting them and hearing them at pubs and other music spots. At the time, Wu Bai had his own group, and while he was making headway as a singer and performer, his band was not all that good, to be honest. I had already met and picked out Shiao Ju, who's one heck of a great bass player, to play in a new group I was planning to put together. I saw the raw talent he had, and it was amazing. Then he introduced me to another musician, the guy we call Big Cat today, the master keyboard player, and we knew we had a good thing going."
"One day, we caught Wu Bai's act at a local pub in Taipei, and I knew immediately that this guy had an amazing stage presence and voice. We became good friends, and I even taught Wu Bai how to drive, you know. When he finally had enough money to buy a new car, I think it was a Japanese make, he asked me if I could teach him how to drive the damn thing. He didn't even have a driver's license yet!"
You've seen Dino on MTV and at the live Wu Bai and China Blue shows islandwide, and maybe you wondered who he was -- that goateed foreigner sitting in back playing a mean set of drums. Now you know part of the story.
Dino, whose grandparents emigrated to America from Italy, says he has always liked Chinese food and culture and felt immediately at home when he first arrived here more than 12 years ago. "It's interesting," he says, "that Italians and Taiwanese are similar in so many ways and that's another major reason I am comforfortable in Taiwan. For example, both Italians and Taiwanese like to have big family functions, with lots of friends, lots of food, lots of drink and both peoples can also be very superstitious. I fit in well here in Taiwan!"
"Maybe it was fate that brought me here on a six-month musician's contract with a foreign band," Dino says. "Whatever, here I am and I love this country, a great place to be a musician. And we've had a nice success with Wu Bai and China Blue, all in all."
"When I first arrived in Taipei in 1989, Big Cat, China Blue's keyboard player now, was playing with a band called The Diplomats and on the same club circuit as Motif, the foreign band that brought me here on my first six-month contract," Dino said. "Let me tell you how I first met Shiao Ju. On the nights when were weren't performing, we went around to check out the local talent, and The Diplomats had a good repertoire and a solid following. The first time I'd ever seen a band cover Deep Purple's "Highway Star" was when The Diplomats played it, and Big Cat nailed it note for note. I was totally impressed. After that show, I introduced myself to Big Cat and we became good friends. His English is stunning, and in my opinion, Big Cat is truly an impecable keyboardist, a virtuoso. Somehow I knew back then that we would be playing together one day, and that I'd encourage Big Cat into joining up with Wu Bai and China Blue."
"When I first met Shiao Ju, he was playing in an all-foreigner band," Dino continues. "One day, a close friend of mine named Keith Stuart, who speaks fluent Mandarin and is an outstanding music arranger/producer here in Taipei, took me under his wing and provided me with a place to stay and free Chinese lessons. Keith and I were out club hopping one weekend and he suggested that we check out a certain band in Taipei that Shiao Ju was in at the time. Since everyone knew Keith was a great singer, the band had invited him up on stage for a jam session. After one song, Keith asked the band if I could come up and sit in on a couple of songs. So after the introductions, Keith requested that we play "Superstition" and all I remember is that there was one local guy jumping and grooving to the way I played my kick notes and that was Shiao Ju."
"After that set, Keith, Shaio Ju and I talked until 6 a.m., and we exchanged phone numbers," Dino recalled. "The following week, I found myself in Shiao Ju's home amazed by his huge record collection. One thing I can say for sure is that nobody knows more people in the music business in Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China than Shiao Ju, our bass player -- he seems to know everybody!"
"Anyways, after a few years of palling around in the music world in Taipei, Shiao Ju and I had became pretty good friends, and we often talked about putting together an 'original classics' band for fun. Because at the time we still played with our own working bands to pay the bills."
"After one of my trips back to the States, I came back to Taipei and had a good idea -- to put together a band of locals in order to alleviate any hassles from the police and club owners over foreign musicians here. Shiao Ju supported my idea and said he had some good friends in mind. At the time, Big Cat was still in the army and still had quite a while before his release. But whenever Big Cat had army leave, he would hang out with us over at Shiao Ju's house and we worked on his original songs."
"One time, my own band was asked to play in an Earth Day festival at Tai Da University, and Wu Bai, who was really not famous yet, played with his band. Watching him play, I could tell he gave it his all. And when he did "Evil Ways" by Santana, at the end where the guitar solo takes off, Wu Bai played that solo his own way but with twice the energy of anyone I've ever seen! Man, he left the crowd stupified! It was then that I knew for sure I had finally found the key members that would make Taiwan rock history -- Big Cat on keyboards, Shiao Ju on bass and Wu Bai on guitar -- and yes, me too, on drums!"
"Of course, it took a lot of persuasion to finally get Wu Bai to agree to leaving his own band and joining up with Shiao Ju and me. After about six months of solid rehearsing, we felt pretty secure to start gigging underground pubs around Taipei,and so the three of us played under the name of The Magic Band. Later, after he got out of the army, Big Cat joined us and, to make a long story short, we eventually became Wu Bai and China Blue. Yes, it's been a very long story, but what a trip!"
So how did Wu Bai really get his name? People want to know.
Let Dino explain it: "In high school in Chiayi City, Wu Bai. who comes from a small place called Garlic Village in the Chiayi area, was pretty chunky, and he also played the tuba in the school band. One of the members of the band apparently felt that the combined weight of Wu Bai and his tuba was around 500 kilograms."
Wu Bai and China Blue are playing three arena concerts in Taipei, Changhwa and Kaohsiung this month. If you see a big, friendly American guy playing the drums attired in a black ski cap and a groovy goatee, that's Dino Zavolta, a.k.a. Rhino, the man who helped put Wu Bai on the world music map, with a lot of help from his friends, too, of course.
AAADD -- I have recently been diagnosed with A.A.A.D.D. [which means
Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder]
Some readers ask me how old I am, and I always tell them "old enough to know better." Or sometimes I say: "I am old enough to have been around the block a few times." And sometimes I say: "I am old enough to know what it is like to be growing old!"
Actually, I am ... oh, wait a minute. You don't want to know my real age. My real age is not important? I can tell you this: I am not a spring chicken anymore. I am not a yount stud anymore. I am feeling my age. If you really want a good estimate of my age, let me tell you that I am not 32 anymore, nor am I 62 yet. The newspapers call me a local ojisan when I sell my books at the night markets, so how old is an ojisan? 45? 50? When does the life of an ojisan begin? At 40? And end at 59?
Last year I told everyone I was 42. So this year I must be around 43. Acutally, I feel ageless, and I don't think of myself as having a specific "age." I am just me, Dan Bloom, American writer in Taiwan, enjoying life day by day. Life is wonderful!
But recently, it's true, I have been forgetting things and that is a sign of getting old, right? In fact, refently I have recently been diagnosed with A.A.A.D.D. which means Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder. This is how it works:
I decide to wash my autobai one morning. However as I start walking to the parking garage below my apartment building, I notice that there is some mail, letters on the table in my living room. OK, I'm going to wash the autobai. But first I'm going to go through the mail. I lay the motorscooter keys down on my desk, discard the junk mail and I notice the trash can is full.
OK, I'll just put the credit card and electricity bills on my desk and take the trash can out, but since I'm going to be near the mailbox anyway, I'll get out some money to go pay these few bills first. Now, where is my wallet?
Oops, there's only NT$500 in my wallet left. My extra cash is in my desk. Oh, there's the can of green tea I was drinking. >I'm going to look for that extra cash in my desk in my bedroom. But first I need to put my tea can further away from the computer, or maybe I'll pop it into the fridge to keep it cold for a while. I head towards the kitchen and my house flowers catch my eye, they need some water.
I set the tea can on the counter and uh oh; There are my glasses. I was looking for them all morning! > >I'd better put them away first. >I fill a container with water and head for the flowerpots - Aaaaaagh! >Someone left the TV remote in the kitchen. >We will never think to look in the kitchen tonight when we want to watch >television so I'd better >put it back in the family room where it belongs. >I splash some water into the pots and into the floor, I throw the remote on >the sofa > >and I head back down the hall trying to figure out what it was I was going >to do? >End of the Day: The car isn't washed, the bills are unpaid, the coke is >sitting on the >kitchen counter, the flowers are half watered, the checkbook still only has >one check > >in it and I can't seem to find my car keys! >When I try to figure out how come nothing got done today, I'm baffled > >because................................ I KNOW I WAS BUSY ALL DAY LONG!!! I realize this is a serious condition and I'll get help, BUT FIRST I think >I'll check my e-mail... Please send this to everyone you know because I DON'T REMEMBER WHOM I'VE SENT THIS TO!!! But don't send it back to me or I might send it to you again!
So you see, Dan Bloom is getting old. SOmetimes I forget my name, my blood type, my birth date and my age. Sometimes, everthing seems very BUSASA!
Letters from Readers
Being a writer in Taiwan, a foreign writer too, who finds his readers in the night markets of this large and bustling island means that I have managed to find a small place in the literary landscape here. No, I am not a bestselling author, and I will never be. Bookstores acutally have a hard time selling my books, and I have been forced to set up small tables at night markets around the island to "bring my book to the people." It's been fun and very fulfilling, and I never think of my work at the night markets as "work." It is pure pleasure, pure play, playfulness, inspiration. I love working at the night markets as a book vendor selling my own books. It is a kind of public performance, with me speaking my silly creole Chinese/Taiwanese/Japanese/French/English mixture of funny words, and in the course of each night I meet quite a lot of people. I don't sell that many books every night, some nights I sell 25 books, some nights I sell just 10 or 12. But the business of book sales is not important to me. What is important to me is connecting with the people I meet, from children to teenagers, from college students to older adults, professors and teachers and engineers and doctors. I've even sold my books to local policemen and government officials visitng the night markets where I work.
The fact that I get a chance to meet my readers face to face in the night market makes my book experiences rather special for me. In fact, I prefer selling my books in the night markets now, much more than waiting for the bookstores to sell my books! Look at it this way: in a bookstore, I cannot meet my potential readers and they cannot meet me. But in the night market, or on a train (yes, sometimes I sell my books while walking up and down the aisles of a train -- talk about a captive audience!!!), I can meet my readers before they read my book, shake their hands and tell them to email me after they finish reading my books, and many readers to email me. This is the most rewarding part of my writing career. I have never had so much fun or fulfillment in writing books before, not in America, not in Japan, but here in Taiwan, where my career has blossomed as a result of my night market selling adventures.
I'd like to share with you some of the letters I have received from readers young and old, male and female. They say much more than I can say, and I really appreciate they readers for writing to me. Each letter is important to me, more important than the money they pay me to purchase my books. Really.
Here is just a samplings of what people have said to me in their letters:
Dear Dan Bloom:
I am one of the readers of your new book about your life in the night markets of Taiwan and why you love Taiwan. I just want to tell you in this email that your book is very interesting, and your humorous stories about your life in Taiwan and in the night markets made me laugh many times.
I was very impressed by the issues you talked about in some of your chapters, such as the unimportance of the size of women's breasts and about the positive aspects of changing jobs. You have a very special point of view on these issues, and I appreciate the way you express yourself.
In Taiwan, a person's job status is very important because it usually symbolizes one's social status. In my own life, I have chosen to have several part-time jobs to earn a living and get new experiences despite my friends' and family's objections and criticism.
Also, I would like to compliment the translator of your books. As a translator myself, I think they did a very good job translating your books. Bravo to them!
Mr. Bloom, keep learning new words in Mandarin and Taiwanese, and someday you will speak fluently like a native. In the meantime, continue your journeys around this beautiful island and discovering the beauty of Taiwan.
Best wishes, Jasmine Hsu Taipei
Here's another letter:
I am not Albert Einstein's distant cousin!
I like Albert Einstein, I admire him, and I always enjoy seeing his face in advertisements and on magazine covers. He's cool, he was a good man, he was a genius. And he changed the way we see the world.
But there are some funny stories about Einstein, and I'd like to tell you two stories here:
In 1951, Ann Kocin, a young six year old girl, wrote a letter to Einstein. It read: "Dear Mr Einstein, I saw your picture in the paper. I think you ought to have your hair cut, so you can look better."
I love the honesty and freshness of children; they say what's on their minds and speak directly about what they want to say. This little girl was so cute:"Hey, Mr Einstein, I know you are a big VIP and a genius and everyone is talking about you, but hey, your long, wavy white hair is out of control and makes you look like a mad scientist, so please, cut your hair short and start looking like a gentleman!"
Read her letter again: "Dear Mr Einstein, I saw your picture in the paper. I think you ought to have your hair cut, so you can look better."
Actually, I like Einstein's long, wavy, wild hair and I am glad he didn't cut it short. I grow my own white hair the same way, even though I am bald on the top of my head and starting getting grey hairs when I was seven years old! I remember I asked my mother in Boston: "Mom, why is my hair turing grey already? I am just seven years old!"
She replied: "Danny (that was my nickname when I was a child; my real name is Daniel; my writing name is "Dan Bloom"), Danny, grey hair is a sign of intelligence and it means you will grow up to be a great scientist like Einstein!"
I felt better when she told me that. But she was wrong. I never grew up to become a great scientist like Einstein. His IQ was very very high. My IQ is just normal, average, in the middle of the IQ scale.
But I have another Einstein story to tell you, and it's about my life here in Taiwan.
A few years ago, I was interviewed by a reporter for a gossip newspaper in Taipei,and the reporter, a Taiwanese woman, told me during the interview that I looked a little bit like Einstein, with my long hair hair, wild and wavy. And in response, I made a joke: I said "OH, yes, I am actually related to Einstein, he was a distant cousin on my mother's side of the family!"
I was just joking, of course. I even winked my eye to tell her I was joking. But the reporter thought I was telling her a real story about my life, and when she wrote the news article for the newspaper, the headline read: "Dan Bloom is Einstein's distant relative!" And in the news article, the reporter also told readers that I was a distant relative to Einstein.
Omigod! I was only joking. I am just a mere Dan Bloom, not a great Einstein!
When I spoke to the editor of my book, she also congratulated me for being a distant relative of Einstein. She also believed the newspaper story about me! I told her that I was only joking, but to this day, I think she still thinks I am a distant relative of Einstein. No,no,no, I am not.
I wish I had Einstein's IQ! I wish I had his brain power! But no, I am just a simple writer enjoying his life in Taiwan, writing books and making friends on this wonderful island nation!
So the next time you read in the local newspapers here that Dan Bloom is a distant relative of Einstein, just remember it is just a joke. Actually, I am related to Beethoven on my father's side of the family!
No, no, just joking again. I am just a poor farmer's grandson who was lucky enough to be born in America and is even luckier now to have found a wonderful life for myself here in Taiwan as a guest writer in this Isla Formosa, this Treasure Island full of friendly and intersting people!
Why I love trains
One of the best "travel writers" in the world is the American writer Paul Theroux. Theroux was born and educated in the United States. After graduating from university in 1963, he travelled first to Italy and then to Africa, where he worked as a teacher at a rural school in Malawi and as a lecturer at Makerere University in Uganda. In 1968 he joined the University of Singapore and taught in the English Department for three years. In 1971, Theroux resigned his position at the University of Singapore to devote himself entirely to writing. He moved with his family to England, where he remained for seventeen years, writing a number of novels and commencing the series of travel books for which he is perhaps most widely noted. He has since returned to the United States, dividing his time between Hawaii and Cape Cod.
He has written such popular books as The Great Railway Bazaar (1975) , The Old Patagonian Express (1979) and Riding the Iron Rooster (1988) -- all about train travel in different parts of the world. All three of these books have been translated into Chinese and are available in Taiwan. If you have never read his books, start tomorrow!
One thing that I like about Paul Theroux is that he loves train travel, as I do, too. In one book, he identifies a pivotal moment in his long affair with train travel, on a journey from London to Oxford in Britain:
"Travelling on this train, reading newspapers, was so pleasant I would not have minded going further. My only other real experience of trains were in Africa in the overnighter to Nairobi and the Mombasa express and the gasping steam locomotives of Malawi and Rhodesia. The train journey from London to Oxford soothed and comforted me and stimulated my imagination. It offered me a glimpse of the best of England and provided access to my past by activating my memory. I had made a discovery: I would gladly go anywhere on a train."
I think that somewhere in my life I had the same kind of epiphany -- that "I would gladly go anywhere on a train" -- but I am not sure where it was. It might have been on the regular train rides I took between Boston and New York when I was a college student, or it might have been on a train in France when I was a high school student doing a homestay with a French family in northern France on a Rotary Club program for young people. Or maybe it was on a train from Finland to Moscow, or from Athens to Patras in Greece. But I agree with Theroux 100%, "I would gladly go anywhere on a train." I have and I will and I will never stop. Trains are a great way to travel, not only for the convenience, but also for the way they stimulate the imagination and give us time to dream.
In Taiwan, I always travel by train. I love love love love love love love train travel in Taiwan. If you ever see me on a train travelling north or south, on the east coast or the west coast, say hello and we can share stories about train travel. I always like to meet new friends on the trains in Taiwan!
A native Taiwanese from Taichung is now a French diplomat in the USA
[ This story has nothing to do with trains, except that I once lived in Paris and can speak French fairly well (it was my major in college in Boston long ago) and often took the trains in France, from Paris to Rome, and from Paris to London, and from Paris to Strasbourg near the border with Germany. The following story is very intersting, and I was the first reporter in Taiwan to tell it. I "met" Mr Chen via the Internet and email, and have never seen him face to face. I was reading a New York Times story about his job as a French diplomat and was curious why a Frenchman had a Chinese name like Chen. So I emailed him at his office, and began work on a long newspaper story that later appeared in print in Taipei, Tokyo and Paris, and was eventually translated into Chinese and Japanese and French! -- Dan Bloom ]
Chen Yo-jung, born in Taichung, Taiwan, in 1947, now lives in California, which is not so unusual for a Taiwanese.
But this Taiwan native's job is very unusual—he just completed a tour as a vice consul in the French Consulate in Los Angeles, directing its press and communications department. He has just assumed a new position as Deputy Consul in charge of press relations at the French Consulate in San Francisco, effective Aug. 1.
And yes, he is a French citizen, and has been since 1981, although he never lived in France until 1995. In fact, Chen, who lived in Tokyo for 30 years, became a French citizen while living in Japan, without ever having set foot in France.
Married to the former Michiko Nakajima of Tokyo, working for the French government as a diplomat, fluent in several languages in addition to French and Chinese, Chen acknowledged in a recent e-mail to me in Taiwan that "It's a long story."
Shall we begin?
In a recent New York Times article about California's booming business climate, a French diplomat in Los Angeles was asked to comment on recent news that the economy of California has now surpassed that of the entire nation of France.
The Frenchman, a press attach?who speaks fluent English, replied, "We all know that California is a big state, and we knew from a long time ago that if California became independent it would be the sixth or seventh economy. Now it's the fifth, and since California is a big trading partner for France, we congratulate it."
And then he added: "We still believe we produce the best wine in the world."
This Frenchman was none other than Chen Yo-jung.
When this Weekender contributor first contacted Chen at the French Consulate in Los Angeles after seeing his name in the paper, he replied by e-mail: "You are not the only person surprised to see a native of Taiwan working as a diplomat in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Even today, when I introduce myself to an American at a cocktail party here, the first reaction is often, "Ha ha, very funny. But seriously, which country are you representing?"
And he added: "So every time I introduce myself in a speech, I start off by saying, 'Let me assure you that I am not a Japanese tourist who came to the wrong party...'"
After the Times' article appeared in print and online on June 15, Chen said he began hearing from reporters and diplomatic colleagues around the world.
"What fascinated me most is the reach of the New York Times," he said. "Since the article came out, I was contacted by a number of people: a radio station in San Francisco interviewed me; several French people said they appreciated my effort in defending the honor of French wine; and I heard from former colleagues in different parts of the world."
Chen, who speaks seven languages—French, Japanese, English, Chinese, Taiwanese, Cantonese and Vietnamese—said that after being away from Taiwan for a long time, first in Vietnam, then Japan and later in France, he began to lose some of his Chinese language skills.
"I almost lost my command of Chinese Mandarin during all my years in Japan and Paris," Chen reflected. "I started speaking Mandarin again only after being posted to Los Angeles in 1997. When I first came to California at that time, I was communicating with my Taiwanese cousins here in English. Then, I progressively switched to Mandarin while recovering my ability in Taiwanese, too, and now, my cousins and I are talking again more in Taiwanese, like we did 40 years ago in Taichung."
What language does Chen speak at home, with his wife and children?
He explained, "I speak Japanese at home with my wife Michiko and children, who are all French citizens like me, and I speak Vietnamese with my mother, English with my three sisters who are all U.S. citizens, French with my brother (a real down-to-earth Parisian who is married to a French woman), and, of course, Chinese and Taiwanese with my cousins in the California area."
