31 March, 2005


Tina's cake. surrounding Tina, from left: Nancy, Daniel, Albert, Moses, King, Leo and Ray.

March 23 was tiny Tina's birthday. as you can see, her mom sent along the mother of all cakes to enhance the classroom experience. it was like nothing i've ever experienced before, three cheers for Tina!

the whole class being goofy after the party. what else is new?

30 March, 2005


Monday brought disappointment not just to my family but Utah consumers as well. a weak-kneed Committee of Consumer Services voted 5-1 against suing Utah Governor Jon Hunstman Jr over his illegal, not to mention inept, firing of my father, Roger Ball, the Committee's former Director. a couple of Salt Lake Tribune articles give the details, one chronicling the Committee's lame excuses for inaction, and the other discussing the likely negative impact on the state's ratepayers.

the man himself, in the office he was given 30 minutes to leave.

27 March, 2005


last night i had my second brush with the law, only this time it was more than just a brush. this time there was a uniformed officer involved, and a plainclothes guy from the “Foreign Affairs Division”. the latter spoke fairly good English, but the uniformed officer’s lack of such skill made my ride in his car even more awkward than it would have been otherwise.

he had the lights on, but no siren, thankfully—i suppose he thought there was no need at that point. indeed, there had been enough sirens earlier. we had been at the church talent show and getting ready to perform our “extravaganza” from “Saturday’s Warrior”. that alone should be enough to get a person a ride in a paddy wagon i guess, but there’s a lot more to the story than just that. we were waiting for the final member of our troupe to show up with all the technical equipment that we would need, and she was over an hour late. she has only been in Taiwan about a month and we figured at first that she was just having a hard time finding the church—everywhere here looks the same.

we’d pretty much given up on her and abandoned our hopes of performance glory after she was 90 minutes late, and that’s just when the cops showed up. they told us she’d been involved in a scooter accident and was at the hospital just down the street, and that she’d been so disoriented that she could only think to say the name of the church; she couldn’t even remember her own name.

fortunately, she was in the emergency room at what is possibly the best hospital in the country, the China Medical University, and it only took us about five minutes to run over there to give her a blessing. that’s where we met the nice officers of the law, who were looking for the driver who had cut her off, and who gave me a ride back to her scooter to pick it up.

i’m sorry, had you thought i was being arrested? i wasn't. she was pretty shocked, but no real damage done. her face was a bit cut up and her shoulder hurt, but it could have been worse. it was very interesting to be in a Taiwanese ER, there were lots of people just milling about and there was no sense that anything was “Protected Health Information”. i was talking to my friends Mike and Chris about what i did at Loma Linda, and there was a 12-lead EKG sitting on the counter that i kept pointing at. the resident physician just picked it up and handed it to me! that would never happen in the States.

ah, the wonderful English translations available in Taiwan. this one comes from the emergency room at the China Medical University Hospital, and is dedicated to the folks at Loma Linda.

yesterday was quite a day altogether, in fact. after my morning class i went to Taichung to meet my friend Zac, who had told me about some batting cages in town. i was game for a little stress relief, so after lunch we hit some baseballs. my body is aching seriously right now, but it was a lot of fun.

i developed a blister on my left thumb from hitting, and riding the motorcycle over to Tesco had made it burst. my search for band-aids in the store was fruitless, so i tried my hand at asking for help. i found a guy who looked like he might be interested in practicing his English, and used hand gestures and broken phrases, along with a demonstration of the injury, to get some idea of where the first aid section was. he led me halfway across the enormous store and eventually away from all the merchandise to the very last checkout stand. i wondered if i was to be quarantined and kept away from the other customers, but instead he broke out the mother of all first aid kits and cleaned and dressed my wound himself! i was stunned to say the least, but grateful to Mr Kevin Hsiao for saving me some kwai. talk about customer service.

but what about thezen? yesterday i had to learn the art of motorcycle maintenance. i was driving through Feng Yuan and the chain slipped off in the middle of town. i had a few onlookers who offered their advice—in Chinese—on how to fix it. it turned out to be very easy and quick, if messy, but kind of a pain. apparently i just need to get the chain tightened, so i had it easy compared to the motorized problems of some.

it all turned out okay though: late last night we were all feeling pretty peckish after a few hours at the hospital, so we treated ourselves to a little TGI Friday’s. i don’t ordinarily enjoy that place so much, but yesterday it had some seriously zen qualities.

24 March, 2005


i suppose it's my own fault for going to McDonald's in the first place, but i had to eat. when we came out, we found my bike had been blocked in by a couple of scooters, one of whose owners was right there, but furiously chattering away on her mobile phone. she finally grasped what i was trying to do and magically, while still holding the phone to her ear, moved her scooter aside to let us out, but that's just when the weirdness began.

instead of her scooter being in the way, she now barred our exit, and dropped the phone to her side and said "excuse me?" we were a little surprised, but became more so when she asked us "what does 'Oh, my God' mean?" for some reason this is a popular phrase here, even with our students, whose teachers are exclusively LDS. i suppose they get it from the dozens of movies they watch each week. anyway, how do you explain a phrase like that? "is it good or bad?" she asked, apparently not sensing that this dichotomy wouldn't make the explanation any easier. "it's kind of both," i said. "it depends on the situation."

needless to say, this evasion was not nearly good enough for our new friend, she had an agenda. as much as we wanted to help her with it, she made it harder when she finally explained why she wanted to know. you see, we had wanted her to feel good about whatever it was in our poor language that was troubling her, so we told her all the things we tell everyone who can put two words of English together: "your English is very good," etc. (it saves them "face"--and actually hers wasn't that bad). but she was undeterred. the truth would come out. she explained that she had told a man that she loved him--over the phone, no less--and he had simply said the fateful words: "Oh, my God." a tough situation. i suppose it would make a difference if the man was a native speaker of English, but not much of one. "well?" she pushed. "is it good or bad?"

you can see our predicament. how do we help her save face and still not alter the fabric of truth? by now she had moved around to the side of the bike (and still had her hand over the mobile's mouthpiece), and the way was cleared for a smooth exit. we took it. "it's good right?" she said confidently. "probably," i said, a lot less so.

22 March, 2005


remember Tina? tiny Tina? of course, how could you forget. her parents invited her and her sister's teachers for dinner on Sunday night and, though we were expecting a traditional meal at their home, were happy to dine at the Toscana Garden Italian restaurant and "Frog Ecology Garden Plot". indeeed, they did have a large pond on their grounds, in front of which we are below pictured. barely visible in the background is a fairly large waterfall, which neatly hides the bathrooms underneath.

some of the teachers with Tina's family at Toscana Garden. l-r from the rear: me, Jen, Lee-Ana, Andy, Joyce, Tina and Sharon.

there were plenty of frogs out there making quite a noise, but it only added to the very nice atmosphere; and it was a great meal. Tina's parents are very nice, and they speak quite good English. Andy is an aerospace engineer who i understand is working on UAVs (Unmanned Aerospace Vehicles