The details of Chen's life would make an interesting novel, although some readers might not believe it all. Born in Taichung following the end of World War II, Chen's father, Chen Ching-Ho, was a well-known professor specializing in Southeast Asian history at Taiwan University. Chen's mother, the daughter of a high-ranking Vietnamese scholar who served in the court of the last Emperor of Vietnam, taught him his first few French words when he was a child.
"My paternal grandfather was once president of the Taiwan Medical Order, and I can still, even today, introduce myself to people from Taichung—people over a certain age, of course—as the grandson of Dr. Chen Moti and they will know who I am," Chen said.
Growing up in Taichung, Chen attended elementary school and middle school there, but in 1959, moved to Vietnam with his family. His father had been invited by the South Vietnamese government to restore the historical archives of the former imperial court and teach at the three main universities there.
"It was in Vietnam that I first became acquainted with French education," Chen said. "I spent two years at two different Catholic schools where French was the language of instruction."
In 1962, another move, this time to Hong Kong where Chen's father was appointed a professor at the Hong Kong Chinese University. Once again, Chen attended French overseas schools and continued his education in the French language.
"In 1965, when I was 18 years old, instead of going to France for college as my brother had the year before, I was sent by my father to Keio University in Tokyo," Chen recalled. Both his father and grandfather had attended the same prestigious university in Japan.
"I spent seven years at Keio as undergraduate and graduate student in Oriental history, thinking of becoming a professor and researcher like my father," Chen said. But then fate intervened and changed the course of his life, re-directing him toward the completely different field of diplomacy.
"As a graduate student, I was also teaching Japanese to a group of foreigners, including the wife of a French diplomat," Chen recalled. "She introduced me to another French diplomat who wanted to learn Chinese from me, and then that man introduced me to the Press Counsellor at the French Embassy in Tokyo who wanted to hire a French-Japanese translator in preparation of a coming state visit by the then French President Georges Pompidou in 1974. Unfortunately, the president died suddenly of an illness before making the trip, but I got the job, and a door opened to a whole new future."
Chen began working as a part-time translator for the French Ambassador in Tokyo in 1973. And in 1974, still holding a Hong Kong passport and having completed his Master's degree at Keio, he was offered a full-time job at the French Embassy.
"The job involved dealing with VIPs, world affairs issues, international events; it was so fascinating to me that I finally gave up the idea of pursuing an academic career and decided to stay on at the French embassy in Tokyo," Chen said.
By this time, he had married a Japanese woman and their first child had been born. Thinking of his children's future—Chen's Hong Kong passport didn't guarantee him or his family protection from any government—he started thinking of applying for Japanese citizenship. Easier said than done, however.
In those days, non-Japanese applying for Japanese citizenship were required to change their family name to a Japanese one, according to Chen, and he was not too keen on doing that. When he spoke of his dilemma to his boss at the French Embassy—to the ambassador himself, actually—it was suggested that he could apply for French citizenship instead, a fairly easy process.
"The ambassador even said to me it would be a great honor for France to count such a talented Chinese as one of its citizens and that he wished to see my talents put to the service of France," Chen recalled. "I was deeply touched by his remarks."
Chen was told that any foreigner who has worked for more than five years for the government of France is qualified to apply for French citizenship, no matter where he or she lives. In Chen's case, since the French Embassy in Tokyo was legally French territory, he could also be considered as having completed five years' residency in France.
"So in 1981, after a lot of paperwork and the recommendations of several French politicians and high-ranking officials whom I'd come to know through numerous translation jobs I did for them when they visited Japan, I found myself a French citizen in Japan?without ever once having stepped foot on French soil," Chen said.
After becoming a French citizen in Japan, Chen was re-hired at the embassy under a contract with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a press attach? working as the deputy director of the press and information section while continuing to translate for visiting French dignitaries.
In 1994, Chen successfully passed a French foreign service examination in Paris that stamped him as a formal diplomat, and he returned to Tokyo with the title of Vice Consul. He had a wonderful job, a bright future as a career diplomat for his adopted country, and he retained his Chinese name, Chen Yo-jung. French law does not require new citizens to change their names. And since the French, beginning with current President Chirac, have genuine interest and high esteem for Asian cultures, there is no negative effect at all to bear a Chinese name in the French society, according to Chen.
However, since diplomats around the world are not allowed to stay put in one country forever, Chen was assigned in 1995, with his growing family, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris, in the Press and Communications Section. Put in charge of the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East regions, Chen participated in coordinating the activities of France's press attachés in those areas and to invite foreign journalists to visit France.
Although Chen had visited France several times in the past as a tourist, his move there in 1995 represented the first time that he had actually lived there?5 years after becoming a French citizen.
"I must say I was amazed at finding myself in the heart of one of the world's most prestigious Foreign Service institutions," Chen said. "I also enjoyed seeing the initial surprise on the faces of journalists from Asian countries who visited our department in Paris for a briefing upon their arrival in France and who were greeted by someone like me speaking their native tongue."
"I was lucky that my job in Paris, which consisted often of arranging interviews and visits for visiting foreign journalists, gave me solid training in becoming familiar with the very complex system of different branches of French institutions, public as well as private. This experience has greatly contributed to my later duty as a diplomat abroad."
Fast forward to 1997, when Chen was appointed to be Vice Consul in the French Consulate in Los Angeles, working directly under the Consul General and Deputy Consul, and once again in charge of the Press and Communications office. Because of his press duties at the consulate, Chen was often quoted by name in various U.S. newspaper articles, from the Las Vegas Sun to the Los Angeles Times.
Chen's next move, coming on Aug.1, was to San Francisco, where he has assumed the duties of Deputy Consul for press relations. His mother and three sisters live in the area, Chen said, and he is looking forward to seeing them more often. One sister is an architect at the University of California at Berkeley; another is a registrar at a major museum in San Francisco and a third sister works for the U.S. Postal Service. All three are U.S. citizens now.
Night markets in Taiwan offer colorful smorgasbord of tastes
(around 2400 words....EDITOR)
by Dan Bloom
Night markets! Those two magical words invoke images and sensations of colorful signs, noisy hawkers, bustling crowds and delicious and inexpensive food, and what better place to indulge in the night market life than here in Taiwan. Yes, there are night markets in Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai, but Taiwan's "night cities" are unique and inviting.
And one of the major activities at any night market is eating. Oyster omlettes ("o-a-chian" in Chinese) , stinky dofu ("chodofu"), hot pots galore and almost anything you can put on a stick and grill! Yes, eating at a night market in Taiwan is a rich and rewarding experience, but it helps to know what you're eating, where it comes from and if it's good for you.
As everyone knows, Taiwan's night markets are colorful evening carnivals, well-lit and highyl stylized, and each one has its own special flavor -- and flavors. Wherever you see a long line of night market patrons waiting in front of a food vendor's stall, you can be sure of one thing: the food there is not only popular, it's also very delicious and of proven quality. People don't wait in line for food that will make them sick!
Of course, to each his own, and not everyone finds the night market fare to their liking, and that's okay, too. The nice thing about night markets is that you don't have to eat anything if you don't want to. Eating is not compulsory, although your fellow strollers might think you woke up on the wrong side of the bed that day if you don't eat something!
There's no menu to follow at a night market, and there are no waiters or waitresses pushing set A or set B. If you're not hungry or find the dishes unappetizing you can politely pass and just take in the sights and sounds of the fresh-air markets islandwide. Eating is not de rigeur. "Follow your own taste buds," is the best advice you can take with you on a night market trip.
For example, if you like seafood, and have a special fondness for clams or shrimp or oysters, an inexpensive yet tasty snack of oyster omlettes is just the thing. At the Liaoning Street night market in Taipei -- and at almost every other night market on the island -- you can always find a friendly vendor cooking savory oyster omlettes. Oysters have a long history as a food staple in Taiwan, and many of the oysters used in cooking today come the small oceanside towns of Putai in Chiayi County and Tungshih in Yunlin County.
Watch as the "chef" ladles taro batter onto the hot iron grill and then cracks a few fresh eggs over the taro pancake to turn the gooey concoction into a tasty meal full of tiny oysters covered in sweet sauce. The combination of eggs, taro, leafy vegetables and oysters is a favorite among local residents and popular with foreigners, too.
You might also want to try some "o-a mi-swah" ( a thick soup with oysters and fine noodles, a kind of Taiwanese vermicelli) when visiting a night market. According to folklore, oysters are said to contain natural hormones which can help spice up one's stamina, so to speak, and some Taiwanese like to joke that oyster omletters and soups are "Nature's viagra!"
In addition, a dish made famous in Tainan and now ubiquitous around the island is "tan tzu mien" (thin noodles topped with fermented pork sauce). Both dishes are priced at around NT$20 at most night markets, although the Tainan-style noodles sometimes cost NT$40 at more discriminating vendor stands.
Another interesting Tainan snack that is sold at many night markets in southern Taiwan is called "kuan tsai ban," which literally means "coffin bread." Hard to find in the Taipei area, night markets in Chiayi, Tainan, Kaohsiung and Pintung often sell the inexpensive snack, which is basically a small square loaf of bread stuffed with spicy meat or vegetables inside (thus, the "coffin" nickname!)
If you like radish and scrimp combinations, you can't go wrong with a little snack called "robo gao", which some people say was borrowed from Japan and is a lightly-grilled concocation of rice, radish, and shrimp -- and often served in small chunky squares which make them easy to eat with either toothpicks or chopsticks.
When the well-known Japanese film director Mitsuo Yanagimachi was commissioned in 1991 by NHK-TV to make a documentary about Taiwan's night markets, he chose to fly down to Chiayi City in the southern part of the island to focus on the local night markets there, using the lives of one particular family of travelling medicine salesmen to frame his documentary. The film was later shown on Japanese TV and in movie theaters to wide acclaim.
In Chiayi City, the gateway to Alishan, night markets feature delicacies and southern Taiwan dishes that one cannot always find in Taipei. At the popular Carrefour Night Market there, patrons can dine on such Chiayi dishes as fried crickets, river catfish stew and boiled black chicken. The fried crickets taste more like potato chips than anything sinister one might imagine, and they come with a thin, fried sweet potato stuck in the middle of the insect. Washed down with a cold glass of Taiwan Beer, fried crickets are a real treat and sell for just NT$10 a piece, according to local vendors.
Boiled black chicken comes in a large, fragrant soup bowl, and what makes the dish so fascinating is that the entire chicken is black -- the meat, the skin, the bones, even the feathers before they are, of course, removed! When asked how this magic feat is achieved, a vendor named Chen Su-Soong explains: "The black chickens are unique to Taiwan, and they come from farms in nearby southern counties. It's something in the genetic makeup of these chickens, their DNA, but yes, even their bones are dark, not white like most chicken bones, and the tender meat is also dark and fragrant."
A large soup bowl of boiled black chicken in the rural Tzuchi Night Market, just east of Chiayi, goes for NT$250 and can easily serve four people. If you have a hankering for some fine Taiwan-raised chicken and you want to experiment for a change, try some boiled black chicken and taste the difference!
The culture and foodstuffs of Taiwan's Aborigines also add a colorful touch to night markets around the island. "Renzo min kao rou" (Aboriginal-style barbequed meats), often wild mountain pig, grilled over an open fire screen slung over tall teepee-like poles, is a staple of the night market scene, too, and the local chefs sell the dish with generous helpings of sliced garlic pieces and lime wedges to season the meat. The pig meat comes from boars raised in the mountains of central Taiwan in Nantou, Chiayi and Pintung counties, according to sources. Served in a paper bag with long toothpicks to put the garlic and meat strips together, Aboriginal-style BBQ treats are also perfect for eating standing up while walking leisurely through the market area.
Taiwan's night markets are colorful evening carnivals, well-lit and highyl stylized, and each one has its own special flavor -- and flavors. From fried and steamed dumplings to rice omlettes, and from hot pot stews to fresh vegetables that are fried, grilled, boiled. broiled or baked, the night market cuisine of Taiwan is "tasty, tantalizing and terrific," as one resident foreigner recently put it on an Internet website.
"If you have an open mind, and a hearty appetite when you arrive on the night market grounds, you usually can't go wrong," says a longtime American expat in Kaoshiung, who says he eats out at night markets at least once a week and has never gotten sick from what he ate. That's an important point, because many newcomers to this enchanting island arrive with apprehension about what's okay to eat and what's not.
Well, put those apprehensions away and just dig in when you visit a night market. Of course, it doesn't hurt to ask around for advice and listen to local friends' advice.
When the Taipei City Government recently decided to renovate the long-standing Shihlin Night Market near the Chientan MRT station, officials knew they were playing with fire. More than 50 years old, the Shihlin market is part of the very life of Taipei and plans to put the market inside a sheltered nine-story building have not gone over very well with all area residents.
But the food remains as tasty as ever, and Taipei residents are getting used to the new venue. Food stalls offering special steamed dumplings, "Taiwanese pizza," Italian ice cream and German sausages are as popular as ever. While most food vendors are Taiwanese, a few foreigners can also be seen working behind the grills and stand-up food counters selling specialties from Turkey, Greece, Italy and Mexico.
In Kaohsiung, an energetic man from Turkey has become a popular sight at the Liu Ho Night Market, where he sells hand-made ice cream in a noisy, humorous and theatrical performance that has attracted TV camera crews and photographers for weekly magazines. Having already started a small career in Greece making ice cream outdoors this way, the Turkish national came to Taiwan at the invitation of friends in Kaohsiung who told him his "act" would attract many local fans and guarantee him a good wage. Indeed, his ice cream stand is always packed with an amused crowd of onlookers, both young and old, who marvel at his sleight-of-hand shenanigans in front of the ice cream "cooker" that serves as his stage!
The myriad smells of a typical night market -- the fried donuts, the fried chicken, the oyster noodles, the stinky tofu, the sweet potatoes, the tofu pudding stalls and the long tables decked out with colorful bakery items, from Portugues cakes to French croissants -- make for a carnival atmosphere, and the dishes and treats are so inexpensive that you never have to worry about your pocketbook.
For Mr Lee, a veteran night market food vendor in Chiayi who sells catfish soup out of the back of his truck, assisted by his affable wife, the night market has become a way of life and a source of his regular income.
"I usually arrive around 5 pm, long before anyone comes to the market area, to begin unpacking the truck and setting up the cooking area," he says. "By giving ourselves a two-hour advance on the crowds, my wife and I can take our time setting up and getting for the hectic pace of the market later on in the evening. By 7 pm, we're serving our first meals, and we'll work all the way past midnight most nights. It's not easy work, but it's not back-breaking either. What we like most of all, in addition to our steady flow of customers, is the comraderie of the other night market vendors. We're like one big family, old friends getting together each night. I wouldn't trade this way of life for anything else."
There is no set way to explore a night market, so the best thing to do is to throw your tourist maps away. Just jump in, follow your instincts and go with the flow. There is nothing fashionable or hip about night markets, but they do have their own inner logic and charms, as any night market regular knows. And regulars are part of the scene, according to the men and women who manage the markets around the island.
"In many cities and towns, the night market is part of the social scene," says Mrs. Wu, a middle-aged woman from Taichung who helps run a night market there three nights a week. "We see the same people here, week after week, whole families, it's something to do in places where there are not so many entertainment districts. Taipei has lots of things to do, culture, the arts, shopping malls, fine restaurants, museums, movie theaters and the like, but outside the capital things slow down and these night markets are the answer to life's boredom. They play an important role in the social fabric of life in small cities and towns."
In the Hualien Night Market, one food vendor goes out of his way to help senior citizens, keeping a sign above his dumpling stand that reads: "Half price for all customers over 70!" The sign became so popular that it was even written up in a travel article that appeared a few years ago in the Los Angeles Times.
Ward Jones, an American who is married to a Taiwanese woman in the San Diego area, often visits Taipei on trips home.
"I love going to the night markets in Taiwan," Jones, who runs the Crystal Dragon website devoted to all things Taiwanese, says. "I like the atmosphere, the great food, the people, and hunting for interesting items. But I have to admit that my dear wife doesn't always like me to go to the night markets because I always come back with a box full of things 'I just can't live without!' I guess it drives her crazy. And the night market food! Oh, how I miss Taiwan when I am back in the States!"
Other foods worth sampling at Taiwan's night markets:
Sweet and sour noodles ("suan la mien")
Boiled pork dumplings ("hong yo chao shou")
Glutinous rice meatballs, sometimes called "Taiwanese meatballs" by locals
Spicy fish ball soup, Taiwanese versions of Norwegian and German fish ball soups and said by some visitors to remind them of "matzoh ball soup," a Jewish culinary favorite that originated in eastern Europe more than a hundred years ago
"Jenju nai cha," a popular drink called "Pearl milk tea" in English and a favorite with young women islandwide who believe the tapioca "pearls" in the sugary drink will help their complexions
"Rou gen," a tasty pork paste soup with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, onions and carrots
"Suan la tan," the always-popular in the West "sweet and soup soup"
Deep-fried shrimp rolls wrapped in tofu skins
Grilled mountain bird eggs, the size of small marbles and served hot 10 to a stick, and seasoned with fine black pepper, perfect for noshing on while strolling along noisy night market aisles.
TAIWAN's ''POPULATION DENSITY'' REACHES 620 people PER SQUARE KM
and other interesting "statistics" about life in Taiwan
Here are some statistics worth thinking about and remembering:
-- Taiwan's population density has reached 620 people per square kilometer as of the end of last year.
-- Kaohsiung City is the most densely populated city in Taiwan with 10,000 people per square kilometer, followed by Taipei City, with 9,500 people and Taichung City with 6,000
-- Taitung County has the lowest population density in Taiwan, with 70 people per square kilometer, followed by Hualien County, with 75 people and Nantou County, with 130 people
-- The total population of Taiwan is now 22,405,000 people, and 11,441 million are male, while 10,964 million are female,
-- There are a total of 6,802,280 households in Taiwan now, with an an average of 3.3 people in each household
-- a total of 260,354 new births were recorded in Taiwan last year.
-- A total of 127,647 people in Taiwan died in the last year
-- The number of people reading this book, which you are now holding in your hands, now totals about 10,001, according to Dan Bloom, the author, who has a good sense of humor.
taiwan college students and dan bloom
In addition to working as a freelance reporter for English newspapers and magazines in Taiwan, and in addition to teaching a few private classes to adults and college students who want to improve their English, I also sometimes visit college campuses in taiwan and give speeches to large classes of undergradutes and graduate students.
After my first book was published, several professorse invited to speak to their business and marketing classes at Chiayi University in Chiayi City and at Chung Cheng University in nearby Minschiung.
I also plan to lecture at Nanhua University and TOng Hai University in the future, and if any universtiies in Taipei or Kaohsiung invite me to lecture there, I will gladly accept the invitations.
I enjoy lecturing at universities because I like college students! I like their youthful energy, I like their original creativity, I like their friendliness and open-ness, and I like their honesty and intellectual curiosity. Although I am no longer a young man, I enjoy company of young people, and in my own mind I feel that I am an eternal 26 years old forever. Okay, maybe not 26, maybe 39!
I like college students because they are the future of Taiwan, and I like listenign to their concerns and worries about the future. I also like College students because I was once a college student just like them,a nd I remember my college days in Boston at Tufts Univeristy very fondly. They were some of the best days of my life, when I first began dreaming of becoming a writer.!
After I lectured to an undergraduate class in the beusinesss and marketing deparmet at CCU, several students stayed after the lectur e to chat with me and buy my books. One student emailed me later the same day and wrote:
Hello! Dan Bloom.
Thank you for speaking to our class today at CCU. I very much enjoyed your presentation, and I also liked your funny humor and body language. You are a very intersting person,a nd i would like to get to know yo better. This is the first time I have ever emailed to a foreigner., so I am a little nervous as I write this. Please excuse my poor English!
I think I have to introduce myself to you > first .My name is James Chen. You can call me James > or Wei Hsin. That is my Chinese name, but I think it > is easier for you call me James. I heard your > speech today in the class of creativity and > advertisement. It is very outstanding. You helped me to understand that I must try to do everything I want to do, and dream big,a nd always > keep an open mind.
So the first step for me is to > write this email to you and try to make a friend with > you. Because I think you are a very interesting man > after I read your book and listened to your funny lecture speech. I want to get to know you better Not because > of you are a foreigner -- I remember you said you hate people > to call you like that -- but just because you have a very > open mind. You like trying many things and it seems that you really deeply enjoy your life. I want to be like that someday, too!
So I want to > know you more. This is my first time try to make a > friend by using e-mail, and I am very nervous. But > I think it will be a good experience to me. And if I > have free time, I¡¦ll go to the night market in CHiayu one day when I have free time and speak with you again when you are selling your books at your small tan fan.
Sincerely, James Chen
"Little Tokyo" illuminates downtown Taipei at night
Go to Boston and there's "Little Italy" welcoming tourists and locals seven days a week. Visit Yokohama and there's an Asian "Chinatown" that brings in the crowds, Japanese and foreigners alike.
What does Taipei have? A cute little neighborhood along Linsen North Road called "Little Tokyo," full of tasty Japanese restaurants serving ramen and sashimi, strolling couples taking in the sights and over ten narrow lanes with around 200 hostess bars and karaoke clubs hanging out the welcome mat for Japanese salarymen and local Taiwanese businessmen alike.
It's not really a secret anymore, although many Taipei residents remain unaware of the charms of "Little Tokyo." It's a place to sip coffee in a quiet street corner cafe, nosh on takoyaki and sushi rolls, drink some hot sake at streetside food stalls or just walk around taking the whole scene in. And you don't have to be Japanese to appreciate "Little Tokyo."
The area's existence is a circumstance of Taiwan's history, ushered in during the Japanese colonial period and developed during the postwar years that saw the Japanese economic miracle send Japanese businessmen overseas to oversee branch offices and export firms across the world. While the narrow lanes in the middle of Taipei's "Little Italy" are today called Lane 145 and Lane 133 and so on, in the old days they were called "ba tiao tong" (Eighth Street) and "chi tiao tong" (Seventh Street) and so on. Most young Taipei residents don't know these old terms of the streets of Little Tokyo, but ask any taxi driver to take you "ba tiao tong" and he'll know where to drop you off -- right smack in the middle of Taipei's rollicking, frolicking, evolving "Little Tokyo."
It's not only a home away from home for many of Taipei's Japanese expats, it's also a picturesque neighborhood for local and foreigners alike. Given its convenient location at the intersection of Linsen North Road and Nanking East Road, the neighborhood has been making gigantic strides in recent years in upgrading its restaurants, pubs and nightspots. If Mayor Ma Ying-jeou hasn't been there recently, he soon will be: "Little Tokyo" remains a little green wasabi gem in the middle of a huge sprawling urban jungle. Go there soon, before it's over-run with tour buses and and teenagers.
During the day, "Little Tokyo" is a drab, unremarkable area of noodle stands and lunchtime eateries catering to office workers and shoppers. But go there after the sun sets, and the neon-lit lanes become a backdrop for a romantic evening out on the town. Already weekend foot traffic is growing, according to a Mr. Yang, who runs a small sushi shop.
"I can see the difference in the cash register sales receipts," he says. "Business is getting better and better, and the entire community is making a strong effort to clean up the area and give visitors a better bang for their buck. I think this neighborhood will rival Hsimenting is a few years. Just look around here now; there are new coffee shops, clothing stores and upscale eateries going up all the time. Yes, it's kind of ugly during the day, nothing much to look at, that's for sure. But come evening, and the place is transformed into a pretty good replica of Tokyo's Shinbuya and Shinjuku districts."
Mr. Yang, who has owned his sushi joint for more than 20 years, says the transformation of "Little Tokyo" has been astounding. "My daughter lives in London now, she's studying art there, and everytime she comes back to this area, she tells me how quickly it's all changing."
Posh luxury highrises, fancy supermarkets catering to the super-rich, fashion boutiques selling the latest from Paris and Rome? While that's stretching things a bit, according to Mr. Yang, "little Tokyo" may very well become a second Tienmou if development and money continue to flow in to the area. It's close to work for many people in downtown Taipei, it's safe and best of all, there's little car traffic on the quaint narrow lanes that make up the "Little Tokyo" grid, he says.
Most of the "action" at night is on Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth streets, although Tenth Street is beginning to show some new signs of life, with the addition of upscale Japanese eateries and pubs. During the day, the neighborhood is full of mom-and-pop dry cleaning shops, small walk-up efficiency apartments, business hotels, hardware stores and food stalls serving Taiwanse staples such as beef noodle soup and stinky tofu. At night, you are in a Taiwan version of an imaginary Tokyo, with drunken Japanese salarymen cavorting down the narrow lanes, college students out for some tasty Hokkaido-style cooking and a small army of hard-working, hard-drinking bar hostesses that may number as many as 2,000 on any given night.
There are no wide boulevards or main streets here, just a lot of well-lighted street corners and neon signs calling out "welcome" and "this is the place" in Japanese script. Clubs with such names as "Sweet Midori" and "Secret Garden" and "Amore" tell you where you are, and the seasoned traveller knows he or she is not in Kansas anymore. But "Little Tokyo," contrary to old gossip and city rumors, is not a red light district anymore, and visitors are safe walking the lanes at all hours of the night.
It's a pedestrian paradise for people looking for something different in the urban cityscape, and a culinary delight as well. Where else can you drink hot sake with shark fin shavings? Where else can you sup on grilled seafood cooked over an open fire in full view of the patrons? Where else can you buy the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper in Japanese or speak Japanese with tablemates inside a Hokkaido-style farmhouse? Where else in Taipei does the culture of ancient China come so close to the culture of Old Nippon?
"I"ve called this place home for 20 years, and I love it," says Mr Yang, the sushi chef, who has learned to speak fluent Japanese from his many repeat customers and who works from 8 pm to 5 am six days a week. "I feel as if I live in Taipei and Tokyo at the very same time."
What's in store for the future in Little Tokyo? If current trends hold, there will certainly be more trendy boutiques moving into the area, more trendy Japanese restaurants, more hostess clubs, more upscale coffee shops and more foot traffic on weekends. While there are currently no Starbucks or IS Coffee shops in "Little Tokyo" -- the neighborhood seems to be chain-store resistant at the present time -- once one of fashionable chain coffee shops move in, it will be a signal that "Little Tokyo" has arrived.
While Little Tokyo is not a night market area and never will be (the streets are too narrow to accomodate a veritable Taipei night market), it will likely become more and more of a tourist mecca for Japanese and non-Japanese alike and a drawing card for local tourists looking for a new neighborhood to colonize and fashion in their own image. It might become the "in" place for film directors, music people, show business denizens and writers to set up studios and luxury apartment complexes. At the moment, there's not a bookstore in sight, and that means only one thing: a new bookstore, chain or independent, will soon find a home along one of the narrow lanes, as dry cleaning shops bcome a thing of the past and make way for a new generation of urban gypsies and daytrippers.
If you're new to Taipei, make it a point to visit "Little Tokyo" one of the nights, and if you're a longtime resident who has never ventured there out of fear or laziness, by all means, hail a taxi soon and step out into the neon nightscape. Still a bit of an undiscovered area, "Little Tokyo" will likely become a more prominent section of town as people get to know it better. It's a place to be discovered -- on your own, by foot, with a friend.
You haven't really lived in Taipei ... until you've spent a night in "Little Tokyo."
My homepage on the Internet is open for you!
I am not a very good website designer and I do not even own a computer. For email and Internet work I go to local Internet cafes in Chiayi or Taipei and connect to the Internet and email for just NT$10 for every 30 minutes I am online. As far as computers are concerned, I just know how to type on the keyboard. You can call Dan Bloom one of the original "computer dummies." For me, the computer is just an advanced typewriter. Since I am a writer, I love these advanced typewriters, they are much better than the old electric typewriters and manual typewriters. Do you remember those machines?
When I wrote my first book, I decided to make a personal homepage, in a very simple format in both English and Chinese characters, so that readers around Taiwan (and overseas, too) could read some information about me and my life in Taiwan, order my book by mail and also sign my "Internet guestbook." The web address for my homepage is www.tripod.com.etc, and I invite all readers of this book to go there in the future and sign my guestbook. I want to read your messages, thank you!
I would like to share with you some of the messages that I have already received in my Internet guestbook. After you read this book, please look at my homepage and sign the guestbook, too, if you want to. It's free and everyone is welcome. I will email you, too, with a short reply.
One Taiwan man from Taipei, a 22 year old art student at a local art college, wrote:
Dear Dan Bloom,
You are a very brave person to come to Taiwan alone and live here by yourself for such a long time. I don't know if I can do such a thing myself, but maybe someday I will visit Paris, France because I want to be an artist. Maybe I will live in Paris for six months or a year, and I hope I will have as much courage as you do here in Taiwan. You are a good example to me of a brave man who follows his dreams and has a strong heart and a friendly personality. I think that is why you love Taiwan so much, and I think that is why the Taiwan people also love you, too. You have tried to fit in with we Taiwanese, you have tried to eat our foods, visit our cities, live with us not as an outsider but as a local person who truly loves life in Taiwan. It is amazing. There are not many foreigners like you in Taiwan. I feel that many foreigners who come to Taiwan only come here to make money in a short time, and stay here just for one year or two years and then they return their countries without ever really fitting in with tAIWAN. However, you Dan Bloom has found a way to live your life right in the middle of Taiwan, among Taiwanese people, and you are happy here. You are one of a kind, you are unqiue, you are a good example of a friendly AMerican who truly loves Taiwan. Thank you for coming here and writing your books. Your message gives me confidence to live my own life more freely and more creatively and more bravely. When I go to Paris, France, I will try to live the way you do, and enjoy life among the French people. I guess that old saying is correct: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do!"
Dan Bloom, when you are in Taiwan, you do as the Taiwanese do! You are an intersting man."
Another reader wrote to me:
"Dear Dan Bloom, Before I read your book, before I met you in the night market in Tainan City last week, I felt that Taiwan was a terrible place to live and I was depressed. I really did not love my own country. But after reading your stories about your life in Taiwan, I have realzied that if a Foreigner can love Taiwan as much as you do, then maybe I should change my viewpoint and begin to love my country too! Thank you for telling we taiwanese that our Country is a nice place to live, even with all the problems we have in society here.
Dan Bloom, you are a special kind of foreigner, I guess, someone who comes from far away not just to make a lot money and then leave after one year or two years, but who truly wants to learn more about Taiwan. You are really a good friend of Taiwan. I hope you have many more fun and happpy adventures here in my lovely country of Taiwan. And yes, now I can say proudly, that I love Taiwan too. it is my country!"
If you would like to read more letters from readers or to sign my guestbook, Dan Bloom's homepage can be found at:
It is important to honor and respect all writers of literature and poety in Taiwan
Although I cannot read Chinese and must read Taiwanese literature that has been transalted into ENglish, I respect writers in all countries and believe that literature is an important cultural production for the people of all countries. There are 11 writers in Taiwan that I would like to name and honor here, and all of them have made inportant contributions to Taiwanese literature in recent years. Maybe you know their names, maybe you don't.
They are: Chung Chao-cheng (Áé»F¬F), Tseng Ching-wen (¾G²M¤å), Yang Mu (·¨ªª), Ying-ti (Áô¦a), Chang To-wu (±i©Ý¿¾), Chen jo-shi (³¯YÄf), Chen Ying-shu (¦¨^Îg), Wu Ho (»RÅb), Lo Yi-chun (Àd¥Hx), Yajunglung Sakonu (¨Èºa¶©¼»¥i§V) and Lo Feng-chu (Ã¹»ñ¯]).
Do you know any other writers that you would like to tell me about? Email me with your information.
I know that there are many more important writers in Taiwan, too. Do you read their books? Do you read their novels, their essays, their newspaper columns, their Internet stories, their poems, their confessions? Literature is an important part of Taiwanese culture, although many young people today do not read books so often anymore. It is more fun to play video games on the computer and watch movies on TV or in the movie theater or listen to music on CDs. WHy read books?
I will tell you why! Books are like bridges to another world -- a world of dreams and hopes and memory. BOoks bring us together as a community, as a society, as a nation. If people stop reading books, if writers are no longer honored or respected in their countries, what will the future be? It will be a sad future if literature and writers ever disappear...
Maybe you want to be a writer, too, Dear Reader. I hope so. If you have a dream to be a writer, do it, try your best. Dreams can come true, with luck and patience and perseverance! It is not easy to be a writer and many parents tell their children to stay away from literature as a job. "You cannot make much money as a writer or a poet," they say.
It's true. Writers are usually not rich people. Look at me! Dan Bloom is one of the poorest writers on this Planet EARth! But I love writing and I will continue writing for the rest of my life. Writing is a form of communication, and I have always wanted to be a writer. My dream to become a writer began when I was 14 years old in junior high school!
Why did I want to become a writer? Because I read many books when I was a teenager, and these books by older writers in America and Europe made a big impression on me. They told me stories! They made me dream! They showed me a much bigger world than just my small AMerican town near Boston! Books are bridges to another world, yes!
So it is important to respect writers in Taiwan and honor them with awards and by buying their books. I cannot read books in Chinese, but I want to clap my hands here silently to praise all writers in Taiwan. You make Taiwan great! You make Taiwan stand up on the international stage! You are the angels of Taiwan! Gambatte! Jyaiyo!
Someday a Taiwanese writer will win the Nobel Prize for Literature! Yes, it can happen and it will happen. Soon!
PUBLICIZING BOOKS ABROAD: DAN BLOOM GOES TO LONDON
[Authors (and publishers) complain about crowded and rushed publicity tours in the United States and Taiwan so often that it's easy to lose sight of different ways that books can be promoted in other countries. A trip to England by Taiwan writer DAN BLOOM turned out to be quite an eye-opener in this regard.]
It's 8:00 a.m. in London, and here we are at the famous BBC building, where DAN BLOOM is about to begin the first of 18 interviews in the course of two days.
One might think a book about an American expat's life in Taiwan might not have much appeal in the United Kingdom.
But the opposite is true, says the gifted publicist hired by Ebury Press, Claire Bowles: "It's *because* of DAN BLOOM's unique night market selling methods that we are interested in his book here in England!"
"I Love Taiwan" has already been heralded by a two-page spread in the London Express, to be followed soon by articles in the Guardian and Sunday Times.
But today DAN BLOOM is concerned that with so many 10- to 30-minute interviews packed into a few days, he'll repeat himself or forget to mention key points as he moves from BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cornwall and 15 other "down-the-line" conversations in studios all over this building.
It's the old "if this is Tuesday I must be in - what's the date? what's the city? are we late? where's the schedule?" delirium many authors experience in the USA , only for DAN BLOOM it's packed into 48 hours.
I tell DAN BLOOM: "Each time you sit down with a new person, look for something about him or her that's so stunning or so memorable or so fascinating, you won't forget who you're talking to. That way you'll remember what you've said and where you are in each interview. It's probably like selling in the night markets of Taiwan or on the streets of Chiayi -- you just have to find a way to keep it fresh. That person in front of you is the key."
"Got it," DAN BLOOM says gamely as Claire leads the way to Studio BBC-1R for an interview with Brian Tansley of Radio Nottingham. We enter a tiny room with a single microphone and earphones. "Does the host not use a headset?" I ask as Claire settles DAN BLOOM at the microphone.
"Oh, he isn't in London," says Claire. "None of the interviewers will be. That's what 'down-the-line' means. Brian, for example, is down the line in Nottingham. Dave Monk will be in Essex; Martin Ballard will be in Leicester, and so forth.
"Sometimes, the way these tours go, you could be interviewed for two days straight and not see a single soul." DAN BLOOM seems to be enjoying this trip to London so far.
The down-the-line hosts are distinctive and refreshing, so that every interview takes on a character or flavor of its own.
My night market selling speech goes like this....
If you ever see me in the local night markets of Taiwan or on the streets of Taipei or Chiayi selling my book like an old-fashioned street vendor, this is the kind of speech I usually give. Since I cannot speak Chinese or Taiwanese very well, I mix together a combination of several languages to advertise my bookselling booth. Like this! -- DAN BLOOM
Vey la, vey la, sho sho vey! man man kan! wo shay de! Shin su, shin su! my new book, come take a look! Going once, going twice, .... gone! to the highest bidder!
Hello, Hello, konichiwa, konbawa! Ohaiyo gozaimashita! Watashi wa DAN BLOOm desu ne Anata wa Taiwanjin desho?
man man kan take a look my new book Just one hundred dollars i pai quai jit pat ko jit pat ko yes, just i pai quai take a look, it's free to look don't be shy, don't ask why just come on over and take a look vey la vey la sho sho vey
wo jyo tse yang ha san le taiwan wo jyo tse yang ha san le yeh su mei mei didi obasan ojisan nisan sensei laosu lao ban professor sir come and take a look ichiban taiwan!
yo is, yo is! yes, take a look this is my new book wo ai taiwan wo ai ni!
Why I wrote §Ú´N³o¼Ë«¢¤W¤F¥xÆW and this current book for readers in Taiwan
I now live half the year in Taipei an half the year in in southern Taiwan, where I teach, edit textbooks and write for several English-language publications in Taiwan and overseas. -- DAN BLOOM
To be invited to write a book in Chinese for readers across Taiwan is a rare privilege for a foreigner, and having been given the assigment by a major publishing company in Taipei two years ago, I am extremely grateful. Of course, I can't write in Chinese, and I can hardly speak very much Chinese (or Taiwanese) either, although I'm learning step by step, day by day.
I do know this: there are other foreigners in Taiwan who know a lot more about the people and culture here than I do, and I hope they get a chance to write down and publish their observations and commentaries someday, too. Certainly, my little 30,000-character book of short essays is not a "big book," as they say in the publishing industry, but in its own small way I hope it will explain, in plain Chinese, why I really enjoy living here on this "tasty, tantalizing and terrific" island.
The Chinese title of my book was chosen by my editors in Taipei, and I think they came up with a nice phrase -- §Ú´N³o¼Ë«¢¤W¤F¥xÆW. It means something like "I'm Just Crazy About Taiwan" in colloquial English, and it does pretty much sum up how I feel about the ROC. I don't have a Ph.D. in anything, I am not an expert in history or politics or the economy, but having lived here for five years so far (with more to come, I hope), the title is fitting and does explain how I feel about the people and energy on this island.
My book was not a bestseller, in fact, it was hardly noticed when it first was published. I am an unknown American journalist and textbook writer whose face and name is unrecognizable to anyone but a small group of friends in Taiwan. I received the assignment to write the book after an enterprising publisher in Taipei read a short newspaper column that I had written in a Chinese-language daily there and asked one of his assistants to track me down and see if I was interested in expanding my column into a book-length series of essays about why I love living in Taiwan.
One of my experiences in Taiwan that helped set the mood for the book was the night of September 21, 1999, when a major earthquake struck the island. I was at work in the wee hours of the morning at a newspaper office in Taipei when the huge quake struck, and the 14-story building I was in rocked back and forth like a house made of paper. I was never more terrified in my life! I was certain nobody would make it out of that building alive.
But my boss and another reporter and I who were on the fifth floor of that building did make it out okay, and the experience had a major impact on my life. I felt even more than usual that it is important to live each day to its fullest and to treat others with kindness whenever we can, because life is short, and, yes, tommorrow we could die. The 921 Earthquake in Taiwan didn't teach me that -- I had been learning this lesson slowly all through life -- but the experience of living through that killer quake reinforced the lesson very clearly.
I wrote about this in the book, too. But in addition to the story of the 921 Earthquake, I also wrote about the people in Taiwan who have made my stay here so enjoyable, both before and after the earthquake. I wrote about an eccentric old man in a small mountain village outside Chiayi City who carves huge 5-meter tall Chinese characters on a hillside behind his farmhouse. I wrote about savvy stock market investors using computer programs to chart every move on the bourse, about a 75-year-old painter who uses her garage as a studio where she produces historical pictures about old Taiwan in the style of the famous US artist "Grandma Moses." I called Mrs Huang the Grandma Moses of Taiwan and introduced her to readers across the country.
Most of my first book was comprised of short interviews with many different kinds of people from all walks of life. Sometimes I interviewed them in my poor, broken Chinese; sometimes we spoke in Japanese, a language that older people on the island and I share; often a Taiwanese friend served as my interpreter as we went galivanting around the countryside looking for stories.
Yes, I love Taiwan. Great country, great people. That's all my book says. Although the book currently appears in Chinese only, and there are plans for English, French and Japanese editions later. I do hope that it will reach, and touch, readers of Chinese in Taiwan -- while at the same time conveying the message that many foreigners who come here to live and work find the ROC to be a truly "tasty, tantalizing and terrific" country. I know that there are many foreigners, from a host of Western and Asian countries, who feel the same way as I do.
Unusual story about an unusual man in ROC army
T. Christopher Locke is a man with an unusual story, and he hopes to tell it soon. In a book, on television, on the radio, in the local newspapers. It's about the two years he spent in the ROC military doing his compulsory military service.
He's already written the manuscript and titled it "Counting Mantou: An American in the Taiwanese Army." Although he has not found a publisher yet, either for a print edition or an online version, Locke -- who also goes by the name of T.C. Lin and whose Chinese name is Lin Dao-ming -- has high hopes for telling his story in public. He spent a few days at the Taipei International Book Exhibition in February looking for interested editors and publishers, he said in a recent e-mail to Prime Time, and things are looking good.
Locke, 32, was born in America and both his parents are American. He grew up in the US, went to college there and studied Chinese there. Now he is an ROC citizen, having been adopted by a local family in Hsinchu whose son Lin Yi-ping is a good friend of his and a former college classmate.
Locke first came to Taiwan in 1988 when, as a student at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, he flew here to spend his "junior year abroad" studying Chinese at Tunghai University in Taichung.
As a result of his adoption, he legally became a citizen of the ROC when he was 25 years old and was obligated to put in his 18 months in the national military service as a soldier, like all young men here.
The result -- which Locke calls "a book of recollections, a memoir of my army days" -- was written in English and may one day find its way into Chinese, too.
"The book is basically an account of the two years I spent in the ROC army as one of the few foreigners ever to be drafted," says Locke. "I always heard there were others, but I've yet to actually meet one. i think my story makes an interesting book, and can't wait for the day I can finally see it between two covers and hold it in my hand."
This unique experience continually prompted questions. "There are a great many myths concerning the ROC military, and in particular the army. It is a big part of the social structure in Taiwan since just about everyone has to do it," explained Locke. "Many Taiwanese and foreigners were just astonished that a foreigner could possibly be part of what is, to most people, an exclusively Chinese environment," he said.
The book is targeted at English speakers that, according to Locke, "are curious as to just what goes on in the ROC military from the day-to-day perspective of a common soldier." Well, maybe an uncommon soldier.
While Locke's story is a fascinating one -- something that would make a great CNN segment or a Newsweek or Time feature -- actually finding a publisher willing to put the story between covers and distribute it to bookstores islandwide and overseas is not easy, according to Locke.
"I haven't started the real business of finding a publisher for the English version yet, but several local publishers are interested," Locke said in a recent e-mail. "All I have to do is translate it into Chinese, which might take some time as I am not a professional translator, but shouldn't be a problem. Lots of people have suggested the e-book concept. I'd like to be able to hold the book in my hands, personally, but I don't rule out also having an ebook version. It depends on the deals I get offered."
T. Christopher Locke, T.C. Lin, Lin Dao-ming, which name he goes by, this writer with a one-of-a-kind story has a fascinating take on Taiwan and it's just waiting to see the light of day on the printed page or online.
"Soon," says Lin. "It's gonna happen!"
Hitchhiking in Taiwan with your thumb up!
Have you ever hitchhiked in Taiwan? Many people like to hitchhike in the US and in Europe, but hitchhiking is not as popular in Asian countries, such as Taiwan or Japan or mainland China. Did you ever try to hitch-hike in Taiwan? I'd like to know about your experiences hitchhiking in Taiwan, so please email me if you have an intersting story to tell me. -- DAN BLOOM
An American friend of mine who lives in Taipei told me: "I don't think it would be possible to hitchhike on the freeways here in Taiwan, it is illegal, but you can do it on some of the smaller roads around the island, especially in the mountains and where there is no regular bus service."
Anotehr friend added: "I've never heard of anyone hitching on the freeways here in Taiwan, although I suppose if you waited near the on-ramps with a sign or a hand-signal, it could be possible. On other roads, especially in the mountains, its usually really easy --the only thing that will make it hard for you to get a ride is traffic scarcity.
Generally, if you stick out a thumb to a passing truck, it'll stop for you. Tourists don't tend to stop, in my limited experience, but local people nearly always do, sometimes without even being hailed.
I haven't done it for years, but my last hitchhikinhg trip was from Taipei down to Nantou County and around through Hualien. I had a great time!
My best ride was a man who picked me and a friend up, soaking wet, without our even asking for a ride, and took us where I asked him.
Then he bought us dinner and, much beer and kaoliang later, it transpired that he didn't even live in the village we'd asked to go to. In other words, the kind and friendly man drove at least 60 kilometers out of his way on twisty mountain roads just to be kind to two foreigners visiting his country!
The story doesn't end here. When I told the man that I was really trying to go to Ilan via Lishan, he said no problem, and he slept in his truck that night while my friend and I slept in our tent near the road. In the morning, he took us to Lishan -- half-a-day's drive -- drank more beer with us, took us to his friend's house in Lishan and asked him to take us to Ilan, which he did with a big smile and friendly conversation."
"A few years later, I went back to Lishan to look for the two friendly Taiwanese who picked me up hitchhking at that time, and I found the second man in Lishan. Ah Pang, however, the first manm, had died of cancer a year or two before, I was told. Sad."
A third friend told me: When I first came to Taiwan five years ago, I hitchhiked with a foreign friend, and no Chinese speaking skills, to Hualien. It was a hitchhiker's dream come true!. We were picked up by several cars, at different spots along the road, and we were always fed, given drinks, treated so kindly.
It seemed to me that most drivers didn't really understand what we were doing in terms of the action of hitchhiking. Most drivers thought we were lost and on a number of occasions would deliver us to a train station where we'd thank them, wait for them to leave, then start the walk out of town again, and begin hitchhiking again towards Hualien. We finally made it."
Another American friend in Taiwan told me:
"One time near Chungli on a small road an old man was telling me the only way I was gonna get a ride was to hold up a motor oil container, indicating distress. Things were looking down, when all the sudden a beautiful girl on a motorbike stopped and asked me if I needed help and drove me to where I was going, -- much to the amazement of the old man, who was still holding the motor oil container. "
He added: "Once I was trying to hitchhike to Jiufen near Keeling, and it was no problem getting a ride for me and the others I was with. The interesting part is that even though we got picked up by off-duty taxi drivers, they wouldn't take any money. God bless Taiwan!"
I have never tried hitchhiking in Taiwan, not yet. I did hitchhike across the USA once, when I was a college student, it took me a week, to go from Boston to San Francisco, and I did hitchhike once from Paris to Berlin in Europe, and from Rome to Switzerland. But that was a long time ago.
I would like to try hitchhiking in Taiwan. According to my friends' stories, it is possible and a very intersting experience. Have you ever done any hitchhiking in Taiwan or in other countries. Please tell me your stories, too!
TAIWAN DREAMIN' [essay written for TIME magazine in New York]
an American expat in Taiwan sells his new book from a pushcart in the local night markets, and falls in love with an island....
I came to Taiwan for a short vacation five years ago and fell in love with the place. It's a funky, crazy, fascinating, intriguing little island, with a government of its own, a huge cross-straits dilemma with mainland China and a population of some 23 million restless, creative, forward-looking souls. I love it here.
Taiwan -- or, rather, make that the Republic of China, as it is known officially in the rest of the world, which for the most part does not recognize this small island nation around 100 kilometers off the coast of China -- is what I often call, in my email letters to friends overseas, "a tasty, tantalizing and terrific" little country. No, I don't work for the Bureau of Tourism or any multinational PR firms in Taipei; I'm just a country boy from Massachusetts who fell in love with Taiwan when I first set foot here in the fall of 1996. I plan to stay here forever, and not because I'm married to a Taiwanese woman. Heck, I'm not even married!
One of the reasons I enjoy life in Taiwan is because of the night markets that dot the land here, from the big city lights of Taipei and Kaohsiung, to the small country affairs in the rural areas of the island. Night markets are, if not exactly a Taiwanese invention, a true Taiwanese taste, smell and entertainment sensation. On a daily, nightly basis -- all over the island. There must be around 200 of them here, and I've only been to five of them so far.
I hope to visit them all in the future. You see, I am now a night market vendor myself, hawking a book I wrote in Chinese from an old pushcart I bought from an elderly man in my neighborhood in Chiayi City in southern Taiwan. I'm a writer, yes, and in an attempt to show my love for Taiwan to the Taiwanese people I wrote a small book last year and had it published in Chinese only -- a kind of "love letter to Taiwan" that a major publisher put out last fall.
Sales in bookstores were, to be perfectly blunt, flat. Zero, zilch, nothing. But being a Yankee dreamer and knowing how the night markets of Taiwan offer evening strollers a place to shop for bargains, taste local delicacies and spot the odd foreigner here and there, I decided to throw my lot in with the night market vendors on southern Taiwan and sell my book from a pushcart myself. I did and sales soared. My book is now a minor bestseller in Chinese, in a category of its own, resistant to the stagnant economy and with a bright future. The night market gave me what the bookstores could not offer: a ready customer base of young and old, ojiansans and obasans, college students and high school girls, Taiwanese English teachers and even friendly, bookless gangsters.
So I am now what they call here in Taiwan a "tan fan laoban," a night market vendor. I pay a cleaning and maintenance fee to the night market operators each night on my daily rounds, greet and chat with over 300 people a day and sell a few books here and there. I am not getting rich doing this, but I am having the time of my life, and I owe it all to Taiwan's bustling night market culture.
The name of my book? It's in Chinese and I can't even read it myself! -------------------------------
DAN BLOOM is a writer, English teacher and freelance reporter in southern Taiwan.
Sending cash in the mail is legal in Taiwan
When I published my first book, bookstores around Taiwan put it on their bookshelves and offered it for sale. The retail price was NT$190, but most bookstores gave customers a 10% discount, so the book really cost just NT$171 for many readers.
I also sold the book myself in the local night markets of Taiwan, and since night markets are places where people go shopping for bargains and are always on the look out for inexpensive items, I decided to sell my book at the night markets for just NT$100.
But there was one small problem in this sales method. I had to buy the books myself from my publisher for NT$114 each, using a special 40% author's discount that most publishers offer to their writers. So my sales method in the night market meant that I lost NT$14 on each book I personally sold and autographed. I guess you can see that I am not such a great businessman!
But I had a reason to sell my book at a low price. I wanted to make it easy for first-time customers, who had never heard of me or my book, and had never seen my name in print or my face in the newspapers or on TV, to buy my book. It's easy to reach into your wallet or pocket and take out a NT$100 bill. So my sales method was useful and beneficial for customers. So I lost a little money each time I sold a book? No problem! I felt that in the future, if I sold a lot books the first time out, the money would come back to me somehow. Maybe I would get a raise when I wrote my second book!
Some people also wanted to buy my book through the mail, by ordering through an online website that sells Chinese-language books, such as www.books.com.tw, or by ordering directly from me, by sending me an email request at email@example.com
I told potential customers by email that if they wanted to order my book from me, it was easy. Just send me NT$100 in the mail and add NT$50 for sending the book through the mail system by registered mail.
One reader wrote to me from Taipei and said: "I cannot send you cash money in the mail, sorry, because it is illegal."
But I told him that he was wrong, that in fact, people can send money in the mail in Taiwan. I explained that another reader had just written me this letter:
"Hello Dan Bloom: I just got back from the post office in Kaohsiung. I found out that you're right: In Taiwan, cash can safely be sent in the mail. The post office teller gave me a special envelope called a "xian4 jin1 dai4" ("cash bag"), and then I wrote your address on it and stuffed a 100 NT bill inside, and gave it back to the teller. It will be sent to you by registered mail ("gua4 hao4").
I decided to send the NT$100 as cash instead of getting a money order ("huei4 piao4") because I would be charged a NT$30 service charge for the money order, and also it would be more inconvenient for you to have to take the money order to the post office to get it cashed."
So, yes, you can send money in the mail in Taiwan. Try it sometime!
Do you want to eat squirrel meat?
While some people in Taiwan still eat snake soup and dog stew, in addition to such interesting dishes as fried crickets and rat meat stew, the British people have recently been making a fad out of eating squirrels. A newspaper story from London put it this way:
"A leading London chef known is offering British restaurant customers a new -- bushy-tailed -- eating experience.
Fergus Henderson, of the fashionable St. John restaurant in London, offers gray squirrel gently braised with wine, boletus mushrooms and wild garlic leaves.
He said the dish was popular at his restaurant, where he also serves up lamb testicles, bacon and mash and smoked eel.
"The (squirrels') flesh is rather like wild rabbit but slightly oilier and it cooks very well," Henderson told a newspaper reporter.
The chef pointed out he would not cook Britain's native, endangered, red squirrel, whose population has been largely supplanted by the bigger, more aggressive North American species.
Henderson acknowledged that for some British people the thought of devouring the little creatures living in their back gardens might be hard to imagine.
Daniel's Guestbook: readers sign for me!
One of the things I do when I sell my books on Culture Road in Chiayi or in the local night markets ... is to sign my books for each reader. I began doing this when a reader asked me to "sign" his book for him, and after that first signing, I began doing it every time I sold a book. I have now signed over 3,000 books! It's fun and I always try to write something special for each reader.
So I begin the signing activity by saying, in Taiwanese "Shan Mi mia?" What's your name? And after the customer tells me his or her name, then I ask them a few questions, also in Chinese, such as "Where are you from in Taiwan, where is your hometown?" and "Where do you go to school?" or "What kind of work do you do?"
The answers to these questions give me enough information to write something like this:
"To: Jenny Lin, from Hualien City
Nice to meet you in Chiayi on Culture Road tonight.
I hope you will enjoy reading my little book.
PS -- I love Hualien!"
And then I add the date for that day, hand the book to my new reader, shake hands and say "Gam sha li, arrigato gozimashita, shieh, shieh, thank you very much!"
I love signing books in the night markets because it gives me a chance to chat with my new friends and future readers. I don't "sign" my name because I am a superstar or a celebrity, no! I am not a superstar or a celebrity and I don't want to be! My books are the stars, not me. I am just a humble writer trying to help his books find readers. I am just a country boy from Chiayi selling his books in the fresh air of the magical night markets!
In addition to "signing" my books for readers, I have also started a new "Daniel's Guestbook" activity, in which I ask readers who buy my book to sign their names and short comments in a guestbook I carry with me. So not only do I sign my books for my readers, I also ask them to sign for me! I feel that in this way, there is a two-way street form of communication. Their "autographs" and "comments" are very important for me to read and I treasure them all. Let me give you some examples of what some people have said in my night market guestbooks:
Hello Dan Bloom, I am very happy to meet you in Chiayi and talk with you today. I will read your book tonight when I get home. Good luck with your writing work, and I hope you will stay in Taiwan all your life!" From: Jasmine
A 16-year old girl named Jenny from Kaohsiung, who was visiting Chiayi with her family for the weekend, wrote in Chinese:
"Dan Bloom, you are special! I love you! You are cute and your book is cute too! I also love my family and my puppy! I live off the coast of Pintung County on an island. My father works for the telephone company there. I know how to swim. Because I am an island girl!"
A 19 year old woman from Yunlin County, Judy Lin, who was shopping in Chiayi with her older sister, wrote:
"It is very special to see a foreigner selling his book on the street like this. You must be a dreamer! Good luck and God bless you!"
And after she signed my guestbook, the young woman suddenly stepped closer to me and gave a big hug, smiled and then ran away with her older sister! Yes, that really did happen!
Not all the "comments" in my guestbook are positive. One high school student named Ava, 17 years old, who lives in CHiayi CIty, wrote:
"Dear DAN BLOOM: Do you want to know how I feel about Taiwan? I will tell you: I don't like Taiwan at all! Somethings in Taiwan are very terrible, such as our education system, the air pollution, the traffic confestion, the way politicians attack each other on TV and in the newspapers..... If I had a chance to change my life or my destiny, I would choose not be born in Taiwan! However, there are some good things about life in Taiwan, too, such as the warm weather all during the year, and yes, it's true, Taiwanese people are very kind, friendly and cute. I want to enjoy life more, but there are many reasons that I cannot. I hope someday my dream will come true!"
Another reader, a young man named ALlan, also from Chiayi, wrote:
"I do not like Taiwan these days, because it feels as if we have become a nation of strangers to each other. EVeryone is just thinking about himself, not others! People just think about money, money, money, and they do not think about the human heart, like love and kindness. Dan Bloom, you are a very special writer to sell your book in the night market. And you are very funny, too. You make me laugh and smile, thanks!"
A 14 year old junior high school girl named Candy Chen, who wanted to tell me about a special food she ate once in Pintung COunty, wrote:
"Hi Dan Bloom: I would advise you to go to Kenting and eat chan bao bao! It is very delicious, although my older sister said it's terrible to eat such a thing! Maybe you can write about this in your next book!"
The guestbook now has over 800 entries, 800 names and comments from people who were complete strangers when I met them and are now part of my new circle of Taiwan friends. Thank you everyone, who signed my guestbook in print and on the Internet too (www.geustboo.com/daniel.). I value your friendship and comments. Thank you for being the "stars" of my life in Taiwan!
A letter from a Taiwanese friend who works in the publishing business
I receive many email letters every day about my books, most of them are from readers who purchased my book in a night market and want to say hello and how much they enjoyed reading my stories about why I love Taiwan. Recently, I also received a letter from a Taiwanese friend who works in the publishing business in Taipei. She gave me this advice about my future as a writer in Taiwan, and I appreciate her thoughtful words and warm feelings. -- DAN BLOOM
Hi Dan Bloom, Actually, the "big boss" at our publishing company in Taipei has heard about your boook and about your "nightmarket selling". He said he would like to meet you in person and talk to you about future publishing plans when you come to Taipei the next time. He said that your hard work of selling your books in the night markets is really inspirational and special for us Taiwanese, and that you deserve to be congratulated for your creative thinking and outgoing personality -- and for your love of Taiwan and its people.
However, he also told me to tell you that, to be honest, because of the rather poor business situation now with Taiwan's book market in a slow economy, most publishers in Taipei will be very cautious about publishing any new books, by you or anyone else. The book market right now is not very strong, although your night market selling business is very healthy!
I do have a good suggestion for you, and I hope you won't mind me telling you think: Quite frankly, think that you should learn Mandarin -- speaking, reading, writing, listening -- as soon as you can because it will help you to understand Taiwan and its people better. Also, by mastering CHinese, you will look and sound more convincing to the island's many readers when you publish your future books here. People in Taiwan want to see some special and inspirational thoughts and viewpoints, in addition to your feelings about how you love Taiwan. Because of the current economic recession, readers are spending their money for books more cautiously, too. So when they go to a bookstore, they want to buy a book that can help them in their lives; they don't want to pay money for just any book!
People in Taiwan do like to talk with foreigners, and make friends with foreigners, it's true, but to acutally go to a bookstore and buy a foreigner's book with real money is a very different thing. That's the main reason why your nightmarket selling idea has been so successful, even though the bookstores sales are not very high. You are the best salesman for your book, and by going to the night markets of Taiwan and meeting many people face to face, you have accomplished the impossible -- becoming a bestseller and a minor celebrity despite the odds against you. COngatulations, DAN BLOOM!
Sincerely, Your friend in Taipei Stella Lin
FOREIGN RESIDENTS RECOGNIZE PROGRESS IN TAIPEI'S LIVING QUALITY
Do you ever wonder how foreigners in Taipei feel about life in the nation's capital? How they like living in Taipei? How do they adjust to life in a city lie Taipei? Do they experience culture shock when they first arrive? What are the good points of living in Taipei and what are the bad points? I am sure most Taiwanese would like to know how some foreigners feel about life in Taipei.
I lived in Taipei for a year when I worked for the Taipei Times, a sister publication of the Liberty Times on Nanjing East Road, Section 2. I lived in a neighborhood called Little Tokyo near the intersection of Nanjing East Road and Linsen North Road. I loved living there, walking to work or riding my bicycle to the office each day. I liked living in Taipei. I never had any complaints.
Recently, the Taipei city government asked a group of foreign residents about their lives in Taipei. They said they recognized the progress in Taipei's overall living quality in recent years, but they also said there is still room for improvement, particularly in terms of traffic conditions and the romanization issue. The foreign residents, some of whom have resided in Taipei for up to 20 years, presented their views at a roundtable on Taipei's diversity sponsored by the Taipei city government. Among the participants were Richard Henson, president of the American Chamber of Commerce; Laura Endcott, manager of the Taipei European School; and Chris Duncan-Webb, senior vice chairman of Nan Shan Life Insurance Co. The participants lauded Taipei as a city friendly toward its foreign expatriates. They unanimously agreed that the mass rapid transit (MRT) system has contributed greatly to the upgrading of Taipei's living quality. Henson, who has lived in Taipei for eight years, recalled that in the past, he could finish two newspapers on the bus from his home in Tienmu to the downtown area. "With the MRT's inauguration, the journey now takes only 45 minutes," he said, adding that he is moved when he sees commuters forming orderly lines at MRT stations and refraining from eating and drinking inside the stations. The expatriates also praised Taipei's advancement in other fields, including sidewalk renovation, beautification of city landscape and convenient mobile communication and Internet services. Touching on the areas in which Taipei needs improvement, nearly all of the participants said they are dismayed by the city's "super high density" of motorcycles. David Monson, an English consultant, humorously described Taipei's traffic condition as "order amidst chaos," adding that the convoys of motorcycles that swirl through major Taipei streets are scenes he has never seen in other foreign cities. Henson echoed Monson's views, saying that first-time foreign visitors tend to be shocked by Taipei's large number of motorcycles. Nevertheless, Henson said he feels local motorcyclists have become more law-abiding in the past few years, thanks to stricter law enforcement. In response, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, who chaired the meeting, said that every time he meets with foreign expatriates, the motorcycle issue is consistently brought up. "We have devoted much energy to addressing the issue. But there is no easy solution, as nearly half of the motorcycles seen in Taipei come from neighboring cities or counties. We may not be able to resolve the parking issue soon," Ma said. But he promised to tighten a crackdown on motorcyclists who ride on the sidewalks. Speaking on the same occasion, Martha Lide, director of the International Community Cultural Foundation, said Taipei has made many positive changes in recent years to make it easier for foreign expatriates to adapt themselves to life here. For instance, she said, many Taipei streets now have some form of romanized rendition of their Chinese names. But she noted that the romanization needs improvement. Lide also expressed hope that the city government will provide more English-language road signs and practical information needed for daily life here. Meanwhile, Hugues Mignot, the Belgian representative to Taiwan, suggested that similar roundtables can be held on a regular basis to boost communication between foreign expatriates and city government officials. Acting on Mignot's suggestion, Ma announced at the end of the meeting that the roundtable will be held at least once every six months in the future.
MAyor Ma's idea is a good one, and I hope that future roundtable meetings will be useful and valuable. Taiwan is very friendly to foreigners, but sometimes there is culture shock that can last for a long time.
Pronunciation GUide for Taiwan!
This is a short chapter and some words of advice about reciting the ABC's.
Everyone knows the ABC, but just how does one pronounce each letter? A friend of mine in Chiayi says, not quite correctly: "A, BEE, SHE, DEE, E, E-FOO, TZEE, A-CHEE, I, TSAY, K, ELLO, UM, UN, O, P, Q, AH, E-SUH, T, U, BWEE, DOH-BOO U, EKAS, Y, TSEE." What do you say, when you recite the alphabet in English? -- DAN BLOOM
Think about it. Listen carefully. Speak clearly. Enough said.
Leave your camera and cellphone at home when you visit Keuishan Island off the coast of Ilan
Among the 35,000 people who have visited Kueishan Island off the coast of Ilan County since August 2000 have been President Chen Shui-bian and Dan Bloom, but we didn't go at the same time or under the same conditions. Abian went first class and I went tourist class, but I think all 35,000 of us enjoyed the trip very much. I know I did, and according to press reports, President Chen enjoyed his inspection tour last March, too.
Abian was the first Taiwan president to visit the island, which is located about 10 kilometers off the eastern coast and is called Turtle Island because resembled the shape of a turtle. While he was there, Abian praised the island as an up-and-coming tourist attraction with ecological significance.
I didn't know this until I went there a year ago, but Keuishan Island used to be a former military base. As a result, Kueishan was out of bounds to civilians and remained closed to tourists until August 2000, when the government designated it as a tourist spot. Good idea. It makes a wonderful one-day boat trip out on the open seas and on the small islet itself. I felt I was in aother world during my trip to Keusishan Island. You will, too.
Now the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) is planning to set up PR and advertising campaigns promoting Kueishan in order to get more people to visit the island. That's one reason I am writing this chapter in my book; I want to do my small part to encourage adventure tourism and eco-tourism.
According to Chang Shueh-lau, director-general of the MOTC Tourism Bureau, in addition to the 35,000 people who have visited the small island, more than 85,000 people have gone whale watching over the past two years on a sea route that takes them close to the island.
I love whale watching cruises and went on several in Alaska and Mexico during vacations there in the 1980s. When you see a huge whale surface and jump, with its magnificent tale high in the air, it is a sight you never forget. In fact, a trip to Keushan Island or even a whale watching cruise near the island will be a memory you will never forget. I didn't even bring a camera with me, since I hate cameras and never take them with me on trips, but the memory of that beautiful day on the open sea and the short excursion on the island will last forever in my mind. Cameras are useful gadgets, I agree, but for me, I prefer to use my eyes and memory when I travel. That way, the impressions go deep into my mind and I don't have to rely on photographs to remind me of what I did.
If you go to Keuishan Island, I have a suggestion. For once, just once, leave your camera at home and visit the island with your mind at full alert and use your imagination to remember everything you see and hear and smell and taste and feel. I promise you , you will return home with wonderful personal memories better than any Fuji or Kodak photograph. And I have one more suggestion: when you got to Keusishan Island or on a whale watching cruise, leave your cellphone at home or in the car, too. Just sit back and relax, and enter another world of sea air and wilderness. Yes, leave your cellphone in the car.
betel nut beauties
Despite calls by some national politicians to crack down on "betel-nut beauties," the sexy young women ( known as "betel nut beauties" in English) who sell the popular stimulant at roadside stalls are a part of Taiwan's culture and can't be easily outlawed, according to news reports.
Betel-nut beauties are unique to Taiwanand are a part of Taiwan's contemporary grassroots culture.
Betel-nut beauties are found in a transparent kiosks along roads nationwide. They usually wear sexy clothing in order to catch the attention of male drivers.
In some cases, because of severe competition, betel-nut beauties in country areas have been known to wear nothing but a see-through dress.
Although betel-nut merchants have operated in Taiwan for decades, there are no official statistics on the industry and the government know how many betel-nut beauties there are in Taiwan.
According to industry estimates, there are about 100,000 kiosks selling betel nuts across the nation. Some are staffed by young and sexy betel beauties, others are staffed by middle-aged obasan, some even by middle-aged men
To attract more customers, vendors started hiring scantily-clad young women in 1996. MAny any of the women have refused to give interviews to the news media, but I was lucky enough to have a series of talks with a betel beauty in Chiayi City a few months ago. She told me: "Look, DAn Bloom, this is just a job, and it's not a bad job, either, in terms of money. I make around NT$30,000 a month, sitting down most of the time and just having a good time. I have heard of some girls making even more money, if they are on busy roads or if they work at popular betel nut stands."
"Look at me, I am dressed like a nurse. It's funny, right? I think it's funny, too. Do you have betel nut beauties in America, too? I think they are just part of Taiwan culture now. I wear a nurse's uniform and cap because it's sexy and drivers stop and want to talk with me. But there is no sex involved here, I never even touch the customers' hands. We just chat, make small talk, and I sell the betel nuts to them. I work for eight hours, chat with my girlfriends on the telephone, read magazines, it's fun. I like this job. I am not a girl with a high education so what else can I do? I have a boyfriend and he likes me to work like this. He works at a local factory. When we get enough money, we will get married and raise a family. I like to have two kids, a boy and a girl. I can tell them their mom was a betel beauty and show them some photographs, too. I love this job."
Do I chew betel nut! Of course, not. Most girls do not chew betel nut. Besides, it's dangerous for men, too, they can get mouth cancer and die early. I know that. But this is just a job, like selling cigarettes or beer at a convenience store. So what if I dress like a sexy nurse, with some of my bosom showing my pretty skin? It's just an advertisement, a marketing method, and I know that. Girls are used to sell cars and motorcycles and beer and cigarettes, why can;t a girl dress sexy and sell betel nut? That's what I am, a betel nut beauty. Nice to meet you, DAn Bloom? Are you going to write my story in your book, too? I want to read it too! By the way, here's your NT$10 bottle of mineral water!"
Yes, it's true, I had stopped at the betel nut stand to chat with the betel nut beauty and buy a bottle of cold water, since I don't often chew betel nut, unless it's offered to me at the night markets or at someone's house in CHiayi. I like the betel nut beauties, I think they are cool and sexy and part of the Taiwan landscape. I don't see anything wrong with what they do!
The Betel Nut Problem
Okay, so I did admit in an interview with the United Daily News that I sometimes chew betel nut. Yes, it's true. But it's not a regular habit of mine.
I only chew betel nut when a friend or acquaitance at the night market offers me some. To be polite and share in the night market friendship, I take the betel nut and chew it. It tastes good! But I know it's not healthy to do this regularly,
In fact, I am worried about some of my friends in Chiayi who reguarly chew betel net, on a daily, hourly basis. I am worried they will get oral cancer and die an early death.
So in the interests of public health, I'd like to pass on this information any readers who might be in the habit of chewing betel nut on a daily basis. Be careful, my friends, you might be addicted to something that will kill you.
Here are some facts:
The seed of the betel palm has long been used by Chinese medicine doctors in Taiwan to treat parasitic infections and other intestinal disorders. Only when taken in excess does this pulpy nut have negative side effects, However, the betel nut widely chewed in Taiwan as a stimulant often contains unhealthy additives. Yes, it's the additives that will hurt you, sooner or later.
Experts estimate that 88 percent of oral cancer patients and 96 percent of mucous membrane fibrosis patients in the Taiwan area habitually chew betel nut. Statistically, the likelihood of contracting oral cancer is 28 times higher for betel nut chewers than for those who do not, and the risk is 89 times higher for people who both chew betel nuts and smoke.
Furthermore, those who chew, smoke, and drink heavily are 123 times more likely to contract nasopharyngeal cancer than those who do not indulge in any of these habits. Oral cancer deaths in the ROC have increased from 1.25 per 100,000 people per year in 1976 to 2.25 in 1991, and 5.34 in 1998. In 1997, there were an estimated three million betel nut chewers in the Taiwan area, spending up to US$3.45 billion on betel nuts annually.
Especially worrisome to health officials in Taiwan is the increasing popularity of betel nuts and the changing demographics of the betel nut chewing population.
In the past, most betel nut chewers were adult laborers concentrated in eastern and southern Taiwan. Today, young and educated urbanites and suburbanites are taking up the habit in unprecedented numbers. To cater to the demand of the chewers, betel nut farming has grown, becoming the fourth largest crop in Taiwan. In response to this shift, the government is now targeting anti-betel nut campaigns at the younger generation. The hazards of betel nut chewing are being publicized in the form of TV ads, video programs, and leaflets distributed amongst high school and college students. Also, a substitute called "Healthy betel nut", which does not contain the toxic components in the pulpy nut and its additives, has been developed to compete with the more harmful one.
If you are smart, you will cut down on your betel nut chewing habit, if you the will power and strength of character. If you can't stop, get ready for an early funeral.
I meet some of the strangest people selling my books in the night market
I meet some interesting people selling my books in the night market, I really do. For example, one night a friendly middle-aged man stopped to talk with me, and he handed me a three-page list of corrections, in Chinese, for mistakes in the translation of my first book, §Ú´N³o¼Ë«¢¤W¤F¥xÆW. He had carefully noted which pages contained wrong translations of place names in the Chiayi area, and also listed each mistake and then added the correct terms. What a nice and thoughtful man! I thanked him and told him to keep in touch. Every writer needs careful readers like that, and I appreciate his concern. If readers spot any mistakes in this book, let me know by email and I will correct them, too.
I met another very friendly man in the night market recently, too. He was born in Taipei 65 years ago, he told me, but he moved to the US 35 years ago to start a career there as a businessman. When we were talking in the night market about my books, he asked me the price for one copy and when I told him I would give him a free copy as a present to take back to his children in America, he protested and said that he could not accept a free book, that he wanted to pay for it. And he took a US$100 bill out of his wallet and gave it to me, saying "Here, Dan Bloom, take this please and use it to write more books!" Wow, that was like paying me NT$3000 for one book, 30 times it's normal price. What an angel, what a sweet elderly man! His name? Joseph Huang, of New Orleans, Louisiana!
But I also meet some of the strangest people selling my books in the night market, too. Last week, for example, a Buddhist monk stopped by my book stall on Culture Road in Chiayi and chatted with me for a few minutes. When he asked me about my book, I told him the price, but rather than offer me money for the book, he just took it off the table and said, or rather, demanded: "Give it to me!"
I was surprised that a monk would be so demanding and pushy, but then I remember that I was on Culture Road selling my book for fun, so I just laughed at the incident and said to the monk: "Sure, take it, it's for you, free!" And then he stuffed the book in his large bag and walked down the street. I wonder what Buddha would think of this, I said to myself, smiling. "Oh well, it's just a book and the monk does not have a lot of money, so let him read it and enjoy it too!" I said to myself as he disappeared down the road.
On anther day, during the New Year holiday, when Culture Road was crowded with people returning home for the holidays, a lonley middle aged man carrying a small travel bag came over to talk with me. He told me he was from Hualian and had no money to return home and could I lend him NT$100. I wanted to help this man, but there was something about his personality that seemed strange to me. His story of being stuck in Chiayi without enough money to buy a train ticket home for the holidays sounded fishy to me, and if he really needed a train ticket, why was he just asking for NT$100. A friend of mine had warned me that sometimes people like this old man often beg for money this way, making up sad stories which are not true, and going from person to person all day long begging money this way. At the end of the day, this "beggar" might have enough money to sleep in a hotel and buy some beer, and begin his day again all over again tomorrow. So I politely told the man that I was busy selling my book, and had not made any money yet on this day, and could he come back later. He came back to talk with me five times more that afternoon, and each time he told me his sob story all over again. I concluded that he was lying to me, and decided not to give him any money, even though I had NT$3000 in my pocket. Sorry, strange traveller!
I wonder what was in the travel bag!
And one day in CHiayi on Culture Road I met a very strange man, indeed. He told me has from Keelung. He hair was long and unkempt, his clothes were dirty and old, he looked like a bum. His age? About 35. He chatted with me a bit and then told me he could speak some Japanese, too. He even showed me a Japanese language magazine he kept in his dirty travel bag! He was apparently a smart person, with a high IQ, but I could tell from his clothes and demeanor that he was probably a bit mentally unstable and maybe even mildly schizophrenic. It looked like he was homeless and had fallen on bad times! But he wasn't begging for money, like the other man, no, he just wanted someone to talk to. And Dan Bloom was his target that afternoon!
We had an interesting short conversation in English and Japanese, and then he suddenly began reciting all the train station names between Taipei and Kaohsiung, one by one! Every single train station on the line running north to south: "Taipei, Wanhua, Panchio, Sanshia, Yingke, Taoyuan, Neili, Chungli, Yangmei ...." and he continued naming every station all the way down to Kaohsiung. I thought that was pretty strange!
And then he shook my hand and said goodbye.
Hmmm, one meets very interesting people selling books on the streets of Taiwan!
A visit to an Aboriginal school in a rural area
There are many foreigners living in Taiwan now, both in the large cities and in rural areas. Some are from Asia, some are from North America and Europe, others are from Africa. Taiwan is a little United Nations now, and in the future, there will be many more books like my books, describing life in Taiwan from a foreigner's viewpoint. I am hardly the first to write such books in Chinese; Richard Hartzell wrote similar books 15 years ago, and Jeffrey Mindich has written three bestsellers in the same vein, too. In addition, Steven Crook has written a very good book about Taiwan (available only in English), perhaps one of the best travel book by a foreigner in Taiwan, titled "The War Gods."
Recently, on the Internet, I found a very intersting short story by an American teacher from California named Peter Gallant, who lives in the Hsinchu area. In the following story, he tells about a trip he took with a friend to visit an elementary school for Aboriginal children in the mountains of Hsinchu County. Thank you, Peter Gallant, for giving me permission to pass on your story to readers of this book. -- DAN BLOOM
PETER GALLANT'S STORY
Although the Aborigines of Taiwan, with 10 tribes, make up only about three percent of the island's population -- around 450,000 people -- their culture is now hip, cool and viewed with interest by the population at large. I, too, am attracted by their arts and crafts -- and their attitudes about life and nature.
I have a friend in Hsinchu where I teach English who teaches 5th grade at an Aboriginal school in the mountains of north-central Taiwan. Her English name is Apple, and she was kind to invite me to visit her place of employment. I was happy to accept her invitation and a free car ride to the rural location. I never would have found it on my own. It's waaaaaaaaaaaay up in the hills: a 1 hour and 45 minute drive from Hsinchu City. Up, up, up, sometimes through muddy roads, too.
The Aborigines in Taiwan are similar in a way to the American and Canadian Indians and Eskimoes of North America; previously shunned, they are now protected. They predominately live in the high mountains and grow cherries or some other cold-weather crop.
On the road to their village we crossed a bridge with 8 bronze statues depicting Aboriginal life. I took some photographs on the bridge and then Apple and I continued our journey to the school. I'm glad we went there. The students and teachers I met at the school were so friendly, I didn't want to leave.
It's one of the smallest elementary schools in Taiwan, but the students don't seem to know it. They daily greet the sun with a marching tribute and an 8 piece wind and percussion band assembly. As the flag of Taiwan rose slowly to the sky on the school's flagpole, I joined the group's rendition of Taiwan's national song. It was an endearing morning celebration. Sunny weather prevailed that day, casting a magical spell over the whole event. I was told it has been know to snow in these parts! Wow!
Twenty Aboriginal students (out of 45) live at the school. They eat, sleep and learn 5 days a week right here. All of the teachers have sleeping and living quarters here, too. A modern teacher's dorm helps attract educators to an otherwise difficult job.
"The money's OK, but .... It's a long way from home and I don't like the bugs", says Apple. My advice to teachers who want to work in a place like this is this: Only apply here if you're passionate about education and love children. This area and school are definetely off the main stream of life, but these kids will love you as a teacher. Western teachers who apply to work here should be prepared for celebrity treatment (from the kids) if you come up here, and, plenty of "real time" involvement if you linger.
The day I attended was a "party" day. It was just before spring break, a chance for the kids to experience a "western" style celebration of birthdays. They had cake and candy. Apple told me it was the first "real" party they had ever had. One of their Taiwanese teachers had brought party favors, a birthday music video and conducted party games. Although their nature is to be uninhibited, all the students were polite to the teachers and to each other in a friendly, but rough way. By the way, I noticed that the girls have to be as tough as boys up here.
A new church was under construction just a few steps from the school on that day. Aborigines don't hire workers to do this kind of job, they do it themselves. They had a church on this spot before, but it was too small. So they are building a bigger one.
I wondered at the lack of occupations -- jobs, industry - in the area.
"How do they afford the school?", I asked Apple.
"Well", Apple told me, "the land is free to the natives". "They only need to decide where to build and get the materials". On a mountain side, faced with freshness, they live happily ever after, it seems.
I'll be back.
[Editor's note: Peter Gallant, a 50-year-old native of California who says he looks 35 after three cups of coffee, currently lives in Hsinchu, where he teaches English and studies Chinese. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]
A brief history lesson for young people about who Adolph Hitler was and why is Nazi symbols are not appropriate in Taiwan
It happens in Taiwan, from time to time. I think you know what I am talking about.
Images of Hitler in political ads and speeches, Nazi swastikas and SS decals on motorcycle helmets worn by young people and old people around the island, Nazi-theme restaurants in downtown Taipei with photos of concentration camp survivors. You've read the news stories, nodded your head knowingly, and it's not only in Taiwan; Japan and South Korea and Hong Kong and Thailand have had their share of similar news stories over the past few years.
As everyone knows, similar incidents will happen again here as well, even though progress is being made in educating the public and making people from all walks of life more aware of just who Adolph Hitler was.
"Whatever else you feel about Nazi Germany, you've got to concede it brought high fashion to thuggery and racism. Indeed the styles and motifs of its brief era have proved so enduring that, 56 years after its demise, the world still looks on with a mixture of curiosity and repugnance while Germans (and Austrians) continue to pat down shovelfuls of dirt onto its grave."
That's longtime Tokyo-based journalist Mark Schreiber talking about Japanese people who collect Nazi memorabilia. He's been in Japan for over 35 years, and he's seen quite a bit of the Nazi stuff there. The New York native, married to a Taiwanese woman from Hualien, said he is also familiar with the incidents that have occurred in Taiwan over the years, too.
According to Schreiber, wealthy collectors in Japan lay out enormous sums of money for authentic SS uniforms, Nazi insignia and other artifacts from the period -- in a business that is said to be worth millions of yen annually. While collectors of Nazi-era items in Taiwan are few and far between, the subculture exists here, too, according to news reports and Internet sites.
The DPP got into some hot water in the past over a TV commercial it designed that featured Hitler as one its subjects, along with former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, US President John F. Kennedy and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. International protests -- and overseas newspapers stories -- put Taiwan in the spotlight in an unflattering way, until finally the DPP decided to pull the ad.
In Chiayi City, not far from the newly-refurbished City Hall, along a noisy shopping street that has the best "deals" in town -- the scene along Unhwa Road is a veritable 24-hour "night market" that basically never closes -- there's a small t-shirt shop that sells a large variety of shirts made in Hong Kong, China, the US and Taiwan. One of the shop's items, recently showcased in the display window fronting Unhwa Road, is a Nazi-era theme t-shirt with a photo of Hitler on the front. It sells for around NT$800, comes in a variety of showy colors and sizes.
When I asked the owner of the storewhy he was selling Hitler t-shirts, he replied: "Oh, sorry about that, it's just fashion here. No offense is intended, and if any foreigners complain, I always take those shirts out of the display windows. No problem. It's not a big seller here anyway. I just stock what my supplier sends me. Sorry about that."
Sure enough, the next day, the Hitler t-shirt was no longer in the display window. A half dozen of the items were neatly folded, instead, on a shirt rack inside the store and few customers were even looking at them. Still, it's interesting to note that, according to the owner of the store, local people have never complained about the Nazi-theme shirts.
"For Taiwan people, it's not an issue," he explained. "The same thing happened when Jacky Wu had that restaurant in Taipei with the concentration camp photos of Jews being led to the gas chambers. He and his designers had no idea what they wer doing, they just thought it was cool. Hitler has no meaning to us in Taiwan. We know who Mao Tsedong was, of course, and we know what the Japanese did during World War II, and we know all about the so-called 'comfort women.' But we don't know nothing about Hitler or the Nazi people."
In Taiwan in recent years, there have been several newspaper articles -- and BBC stories from London, even -- about the infamous "Jail" restaurant in downtown Taipei that used to hang photos of concentration camps on the walls and MRT subway ads for German space heaters that used Hitler's face for graphic impact (the campaign lasted less than a week once word got out internationally, spread worldwide by a local Associated Press story from the Taipei AP bureau). And everyone who has spent any time here on the island knows about a small number of people driving motorscooters with German army helmets decorated with swastikas and other Nazi-era symbols.
Fortunately, Taiwan's publishing industry -- and readers islandwide -- does not go for publishing pseudo-scientific books about topics embraced by the Nazis themselves, and for Taiwan, it's much better than what happens in Japan, where I lived for five years in the early 1990s.
In Japan, such strange books are a thriving publishing niche, with hundreds of volumes for sale in Tokyo and Osaka bookstores with strange titles about global "Jewish" conspiracies and money politics. Time and Newsweek magazines have noted the phenomenon there, as they have also in Taiwan and South Korea over the years.
According to Schreiber, a US writer who has studied the phenomenon of Nazi-themed books in Japan has described the entire niche market as "pathological fantasies disguised as ideas churned out ... for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious."
In Japan, apparently, there's a ready market for such drivel; Taiwan publishers and readers are apparently more discriminating and worldly as such books do not exist here.
Still, the phenomenon of collecting and wearing Nazi memorabilia does exist in Taiwan, and, more to the point, there are no laws against it -- as there are, for example, in Germany. The people who do sport Nazi "fashion" items on their clothing or motorcycle helmets in Hsinmenting and Taichung's shopping streets are such a small minority of the population that they hardly matter, according to observers here.
But the occasional incidents that do occur in Taiwan do matter to officials at both the German and Israeli trade offices, and they are often interviewed by the local and international media for newspaper quotes and TV or radio soundbites. When the recent DPP television commercial controversy flared up, spokesmen at both trade offices were interviewed by international wire services for personal comments and constructive criticism.
According to Schreiber, a university professor in Kyoto put together a team of researchers a year ago and produced a book about the Nazi-theme craze in there. Titled "Cultural Studies of Nazism in Japan [Hitoraa no Jubaku, in Japanese]," the 322-page volume was a detailed study that cataloged Nazism as a form of Japanese pop culture. The book was never a bestseller -- it was marketed mostly to academics and university libraries, according to Schreiber -- but the very fact that it was published at all says a lot about the fascination that some Asian people have for the Hitler era.
A seven-page color section in the book displayed "pictures of cute Japanese girls adorned in SS uniforms, pornographic Nazi manga magazines catering to the S&M crowd and right-wing posters of Japan's National Socialist Workers' Alliance, emblazoned with swastikas, denouncing the international conspiracies," according to Schreiber. "Even more enlightening are ... interviews with individuals deeply into the Nazi subculture, including a man named Eiichiro Yamashita, who left a salaried job to open a shop in Tokyo that deals in Nazi uniform insignia and other military paraphernalia."
"From what these interviews have to say, it is clear that the adulation of Nazi culture in Japan appears essentially benign -- to the extent that anything with such a sordid history can be," Schreiber says. "At its essence, the book is less about Nazism in Japan than it is a study on the absurd degree to which Japanese people go to indulge their fantasies."
Maybe that's what the phenomenon of Nazi memorabilia is all about here in Taiwan, too. Pop culture fashion, strange fantasies, lack of proper education, ignorance of European history and a feeling that what happened during World War II in Germany and elsewhere in Europe has nothing to do with this tiny island on the western edge of the Pacific Ocean.
The response in Taiwan, where "the Nazi craze" is limited to occasional incidents now and then, has been low-key. The Israeli trade office in Taipei, concerned about previous incidents and hoping to prevent future ones from occurring, has set up some educational programs and public exhibitions to help educate Taiwan people about the history of the Nazi movement and its infamous leader.
The hate-filled legacy of Adolph Hitler lives on in many places around the world, sad to say. However, if ROC government officials and educators view the incidents that occur here as ways to help educate the public in the future about the European and American history of WWII and Hitler's tragic legacy, it will be positive step forward, according to officals at the Israeli and German trade office in Taipei.
Will the dolphin's smile be our planet's salvation?
Some ecologists say that global environmental healing will never happen until the concern we feel for whales and dolphins transcends celebrity to include less glamorous species, says a friend of mine who attended college with me in Boston. His name is Jim Nollman, and while he has never been to Taiwan yet to lecture about the environment or "interspecies communication," his professional interest, he has been to Japan several times and hopes to visit Taiwan soon.
I recently asked Jim Nollman about his ideas about whales and dolphins and how his thinking might be useful for people in Taiwan.
"If the whales can't save us, nothing can" is a sentiment echoed over and again by environmentalists around the world. But why do we treat this group of animals with such respect? Some observers conclude that bigger is better or, in the case of dolphins, that we can't resist those vibrant leaps tied to such a happy face. Are these the only reasons whale watchers scream with delight at a humpback sighting, why the campaign to adopt orcas sometimes acquires the look and feel of the Elvis Presley Fan Club? Whale watchers have been known to swoon in the presence of a leaping humpback whale like groupies fainting before a movie star who winks in their direction."According to believers, cetaceans are benevolent strategists working within the Gaia-wide network to save us even as we work to save them."
Cynics contend that our culture's shallow obsession with celebrity is the primary reason "saving the whales" became the first and perhaps the most prolonged rallying cry of the US environmental movement. In other words, the lure of the megafauna is irrational, emotional, stylish and, therefore, our admiration is spurious.
Some ecologists vouch that global environmental healing can never occur until the concern we feel for the cetaceans transcends celebrity to include less glamorous species.
If only people loved spotted owls, grizzly bears, snail darters, as they now love cetaceans, how might that affection tip the balance for saving all of nature?
Then again, what's the point of moaning? Some species of great whales would be extinct today without that tidal wave of human passion.
Being large may help generate charisma, but it is certainly not the only reason we love whales and dolphins. The "save the whale movement" often portrayed the cetaceans as mentors who could teach us how an advanced mind could flourish in harmony with the Earth.
This capability of the whales and dolphins to generate hope for our species is nothing new. The Sumerians, the ancient people of the Indus Valley, and later, the Greeks praised the ability of cetaceans to rejuvenate human culture.
According to Homer, Oceanus existed before the gods. Dolphins and whales lived within Oceanus, which is why the Greeks believed cetaceans, and especially dolphins, held the power of the creator. Delphys shares a common root with the words for womb, navel, and birth. Homer praised their wisdom because "they always try to be gratefully useful to human beings."
For much the same reason, cetaceans have emerged today as an enduring subject of nature films and magazine articles.
Our vision of the intelligent, "gratefully useful cetacean" led directly to "Flipper," the most popular wild animal TV series of all time. Another boy-meets-cetacean story line named Free Willy has become a high grossing film with several sequels.
The dolphin's Mona Lisa smile and the humpback whale's gravity-defying leaps compete with pretty female faces as advertising icons on Taipei MRT kiosks, used to sell solar panels, computers and watches. The message is think smart, have hope, be free.
Few dispute the fact that the cetaceans have coalesced into part of a new environmental consciousness.
Some whale lovers disagree, however, with the conventional wisdom that describes cetaceans as mere passive recipients of our attention. They uphold the conclusions of authors Horace Dobbs, Patricia Saint John, John Lilly and Lana Miller who espouse an "energy field" surrounding cetaceans that is so vibrant it transcends symbolism and metaphor.
The whales' role is active, transforming the charged border into the place we visit to listen to environmental philosophy and, possibly, get our orders. According to believers, cetaceans are benevolent strategists working within the Gaia-wide network to save us even as we work to save them.
Those who hold the view assert that from Delphi to Chichijima, from Moby Dick to Keiko, from the Aboriginal dolphin dreamtime to the Greenpeace Zodiacs, cetaceans have always served humans as friendly arbiters of perception, exerting a subtle but, nonetheless, firm role in transforming the way human beings perceive their place within nature.
The symbolism of this interspecies mentor is mythic, communal, and deeply cultural. Its examples are not always founded in nature, nor are they necessarily cetacean-specific. "Nuke the whales," an anthem of the punk movement of the 1980s, was a declaration of protest, not against whales, but against the perceived excesses of environmental bathos.
When pop idioms start to sound like myth, Joseph Campbell's writing is sure to offer some guidance. Campbell informs us that myths are active, serving society by highlighting the deepest truths of a culture. This particular myth of the mentor cetacean starts with the shape-shifting kinship elaborated by traditional shamans, devolves into the horrors of whaling, sputters as the populations of several species start to collapse, then rises again like a phoenix as people all over the world become aroused to save their once and future guide from extinction.
The mythmakers insist cetaceans are here to teach us compassion, altruism, environmental stewardship, and perhaps acquaint us with etheric energies. These gifts are given freely, but with the express purpose of instructing us to reinvent our own species, save ourselves, and therefore save the planet.
Jim Nollman is a US writer and the founder of Interspecies Communications in Friday Harbor, Washington. More information at (http://www.interspecies.com).
The Passing Parade
When I am busy selling my books in the night market, I sometimes become so busy that I forget where I am. But every once in a while, something will happen to bring back to reality real quickly. For example, one night I was doing my usual gig in the local night market, sandwiched into between the chodofu vendor and the do-hwa vendor, when two gorgeous, beautiful drop-dead women walked by dressed in a very sexy clothes. Not only did they have wonderful hairstyles, but their faces were so beautiful and the make-up was so well applied, that I had to look twice and watch them as they walked by. Wow, they were so beautiful! One of the "women" even had cleavage -- this is to say, half her bosom was showing half outside her dress.
THen I suddenly woke up from dream and realized that these two women were not women, but men dressed as women. Yes, even here in Chiayi, there are a few transvestites, most of them are Thailand men who come to work in Taiwan for dinner theaters at a local theme park in CHiayi COunty. That's who these two "women" were -- Thai men who like to dress up as women and have even had special hormones injected into their chests to make their breasts look like women's bosoms.
I knew these two "women" were men when they suddenly began talking in deep male voices, and they were talking in the Thai language, too. Here in CHiayi, there is a popular theme park just outside the city where there are nightly transvestite shows on stage. The men from Thailand come here as performers, stay for a few months or as long their visas permit, and then they return to Thailand, to be replaced by new Thai performers.
It was funny when I saw the two "women" walk by my bookselling stand because everyone in the night market was looking at them, too. But most people also did not realize they were men. I was fooled myself, until I heard their male voices in the din of the night market air!
Such is life in the night markets. You never know what to expect, and every night is a complete surprise.
In the course of any one night, I meet people like this:
a Chiayi gynecologist who also writes books about politics and cross-strait relations
a nurse who works in a rural hospital in CHiayi COunty and tells me she suffers from bi-polar mood swings and takes medicine to counter her bouts of depression
a farmer who carves huge Chinese characters on the side of a mountain in the hills outside the city and attracts busloads of tourists from time to time to his eccentric rural theme park
a kindergarten principal who asks me if I want to teach a kindergarten class at her school ("All you have to do, Dan Bloom, is play with the kids for an hour each morning, three days a week," she says. I politely tell her that I am a writer and a journalist, not a kindergarten teacher, but she doesn't seem to understand and insists that I come to her school for an interview. I say: "Thanks, but I am too busy with my writing to teach kindergarten, but thanks for the offer.")
a bank manager in Chiayi who stops to buy one of my books and asks if I could come to his bank once a week on Wednesdays and teach an English conversation class to 10 of his loan officers and secretaries. I accept his offer and am now teaching a one-hour class at his bank. It's fun and the bank employees are friendly and enthousiastic students.
An X-ray technician at a local hospital stops to buy a book and chat, and asks me if I could teach him English at his home once or twice a week. I write down his name and phone number and tell him I will call him later in the week, if I have enough time for such a private class.
A newspaper reporter for the United Daily News walks by my bookselling stand with his wife, and when he asks me who I am why and why I am selling my book in the night market, I tell him my "story." Impressed by my enthousiasm and energy, not to mention my eccentricity and "crazy idea" to sell my book in the night markets of CHiayi, the reporter goes home to get his camera, takes some photos, interviews me for an hour and then writes a long, interesting story the next day that is published nationwide.
I plan on going to the city of Suao in Ilan County soon to sell my book on the streets there. I will also take a taxi over to the nearby town of Nanfanao to eat some excellent seafood and sell my books there along the waterfront, too.
But the main reason I want to go to Suao is because this enterprising city has been hosting an annual "Green Expo" for the last four years, and according to Ilan County Magistrate Liu Shou-cheng, the emphasis in always on the importance of protecting the environment and appreciating nature.
A six-week, 2002 Ilan Green Expo, took place last March and April for six weeks at the Wulaokeng scenic area in Suao.
For the event, the Wulaokeng area was turned into a floral sea with 150,000 flowers having been planted.
Ilan County Magistrate Liu Shou-cheng told reporters that he hoped that all visitors will embrace the "magic of the green natural surroundings." I can tell you this: if Dan Bloom goes to Suao to sell his books in the night market there, I will also embrace the magic of the green natural surroundings, yes!
I am a country boy from America, and I love nature. I lived in Alaska for ten years! I love rivers and lakes, and rolling hills and huge mountains, open seas and slow moving glaciers. The natural world of Nature moves me and touches me wherever I travel. Nature does not need a passport to enter, anyone anywhere can go to NAture any day, anytime. In Taiwan, too, Nature is everywhere.
In Chiayi I often ride my motorcycle to the nearby lakes at Lan Tan and Reyitan to relax, breathe fresh air and "smell the flowers." Nature renews me, gives me hope, replenishes my soul. It's true that I don't really believe in a supernatural God in some imaginary heaven -- no I am not a religious person. But I do believe in the God of NAture, for this God of NAture is visible and everywhere. So color Dan Bloom green and call me an environmentalist! I love Nature and hope it can be protected in Taiwan, too.
Ilan officials said they want to invite the public to enjoy the 10,000 hectares of flower fields that are laid-out to depict feeling of love and passion, graceful water dances, day and night, and amazing explorations in the wildness. What a great idea! More cities should follow Suao's example in the future!
The themes of the expo this year were environmental protection, life and ecology, and Ilan County Government designed eight halls to demonstrate the themes, namely Orchids, Water, Duck Homeland, Agriculture, Green Olympics, Biotechnology, Insects and Tukang (wine).
Noting that nature is the best teacher, the expo aimed to delight and introduce the importance of "green" concepts, as well as to educate the public about the influence of acid rain, air pollution, and the effects of greenhouse gases on the environment.
The officials said that the Duck Homeland hall was to highlight the fact that Ilan is the origin of duck farms, while in Orchid Hall, various kinds of orchids were on display so that visitors could appreciate the exquisite beauty and elegance of the "king of flowers."
The annual expo in Suao has helped the development of diversification of traditional agriculture, stimulated the economy and promoted leisure activities in Ilan County. It's a great idea, and I have already made a plan to make a beeling for Suao in the future, arriving by train from Taipei and then making my way over to Nanfanao, too. I love the eastern coast of Taiwan, and hope to spend more time there in the future.
Long live Mother Nature! Long live the green hills and mountains of Taiwan! Let us all try hard to protect the environment, even in small, personal ways that can make a difference!
press release: anytime after Feb. 1, 2003
contact: DAN BLOOM
color photos available
Tien Wei Publishing Company in Taipei is pleased to
announce the publication of a new children's book by
Taipei author Dan Bloom and Taiwanese illustrator
Shiao San. The book represents the first joint
cooperation between an American children's book writer
living in Taiwan and a Taiwanese illustrator. The
book, titled "HELLO BOOK MAN!", has been published in
two volumes, with a CD accompanying each edition. The
book sells in bookstores and online for NT$220.
The book, targeted at Taiwanese children, aged 7 - 12,
is a simple text that encourages children to read and
to enjoy learning to read in English. The
illustrations by Shiao San are magical and sure to
captivate children across the island. American-born
author Dan Bloom has lived in Taiwan for 7 years, and
works as a teacher, newspaper reporter and editor. He
has previously published two books of essays in
Chinese about his life in Taiwan and is currently
working on the third book in what he plans as a
HELLO BOOK MAN! represents Bloom's return to
children's books. He published several children's
books in the 1980s in New York, and was the subject of
several major newspapers articles that appeared in the
New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, People magazine
and the Chicago Tribune. A native of Boston,
Massachusetts, Bloom divides his time between Taipei
and southern Taiwan.
Shiao San is an artist and film director who makes his
living working as a commercial artist in the
advertising business in Taipei.
WIth the publication of "HELLO BOOK MAN!", Bloom hopes
that the book will be published in several other
languages across the globe, and already a major New
York literary agent is in negotiations with him to
publish the book in 10 other countries, after the
Taiwan edition has been published.
"I see Book Man as a global children's character, and
I want to thank the editors and publishers at Tien Wei
Publishing Company here in Taiwan for giving Book Man
a chance to appear in the world of children's
literature, and first, here in Taiwan!" says Bloom.
"It is a pleasure to work with Taiwanese editors and
publishers, and the entire process so far has been
wonderful! The artist who has done the illustrations
did a great job, too!"
press release: anytime after Feb. 1, 2003 contact: DAN BLOOM color photos available
Tien Wei Publishing Company in Taipei is pleased to announce the publication of a new children's book by Taipei author Dan Bloom and Taiwanese illustrator Shiao San. The book represents the first joint cooperation between an American children's book writer living in Taiwan and a Taiwanese illustrator. The book, titled "HELLO BOOK MAN!", has been published in two volumes, with a CD accompanying each edition. The book sells in bookstores and online for NT$220.
The book, targeted at Taiwanese children, aged 7 - 12, is a simple text that encourages children to read and to enjoy learning to read in English. The illustrations by Shiao San are magical and sure to captivate children across the island. American-born author Dan Bloom has lived in Taiwan for 7 years, and works as a teacher, newspaper reporter and editor. He has previously published two books of essays in Chinese about his life in Taiwan and is currently working on the third book in what he plans as a 10-book series.
HELLO BOOK MAN! represents Bloom's return to children's books. He published several children's books in the 1980s in New York, and was the subject of several major newspapers articles that appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, People magazine and the Chicago Tribune. A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Bloom divides his time between Taipei and southern Taiwan.
Shiao San is an artist and film director who makes his living working as a commercial artist in the advertising business in Taipei.
WIth the publication of "HELLO BOOK MAN!", Bloom hopes that the book will be published in several other languages across the globe, and already a major New York literary agent is in negotiations with him to publish the book in 10 other countries, after the Taiwan edition has been published.
"I see Book Man as a global children's character, and I want to thank the editors and publishers at Tien Wei Publishing Company here in Taiwan for giving Book Man a chance to appear in the world of children's literature, and first, here in Taiwan!" says Bloom. "It is a pleasure to work with Taiwanese editors and publishers, and the entire process so far has been wonderful! The artist who has done the illustrations did a great job, too!"
Ten months at sea with a Penthouse centerfold
This is how Holger Jacobsen, a German national who has been living in Taipei since 1982, describes the beginnings of a long trans-Pacific sailing cruise almost 10 years ago with his Taiwanese wife Moira Yeh, (who, yes, once appeared as a Penthouse magazine centerfold under the stage name of Ye Qianyi:
"Just before Christmas 1994, we left for Cabo San Lucas in Baja California. We intended to go offshore for about a 100 miles, sail all the way down, and then head back in. ... We left very early in the morning and sailed with very light winds out of San Diego Bay. That is as far as we got, because once out there, the wind died. However, that suited my Taiwanese wife and me just fine, as we were in no way anxious to get seasick right away! So when it was my turn for the first 'night watch' of the journey, I took two of our garden chairs and put them on the boat's foredeck. With my feet propped up, warm clothes and a hot drink, I just sat there and looked at the lights on land and at the stars above me. It was very quiet and so was I. What an extremely nice feeling to sit out there in peace and quiet with the whole Pacific Ocean ahead of us."
Jacobsen and his wife, a former 1999 Penthouse centerfold girl and cover model who is a native of Taoyuan, have recently published a book (in Chinese text only) about their long sea voyage in a sailboat called Dharma Bum II. The book was published in October by Tongyo Cultural Affairs, a small publishing house on Nanking West Road, and it received widespread publicity in the Chinese-language press here. The book is titled "Yong Chuang Nan Tai Ping Yang" (Brave Adventuring the South Seas), although the Jacobsens say the real English title is "Destination Paradise."
When asked about the couple's trip and how the book came about, Jacobsen said in several emails: "After 16 days we were in Cabo San Lucas in Mexico where we stayed for a couple of weeks. Then we did a long stretch, 26 days sailing to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands. We stayed there for about a month. Then it was on to the Tuamotus, where we spent another month or so and then on to Tahiti."
The Jacobsens, currently 43 and 33 respectively, run a language center in Taipei, and when they arrived in Tahiti during their voyage in 1995, they received a letter from the manager of the center who said he was going to quit soon.
"I had to be back in Taipei to take over in July," recalls Jacobsen, "but at the time the engine wasn't working. In order to make the deadline, we left for Tonga anyway and subsequently got hit by lightning, which fried everything electric on the boat. A squall also ripped the mainsail in two, but somehow we made it all the way to Tonga. The whole trip had taken ten months, and I just made it back in time to save our language center from ruin..."
When asked about the couple's adventures during their 10-month odyssey, Jacobsen noted: "One time, while I was up in the mast in Hiva Oa, I got attacked by hornets. And after we were hit by lightning, Moira went up the mast and one of the shackles opened by itself. Fortunately I'm a security nut, and she hung by three wires instead of only one."
When the Jacobsens sailed into Tahiti, they were surprised to meet an 8th generation Hakka man named Christian, who introduced the couple to the Chinese community there. "They were amazing", Jacobsen said. "We were literally guests of honor of the Chinese community, and they showed us the island. We also met some real characters on our trip, for instance a guy named Robert Adair in Tonga, who only had one leg, sported his hair in a long gray ponytail with a long gray beard. Looked just like Long John Silver. He told us he'd been living on boats for about 30 years. And we met a chap named Roy Starkey, from Britain, who poured himself a boat out of concrete and had been living on it for 20 years or more."
What does one eat on long sea voyages? According to Jacobsen, his wife did most of the daily cooking, and it was "gourmet" style, ranging from Szechuan and Peking dishes to Mexican, Austrian, American and Thai cuisine.
"Moira spent an inordinate time in the kitchen most days, and we both gained about 5 kilograms -- very uncommon on long ocean passages," Jacobsen noted. "We also had 220 liters of Californian wine and an enormous quantity of American beer on board!"
The book was co-authored by both husband and wife, with Jacobsen writing chapters in English, which his wife later translated in Chinese for the Taiwan edition which is still available at most bookstores islandwide and online as well.
Asked what comes next, Jacobsen confessed that he and his wife want to go on another sea voyage after they have children, perhaps to the South Seas "when they are old enough to appreciate it, but before they hit puberty, maybe when they're around ten or so."
While the current book is in Chinese, Jacobsen has written an English-language account that is making the rounds of publishers. "It's already written, a novel about sailing, romance, adventure, culture," Jacobsen says, adding that it is available online for free (http://www.wownet.net/~holger/).
Readers, especially male readers, but female readers as well, are probably wondering how the Penthouse model part of Mrs. Jacobsen's life came about.
Mr. Jacobsen explains: "My wife and I both wanted some good quality nude photos of her before she got too old, just for ourselves, as a keepsake. So we went to a local photographer, but it was all very expensive and the quality was rather poor. So I sat down one day and on a whim wrote two letters to both Playboy and Penthouse. Penthouse phoned back right away and assured us that Moira would be cover girl as well as centerfold and that we would get the pictures, too. So we signed a contract the same day."
However, when the August 1999 issue of Penthouse hit the newsstands in Taiwan, the Jacobsens were hit by a media frenzy. "We were totally unprepared for the impact," Jacobsen recalls today.
"Call us naive, but it had simply never crossed our minds that being a Taida (NTU) graduate -- Moira majored in finance -- would make that much of a difference. However, when the issue came out, suddenly all magazines wanted her pictures or an interview or something. And then the TV stations came calling. It was really quite amazing."
Both Holger and Moira are dedicated writers and teachers, and modeling for skin magazines is no longer part of their lives. "That's in our past now, over and done with," says Jacobsen.
Both husband and wife attended the famous Iowa Summer Writing Festival in the U.S. in 1999 -- Jacobsen also attended in 1998 -- and are looking forward to more writing adventures in their lives. "We didn't do this book for the money, as you know there's not much money to be made in writing this kind of book in Taiwan. We just consider the entire adventure, the modeling, the sea voyage, writing the book and doing the publicity to support the book, an interesting and enriching part of our life."
The book was the subject of recent stories in weekly magazines such as NEXT and TVBS Weekly, and while Jacobsen says the NEXT got it right, the TVBS magazine story did a very poor and utterly misleading story.
The cover of the book shows a sexy woman aboard a sailing yacht, and yes, it's Moira Jacobsen herself. When asked why the two of them are not on the cover of the co-authored book, Jacobsen says: "Because a cover photo of a sexy girl is better! And anyway, she is famous, I am not."
When Moira was asked what was the most memorable part of the cruise for her, she replied by email: "When we sailed into a little bay on the island of Tahuata in the Marquesas, suddenly there were all these dolphins. Hundreds of them! They were jumping out of the water, turning in the air and crashing on their backs. It was an amazing spectacle! The show went on for hours and we just couldn't get enough of it!"
As for the reaction by friends and family in Taiwan to the book's publication, she noted: "The reaction has been mixed. Most people have no idea just how much effort writing a book is. On the other hand, some people said they enjoyed reading it a lot and said that they understood us much better now that they have read the book."
The book was published in paperback an edition of 3,000 copies, which is normal for a print run in Taiwan, according to publishing industry sources. But the post-publication publicity that has followed the Jacobsens' book just might lead to another writing opportunity, somewhere down the road. Or down the next sea lane, wherever their sailboat might take them next.
And where's Dharma Bum II now?
"Sold," says Jacobsen. "Sold it."
Whoosh! The whistling wooden pigeon whistles of Yichu Township are a sight and sound to behold
While it hasn't attained the islandwide popularity of Ilan's Children's Folklore Festival or Meinung's Yellow Butterfly Festival or Yenshui's annual fireworks extravaganza, the Wooden Pigeon Whistle Festival of Yichu Township in southern Chiayi County is a unqiue and fascinating event.
And while the other festivals draws tens of thousands of spectators, the Yichu festival is still in its infancy in terms of nationwide public relations and media exposure.
Held in late March each year, but with a small museum and photo exhibit open every weekend in the small town near Yenshui, the "Sai Ger Lin" festival is slowly but surely making itself known among locals and expats in Taiwan looking for unusual events off the beaten track.
Racing pigeons are not new to Taiwan, and one often sees them flying around in the late afternoons, when their owners release them for some exercise. But have you ever seen huge, yet light-weight, wooden whistles attached to pigeons' backs as they fly through the air? That's what the "Sai Ger Lin" festival in Yichu is all about: the sound of birds flying through the air with musical whistles attached to their backs.
"It's a sight -- and a sound -- that is utterly amazing," says Mr. Chiang, a village chief of one of Yichu's rural districts. "That's why I do this. It's something that I just feel I want to promote to the tourism industry in Taiwan. Once people see these birds in action, making music in the air, they won't ever forget it!"
The whistles are made of lightweight wood, and come in several sizes -- small, medium and large, according to Chiang, an avuncular betel-nut chewing "local ojisan" who maintains homes in both Yichu and Chiayi City to the north. He makes his living as a construction contractor in southern Taiwan.
"Tied to a homing pigeon's back, the whistles have two holes to catch the wind with, and each hole makes a different tonal sound," says Chiang. "This traditional culture only exists in three places in Taiwan, all of them in Tainan and Chiayi counties only. Taipei people have probably never heard or seen this kind of thing. It really boggles the imagination when you see the birds flying and making music like a symphony in flight!"
Yichu Township is a quiet, rural area in the middle of nowhere, close to Yenshui, known for its annual fireworks festival, and Butai, a formerly thriving fishing village along the Chiayi coast. To get there from either Tainan City or Chiayi City is about an hour's drive by car or taxi, and you can also get there on a motorscooter rented at the Chiayi train station. A leisurely 90-minute ride by motorscooter through the flatlands of Taiwan's western coastal plain takes you through small towns and villages that hardly ever see weekend traffic, places like Hopi and Luichao and Yichu.
According to Mr Chiang, the art of wooden whistle pigeon flying comes from mainland China, created there a long time ago. In fact, one can also find such musical flying birds in some of Beijing's parks, he says.
"They were called piegon flutes then," Chiang says. "Beijing farmers would take to rearing pigeons and have them tamed. Then small wooden flutes would be attached to their tails, and they would be released in the air to set off make a lovely musical tune."
When asked about the possible origins of the pigeon flute, or wooden pigeon whistles, Chiang smiled and told a reporter this story: "Well, a long time ago, some Chinese warriors invented a whistling arrow used for signalling because it sang as it sped through the air. Later, they learned to amuse themselves by fastening delicate silver bells and lightweight wooden flutes on the tails of their pigeons. Still later, they learned how that the flutes could be pitched at different tones, the way we do it here in Yichu now."
The method to attach a wooden whistle to a pigeon is ingenious yet simple, according to Chiang, whose elderly father also is a fan of the old art. Delicate wooden needles are stuck trhough the pigeon's feathers in such a way that the wooden whistle remains stable during flight, and it's also easy to put on and take off, he says.
"When the birds are airborne, the sound the whistles make is something else again," Chiang adds. "You really have to hear it with your own ears, to get a feel for it, to really hear the sound, and when television camera crews come here to film the scene, the sound on the video is never very good. To really experience the sound of the Yichu flying wooden whistles, you really need to come here and visit in person."
The welcome mat is out, Chiang says, and while weekend visitors from Kaohsiung, Tainan and Chiayi are still few and far between, he and his public relations committee are hoping that as word spreads around the country about Yichu's unqiue museum, demonstration field and annual "Sai Ger Lin" festival, more and more people from Taipei and Taichung will make the trek south to see and hear "a most unusual sound," as the village chief puts it.
Arizona native asks "Where the hell am I?" on popular weekly TV show in Taiwan
Kevin McCaffery has Irish-tinted red hair, an inquiring, philosophical mind and a positive outlook on life in Taiwan. And now the twentysomething Scottsdale, Arizona native has a weekly cable televsion show on CTI-TV called "Where the Hell Am I" in Taiwanese dialect.
A 13-part travelogue, the taped show takes McCaffrey and a 7-person crew of production crew to almost every part of the country.
Each week, as host of the series, McCaffrey, 23 and a University of Pennsylvania graduate who has lived in Taiwan since 2001, takes Taiwanese viewers on a guided tour of some the island's most off-the-track and offbeat places. That's why the show is called "Wa Li Sa Mi Sho Sai" in Taiwanese -- or "Where the Hell Am I?" in polite English.
So far, McCaffrey has visited Pintung, Kaohsiung, Tainan, Chiayi and Yunlin counties as the show makes its way around the island, and at each stop, he meets with and interacts with local artists, musicians, bakers, betel nuts farmers, riding instructors, cooks and merchants, bantering away in Chinese, Taiwanese and English, with a couple of well-chosen Japanese words thrown in, too.
According to "Where the Hell Am I?" producer Angel Lin, the weekly cable show has been garnering good ratings islandwide, although it is not available in the Taichung area.
"We found Kevin in Taipei, and he's a perfect fit for our show," Lin said. "He's friendly, he speaks Chinese and he has a real appreciation for life in Taiwan. He's young, he's energetic and he really likes Taiwan culture, in all its various aspects, so he's a great host."
McCaffrey arrived in Taiwan in June 2001, intent on continuing his Mandarin studies, teaching English and pursuing various entertainment business endeavors, including modelling and TV appearances.
For one recent show, McCaffrey was invited to attend an Aboriginal festival in a small village in eastern Chiayi County near the Alishan area.
"Like many places, Taiwan has an Aboriginal population with its own unique culture and traditions. So, for one episode, the show's producers thought it would be a good idea for me to jump right and and start learning," McCaffery recalls. "Well, the learning started with a make-over from hell.
"A triangular tunic that covered everything but my nipples was slipped over my white, bare chest, a bear pelt was attached to my head, a deer-skin cape was looped around my neck, and, to top it all off, feathers were stuck into my hair. Luckily, they weren't content with me looking like the biggest fool in their village, so the slipped a monster of a knife around my shoulders and sent me on my way."
"The reason why we came to this village was because this week they were holding a special festival celebrating tests of manhood of the youths in the village. That means that a variety of physical and mental tests were going to be held in the town square and surrounding areas. Actually this turned out to be quite a lot of fun, archery contests, spear-throwing, wood-cutting, eel-catching, rope-swinging, river-fording competitions and more. In reality, I didn't stand a chance at winning. The villager I was competing against rocked me in every way imaginable, but at least I gave the crowd a good laugh."
McCaffrey had another test coming his way during that week's taping in southern Taiwan, too, and it was a scary one.
"Deep in the mountains there's an ancient tree that the villagers believe is inhabited by ghosts. My test, for the TV show, was to spend the night, alone in the forest, next to the ghost tree. Now keep in mind that this is a mountainous area, so at night in March it's still cold as hell. The mist and wind sweep down the sides and drip rain and precipitation just about everywhere. Not only that, but there are many poisonous snakes and insects that also make their homes here. So, we hiked all night into the forest, the TV producers gave me a DV camera, a sleeping bag and some provisions and left."
You'll have to watch the show to find out how McCaffrey fared that night, but suffice it to say he's alive and well in Taipei now, all things considered.
What brought McCaffery to Taiwan several years ago?
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he worked for Sony Pictues Entertainment in Hollywood for a while, he said, but found that "there was a real sense of emptiness and insincerity there." Believing that life in Asia might offer a different kind of environment, he came to Taiwan to work as an English teacher 18 months ago, and with help from his Taiwanese girlfriend, began making the rounds of local talent agencies in Taipei. An audition to be the host of a new weekly TV series for CTI-TV landed in his lap almost by chance, and he got the job.
"I had been attending casting calls and the like for some time in Taipei, with no success I might add, when out of the blue, my agent called me and asked if I would like to interview for a hosting job," McCaffrey recalls. "Now, keep in mind that my previous attempts at breaking in to the industry here were limited to roles as extras or commercial shorts. When I was offered this job on the weekly series, it slowly dawned on my that I had been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
"My girlfriend helped me at frist contact some talent agencies here, and with a steady combination of luck, hard work, and perseverence I am where I am right now," McCaffrey says. "In this industry, it's so easy to give up or beat-up on yourself, but I find that it one keeps a positive attitude, no matter what may befall you, eventually, some kind of success will follow."
When asked what the most intersting insights about Taiwnese people on the show have been, McCaffrey says:
"I think the one common theme that runs through every show in our series is that Taiwanese people have heart. And what I mean by that is that there are so willing to go the extra mile to make guests, such as myself, feel comfortable and at home. In addition, unlike in Hollywood, the eyes here in Taiwan communicate so much. Back in Los Angeles, a fake, glossy look comes over many of Hollywood's jaded elites. However, for Taiwanese, their eyes are truly windows to their souls. When they smile, I'm able to see a genuine friendliness. If you're willing to make the effort to learn about their
culture, Taiwanese people are more than happy to open their hearts and show your what's inside, and that's something that I find very rewarding about my work on this program."
On the weekly show, McCaffrey samples a variety of different food dishes from around the island, and he says he likes almost everything he has been served. Except for one particular item. He usually calm and collected TV host explains:
"The one food that I was not able to stand during the course of our adventures on the show was what is called here a '100-year egg'. I ate one raw, straight from the shell, and bit into the most putrid, gooey yolk that I have ever set eyes on. I immediately gagged and turned my head to vomit. Unfortuately for me, all this was being filmed at the time. So, I guessing that I might just be the first foreigner to have thrown up, into his hand no less, on TV here!"
McCaffrey's old college friends in the U.S. have been following his TV adventures here in Taiwan, too, according to fellow Uiversity of Pennsylvania alum Jonathan London, who said in a recent email: "I always knew Kevin would accomplish whatever he set himself to, and his success as a TV host in Taiwan doesn't surprise me. Actually, he has yet to not go above and beyond my wildest expectations in any of his endeavors."
"Counting Mantou": Unusual story about unusual ROC soldier hits bookstores in Chinese edition
It might be a book most Taiwanese won't be able to put down, especially with a war going on now in Iraq and local TV stations full of military news. And for author T. C. Locke (the former American's Chinese name is Lin Dao-ming), it's the end of a long struggle to get his story into print.
Locke is an ethnically white, U.S.-born Taiwan national with an unusual story about his time in the ROC military, and he is tells it as it happened in the paperback book titled "Taiwan Mantou Meiguo Bing." The book has been released this week in a Chinese edition by Locus Books on Taipei, one of the country's largest publishing firms. An English version of the book, titled "Counting Mantou: An American in Taiwan's Army", also exists, but it has not been published yet. "Counting mantou" is a slang term that refers to serving time in the military; "mantou" is a Taiwanese breakfast roll.
A publishing deal with a Locus editor was signed late last year, according to Locke, who lives and works in Taipei and also goes by the name of T.C. Lin. He hopes to get the English-language edition of the book published here or overseas sometime in the future, according to a website he maintains and which also features two chapters in English.
His story an unusual one because it's about the two years Locke -- born in 1968 in the US of Caucasian parents and now legally named Lin Dao-ming -- spent in the ROC military doing his compulsory military service.
Yes, T.C. Lin may be the first and only Caucasian to have ever served in the ROC military, according to military observers. Interest in his unusual story has already led to several pre-publication interviews on major TV news programs here and in weekly gossip magazines as well, according to Cecilia Chen, a Locus editor.
Lin's working title for the book, in English, is "Counting Mantou: An American in the Taiwan Army," and he shopped it around to several Taipei-based publishers before landing the Locus deal. He spent a few days at the Taipei International Book Exhibition in February 2002 looking for interested editors and publishers, and despite problems in pitching the book, he soldiered on and never gave up hope for a book deal.
Lin (who was born in the US on Christmas Day in 1968) and both his parents are Caucasians. He grew up in the US, went to college there and studied Chinese there. Now he is an ROC citizen, having been adopted by a local family in Hsinchu whose son Lin Yi-ping is a good friend of his and a former college classmate in Taichung.
Lin first came to Taiwan in 1988 when, as a student at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, he flew here to spend his "junior year abroad" studying at Tunghai University in Taichung. While some Americans opt to spend their junior year abroad in Paris or Rome, Locke chose to come to Taipei, where fate had a very interesting destiny in store for him.
As a result of his adoption, he legally became a citizen of the ROC when he was 25 years old and was obligated to put in his 24 months in the national military service as a soldier, like all young men here had to do at that time. The period has been reduced to 18 months nowadays.
The result -- which might be called a book of recollections, a memoir of a young man's army days -- was written originally in English and has been translated into Chinese for the Locus edition, according to the author.
The book, as originally written in English, is targeted at readers who might be curious what it was like for a foreign-born Caucasian to serve in the ROC military for two years as a common soldier. Well, maybe an uncommon soldier.
While Lin's story is a fascinating one -- something that would make a great CNN segment or a Newsweek or Time feature -- actually finding a publisher willing to put the story between covers and distribute it to bookstores islandwide was not easy. The book market is a selective one, and in an economic recession many publishers in Taiwan are hesitant to take on books that aren't sure bestsellers. Lin's book may just turn into a national bestseller for Locus, however, and that's why the publisher signed it up, according to industry sources.
T. C. Locke, T.C. Lin, Lin Dao-ming, whichever name he goes by, this writer with a one-of-a-kind story has a fascinating take on Taiwan and his new book is bound to find an audience among Taiwanese readers.
Lin, who calls Taipei home, hasn't quit his day job and doesn't intend to, either. With several TV, radio and newspaper interviews lined up for his new book, he has a fairly busy schedule of ahead of him for the next few weeks, as the book is certain to became a huge media story in the Chinese-language press here and overseas.
Also interested in film projects, Internet blogging (he writes a daily weblog himself) and still photography, the former American is a citizen of the ROC and has been since 1994 when his adoption papers were finalized. Although he was raised in various Protestant and Anglican churches in the US as a child and teenager, he says he considers himself more of a Taoist now and enjoys living in Taiwan, his adopted home.
A Murder Mystery Featuring Elvis Presley
Get ready, Taiwan. The world's only hip-swiveling detective takes on crime again in Sin City in US author Daniel Klein's third rollicking Elvis Presley detective mystery (after "Kill Me Tender" and "Blue Suede Clues"), which includes dueling casinos, battling brothers and rival marriage chapels. For novelty, a swarm of killer bees also makes a deadly appearance. Throw into the mix the Las VEgas Strip's most notorious insult comedian, Howie Pickles, an Aquarian Age religious cult and gonzo journalist Dibgy Ferguson, and "Viva Las Vegas" has something for everybody. Taiwanes readers unversed in the spiritual urges that assailed Presley in the mid-1960s, however, may find off-putting the King's attraction to a Hare-Krishna commune in the desert hills; his attraction to the voluptuous leader, on the other hand, should come as little surprise.
Nonetheless, those yearnings, central to the plot, are accurately portrayed, though Klein does slip on a few minor biographical. One of the staples of the series is The Big Concert Scenes, and Klein does not disappoint.
Indeed, the "Don't Be Cruel Peace Concert" may be the author's best production yet.
Not only is the Elvis-as-P.I. conceit now well established, but the sure-handedness that marks both the character's evolution and the story's multiple plots should draw new Taiwanese fans to the series and usher in a translation here very soon.
French chef spices up Taiwan with popular cookbooks
Louis Jonvial [³ì³À] is a jovial, middle-aged Frenchman who has had a long, seven-year romance with Taiwan, and the former Cote D'Azure restauranteur from southern France is on a personal mission to teach Taiwanese how to cook simple French meals at home. Having visited the island over 20 times in the last 10 years, Jonvial has already published three books in Chinese here, two cookbooks and one travel memoir.
His main appeal to Taiwanese is that they can readily purchase all the ingredients they need for a good home-cooked French meal right here in Taiwan. While Jonval often shops at Pinchiang day market or other local traditional markets, such as along Dihua Street. Locals can find everything they need on island and don't have to fly off for a long vacation in Paris or Nice. With two cookbooks already published here, Jonval is writing a new one, with the idea that non-French people should stop perceiving French food as strange and impossible to prepare.
Jonvals's two books about food are titled "Comment faire la cuisine francaise a Taiwan" [How to Prepare French Food in Taiwan] and "Bonjour Fruit" [Hello Fruit].A recent article in the Chinese-language United Daily News newspaper here profiled Jonval's cookbooks.
Do you need some saffron or rosemary or fennel or clove? According to Jonval, you buy many kinds of herbs and spices in Taipei, and even the supermarket at the Breeze Center has what you might need. Local flower markets also sell plants good for cooking with spices, the French chef says.
So what are you waiting for? Take the advice of a Frenchman who loves Taiwan and has taken it upon himself to spice up the local culinary atmosphere by visiting often and sharing his refined kitchen skills with friends and acquaintances on Isla Formosa.
Tiny organic food store in Chiayi follows global trend
For sisters Yang Yu-we and Yang su-mei, running an organic food store
in Chiayi City is both a labor of love and a devoted hobby. They grow organic food at their home in rural Chunpu, they eat organic food three times a day and they talk up the value of organic food to customers at their tiny
mom-and-pop retail store in Chiayi every chance they get.
"I live by organic food," says Yang sume, 45, the older of the two sisters. "A lot of our customers first come to us when someone in their family
gets sick, and they hear about our store. And the, after eating organic food and seeing how good and nutritious it is, they come back for more as regular customers."
Still, as Yang notes, it's an uphill battle attracting a large regular clientele, since local supermarkets compete with fresh food and low prices.
"Yes, it's not a business one gets real rich at," Yang says. "But I really enjoy what I do, and what we grow and sell and import from overseas, and I guess you could say we are on the organic food bandwagon. It is slowly gaining influence here in Taiwan, but we've got a long way to go still, of course."
Wheat germ, brewer's yeast, bean sprouts, wheat grass, organically-grown apples, bananas and other kinds of fruit fill the two refrigerators at the Yang store, along with an assortment of vegetables, eggs and home-made yogurt. In addition, the shelves hold boxes, jars and bottles of organic food products from the US, Britain, Germany and France, among other countries where organic food fans have multiplied over the last 20 years.
"We're a long way from California, and most Taiwan people don't really know much about organic food yet," says Yang. "We've got a lot of educating to do still here, but slowly more and more people are hearing about organic
foods and seeing them and beginning to eat them, not just to control or cure diseases or illnesses, but also for the health benefits on an every day basis."
Let 10,000 Cherry Tree Seedlings Bloom!
One of the reasons to visit Ali Mountain in the early spring, just after the Lunar New Year period, is to view the beautiful cherry blossoms blooming so high in the mountains! Have you ever taken the Alisan train to view the cherry blossoms in March or April? If not, please do so at least once in your life! The cherry blossoms are so beautiful, they are part of what makes this Treasure Island so wonderful!
I love viewing cherry blossoms, too, and when I lived in Washington DC I often walked among the blooming cherry trees along the Potomac River, too. Of course, the best "o-hanami" -- a Japanese term for "veiwing the cherry blossoms" -- is in Japan, and during my five years in Japan, from 1991 to 1996, I visited Ueno Park every April to view the cherry blossoms, drink sake, eat sushi and sing karaoke songs with my Japanese friends.
Speaking of cherry blossoms, and the wonderful train ride up to Ali Mountain to view the pretty cherry tree blossoms each spring in Chiayi County ... the newspapers recently carried a story about a private Japanese organization dedicated to promoting sakura plantation around the world that has started helping Taiwan to grow more sakura trees around this Treasure Island.
The Japanese Sakura Cultivation Society in Tokyo has sent 200 Japanese cherry tree seedlings to Taipei for planting around the country.
The root of the idea of helping Taiwan grow sakura -- a beautiful flower species that is also a symbol of Japan -- formed a few years ago when a Tokyo woman -- who is a lover of Chinese culture -- visited Taiwan to learn Peking opera and found that the Taiwan people, love the sakura.
She asked the director of the Japanese group to help Taiwan grow at least 10,000 sakura trees, including planting them in the scenic Sun Moon Lake area in Nantou County, over the next several years.
The first 200 sakura seedlings will be planted at National Taiwan University's Agricultural and Forest Research Institute located in central Taiwan. The seedlings, after being nurtured into young trees, will then be transplanted to Yangmingshan in suburban Taipei and to a safari park in Hsinchu, northern Taiwan.
As a foreign guest worker in Taiwan who loves cherry trees, and who has wonderful memories of cherry trees blossoming in Washington, Tokyo and Alisan, I am glad to know that more "sakura" trees will be planted in Taiwan over the next few years. This means that in the future, future generations of Taiwanese, will have a chance to view cherry blossoms and feel their magical power.
Let 10,000 cherry tree seedlings bloom! Long live the magic of Treasure Island, this Isla Formosa, and the magic of cherry trees everywhere!
Pintung restaurant serves mouse balls
It's hard to believe, but then again, food is food, and human beings eat all kinds of things, from monkey brains to cow brains to Rocky Mountain Oysters to fermented salmon eggs. And yes, raw fish and steak tatare and fried grasshoppers and boiled octopus.
But here comes a special food from southern Taiwan -- mouse balls. According to a French newspaper in Paris: "Mouse testicles have become a hot seller in southern Taiwan after five infertile couples conceived successfully by eating dishes containing the sperm-producing organs."
According to the French reporter who was visiting Taiwan recently, "the craze took hold after a man and his wife in Pingtung conceived their long-awaited baby after eating the special dish of mouse balls."
The United Daily News in Taipei first reported the news, and then the story was reprinted overseas as well.
"The couple had previously consulted Western medical doctors but were not given cause of their infertility," the United Daily News reported.
The Pintung man and his wife first learned that the mouse testicles were helpful to fertility four months ago when they were taken by a friend to a local restaurant to taste a dish made from the organs, the newspaper added, noting: "They then bought some six kilograms of raw mouse testicles at the restaurant, which had become part of their daily meals for more than a month until the wife was diagnosed as pregnant."
The owner of the Pintung restaurant told the United Daily News that the man and his wife had shared their experience with a number of infertile couples, and ten other women have conceived so far.
As a result, the shop owner said that "our mouse testicles were now in short supply in our restaurant, with some orders placed from the neighboring Tainan County.
According to Chinese medicine specialists, some Taiwanese believe the animal organs they eat will strengthen functions of the same organs in their own bodies. An eye for an eye, and all that!
So add "mouse balls" to Taiwan's intriguing menu of special dishes for man and woman alike!
Masterful book illustrator and author Jimmy has the right touch
He calls himself Jimmy as a pen name, using the Chinese characters for "ji" and "mi", and his books are proving to be popular hits among readers islandwide. The thirtysomething author and illustrator of such books as "Go Left, Go Right" and "Subway," Jimmy has been compared by some critics to famous US illustrators Maurice Sendak ("Where the Wild Things Are") and Shel Silverstein ("The Giving Tree"). At a book signing event in Taipei earlier this year, a long line of over 500 people snaked around the World Trade Center during a book show -- all waiting for a chance to get the talented Taiwanese artist's autograph on their book, poster or t-shirt!
Married to the Taiwan translator of the popular Harry Potter book series here, Penn Chien-wen, Jimmy has a four year old daughter with Penn and lives in the sprawling Taipei metropolis, where many of his book ideas germinate and take hold of his imagination.
In his latest book "Subway: Sound of Colors," for example, Jimmy has created an amazingly colorful urban fairytale land of subway stairs and city parks, telling a captivating fable of a 15-year-old blind girl who one day ventures out into the city streets and ...
But let's not give away the story here. Read it and "see" yourself. Jimmy recently told a reporter for the Chinese-language magazine "Books and Net" that he spent a year writing and drawing the pictures for "Subway," noting that the entire book was a difficult and at times trying undertaking for his new publisher, Locus Books.
"When I began working on the book, I didn't have a clear idea of what I would write about or even what I was doing," Jimmy told Books and Net magazine. "In addition there were a lot of pressures in my life at that time, so the writing and drawing process was complicated. In my original ending, I had the little blind girl come home safely and sleep well, but some friends told me that didn't work so well, so I made a decision to change the ending. And now the ending is a huge window scene painted with colorful roses."
In "Subway," the young girl continually goes into the subway and then up the stairs to the city again. Weighing in at a hefty 200-plus pages, there are more than 150 color illustrations in the book. No wonder the book took more than a year to complete!
"We didn't know he would be this popular," said Cecilia Chen of Locus Books, as she helped keep the line of fans in a neat order. "Jimmy even came earlier than the scheduled time in order to help us out."
Jimmy is a former commercial graphic artist who worked in advertising before branching out into book illustration. Several of his books have been picked up by publishers in Japan, the US and Europe, according to his publishers, and his name and unique illustration style seem set to transcend borders, attracting readers and viewers worldwide.
"Sound of Colors" uses about 250 individual drawings to paint a symphony of colors, with only a few words of text in the entire book. It took Jimmy more than a year to complete the complex and detailed illustrations for this book, too, according to the publisher.
Jimmy's books are a particular hit with young people around the island. "It's a delight to look at and feel the passion of his artwork," said one fan, 17-year-old Ruby Lin of Taichung, who was lucky enough to meet Jimmy at last February's international book fair in Taipei and get his autograph. "I want to be an artist when I get older, too."
Elderly COUPLE happy TO BECOME CARETAKERS OF rural RAILWAY STATION
I read several newspaper every day, all three of the > English language > newspapers, of course, and several English-language > Internet sites in about Taiwan news events > (www.taiwanheadlines.com is a good one) -- and I also > "look" at the > main > Chinese-language newspapers here, too. No, I cannot > read Chinese, but > by > "looking" at the newspapers in Taiwan and they write > about (and the > photos > they show) I can get a better idea of life here on > this treasure > island. One > story that recently caught my attention was about an > elderly couple who > are > now caretakers of a rural train station in Hsinchi > County. > > According to the news reports I read, a Taiwanese > writer in his 60s who > lives in > Taichung with his wife is now the caretaker of a > small railway station in > Hsinchu County. > Hohsing Railway Station, located on a bypass of > the hilly Neiwan > Route in Hsinchu County, is not an ordinary railway > station, at least > in the eyes of Tseng Chuen-chao and his wife, Peng > Chih-hui. Why? There's an intersting and heart-warming > story here: Because > Hohsing Railway Station is the station where the > couple first met, a long time ago. > Tseng, who now runs and owns a chain of math carm > schools in Taichung City, has even written a novel > titled "Chasing" to > tell the love story of how he met his wife, with the > railway station of > Hohsing, his hometown, as the "main character." > In the novel, Tseng explains how he once as an > 18-year-old high > school student chased the passing train, which came > only once every > hour, in order not to miss his final exams on a cold, > sunny morning in 1954. > He ran after the train and was finally able > to catch it at the next stop, making it to school on > time to take his > exams. He also met a young girl on the train who was > also from Hohsing and > who took the same train to school every morning. > But until that fateful morning when he ran to catch > the train, he had never spoke with her before. > > After that wonderful day, Tseng and Peng became > friends, > taking the same train to Hsinchu City to school > everyday. They have > now been married for 37 years and both love the > railway and the > trains. > The couple are thrilled because they are now > allowed to look > after Hohsing Railway Station -- "our railway > station" -- which is > currently half-deserted with no personnel from the > Taiwan Railway > Administration being stationed there. > Although trains still pass through and stop at > Hohsing Station > everyday on a regular basis, the station presently > does not maintain > any ticketing or other services. > Tseng and Peng > are be the only persons who will look after Hohsing > Station -- a > wooden structure built during the period of Japanese > colonial period with > a red tile roof and surrounded by a white wooden > picket > fence. > > Hohsing Station has the only "reversible rails" in > Taiwan in its > vicinity, as well as a waiting room > that is similar to that of an old-style Japanese > railway station. > There are also several cherry trees in the station's > backyard which > make the station look much more beautiful when the > cherry trees bloom each spring. > > Tseng said he and his wife plan to invite > volunteers -- "who must > be lovers of the railway and trains" -- to help keep > and maintain the > Hohsing Railway Station in order to give the old > station a new lease > on life. > > Dan Bloom would like to be one of those volunteers > at the Hohsing Railway > Station > in the future, and when I have some free time I plan > on visiting the > rural > station to meet the Tseng and his wife personally. > Acutally, I have travelled on the train line before, > several years ago, when I visited Neiwan on a Sunday > afternoon. But at the time, I had not heard the > heartwarming story about this magical couple. > > Maybe you will go > there, > too, after reading this chapter. I hope so. These > kinds of stories is > what > makes Taiwan so special to me, and I hope for you, > too. Long live Tseng > Chuen-chao and his wife, Peng Chih-hui!
Taiwan has huge potential for international tourism
by Max Suzuki
special to LIFESTYLE
Picture this: the year is 2025 and millions of overseas tourists from Europe, North America and neighboring Asian countries are fast making Taiwan a top international tourist destination, equal to Japan, Thailand and Mexico. In addition, mammoth cruise ships now visit Taiwan's ports 12 months a year, bringing well-heeled travelers with money to burn. How did Taiwan's tourism industry achieve this enviable position in the global travel market? By using sophisticated marketing methods on the Internet and establishing Webcam viewing sites around the island--sunrise in Alishan, sunset in Penghu, nightviews of Taipei and Kaohsiung, rural scenes from Sun Moon Lake, among 27 other Webcams operating 24 hours a day live on the Internet. Savvy international advertising campaigns will target the same kind of tourists who visit Alaska, Las Vegas, Thailand and Malaysia. The results? The number of annual tourist visits to Taiwan is expected to grow substantially from 2.5 million in 2000.
Sound far-fetched? It is possible if Taiwan tourism development agencies continue to achieve success in the industry year after year. The island will finally emerge as an international travel destination, industry observers claim. The Internet, Webcams, email marketing methods and the growth of global tourism mean that Taiwan has a good chance of attracting even more tourists from overseas.
ROC Transportation and Communications Minister Yeh Chu-lan sees a rosy future for Taiwan tourism. During a recent conference in Taipei, Yeh said the government was planning to boost the island's tourism industry.
"We will work hard to raise annual growth in visitor arrivals to 10 percent thus reaching 3.5 million tourist arrivals in 2003," Yeh said. Currently, 2.5 million visitors come to Taiwan each year according to government statistics. A growing number of visitors from Europe and North America are including a trip to Taiwan as part of their Asian itineraries when visiting Japan or mainland China.
Taiwan boasts an inviting landscape and climate that should attract international travelers intent on escaping from the confines of New York, London, Berlin or Paris. In the same way that Europeans and Americans make a beeline for Kyoto, Sapporo, Tokyo, Beijing and Shanghai, there is no reason why in the future Taiwan cannot be a major international tourist destination on a par with its successful Asian neighbors.
The mountains of central Taiwan are magnificent, and the island has beautiful valleys and quaint coastal cities. From the plains of Tainan and Chiayi to the port cities of Kaohsiung and Keelung, Taiwan has much to offer overseas tourists. There are fishing villages such as Suao on the East Coast. There are the seaside cities of Hualien and Taitung and the internationally famous Taroko Gorge, not to mention the popular narrow-gauge railway to Alishan in the Central Mountain Range and several other special train lines that take passengers on scenic journeys inland. Chiufen outside Keelung is one of the most scenic hill towns in Taiwan and many foreign tourists have enjoyed including it on their itineraries.
But how can Taiwan become an international travel destination? Media exposure can help, of course. As time goes by, more and more newspaper stories about Taiwan are appearing in the travel sections of major European and North American newspapers and magazines, notably the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.
In order to turn Taiwan into a truly international travel spot, however, the government must spend money on both tourism-related public relations and advertising campaigns, and it must do so on an annual basis. One-time campaigns, no matter how well received, are not good enough. Annual advertising campaigns in travel magazines and major European and American newspapers are needed to continually imprint on people's minds that Taiwan is more than smokestacks and sprawling factories, more than congested cities and polluted landscapes.
There is a whole world for international travelers to discover in Taiwan. Just as Hawaii and Alaska benefit from strong international advertising campaigns, bringing cruise ships and planeload after planeload of curious tourists to their shores, so too can Taiwan. Ilha Formosa, the Beautiful Island as the Portuguese called it, will thereby earn a place on the international tourist map as a worthwhile travel destination.
Money must be spent on international public relations efforts and colorful advertising campaigns. By the year 2025, if all goes well, Taiwan will be synonymous with happy travelers, happy innkeepers, happy tour guides and happy bottom lines from tourism revenues. All it takes is planning and funding. The location is already perfect.
A former Japanese porn star wows Taiwan
She came, she saw, she conquered. We're talking about former Japanese porn actress Madoka Ozawa, 25, who recently came to Taipei to be a spokesmodel at the Taipei Auto Show at the World Trade Center.
Ozawa, who started making porn videos in Tokyo when she was 18 years old, has transformed herself into a savvy young businesswoman with an eye on her career. Starrring in racy porn videos is a thing of the past, she says on he website, and now she just wants to settle down, marry and have children -- and make some money as an eye-catching magazine model and trade show "campaign girl."
And that's exactly what she did when she came to Taipei for the car show. Dressed in sexy, revealing costumes, Ozawa (not her real name) made major headlines in the Chinese-language newspapers and magazines here, and she even starred in one eye-popping photograph printed in the English-language Taipei Times. Everywhere she went in Taipei, her cleavage was showing, and her dresses were evidently designed to show off her marvelous body in complimentary ways.
For many young Japanese girls, starting off in the profitable adult video business is a good way to get noticed by producers and casting agents. After a few years of appearing in rather nasty porn films that would surely make her parents blush (if they ever saw them), many Japanese porn stars leave the seedy business and become legitimate models and TV stars. A few years ago, longtime AV queen Ai Iijima made the leap from porn videos to prime-time TV variety shows -- fully clothed, of course. Ozawa hopes to follow in Iijima's footsteps.
During Ozawa's three-day trip to Taipei, she signed copies of her new picture book, modelled in front of several luxury sports cars parked inside the cavernous World Trade Center and gave a series of interviews at packed press conferences.
Apparently, the young Japaness woman is quite popular among Taiwanese men, who know her from late-night TV shows depicting train molesters, rapists and other sleazy by-products of the Japanese sex industry. (Of course, don't worry, Ozawa was just "acting" in those videos, and all the action was just "all in day's work -- well-paid work, one might add. Major porn stars in Japan can make as much as NT$1 million per film!)
Now that Madoka Ozawa is back in Japan working on furthering her career as a model and spokesperson for various consumer products, she is reportedly working on a memoir of her early life as an AV actress, detailing how she got into the business, the deals she made with God and the Devil to stay in the business and how she finally got out.
The book will be published in Japan next year and later translated into Chinese for the Taiwan market. And then the transformed young woman will make a repeat visit to Taipei to sign copies of her new book -- making major headlines once again in the Taiwan media.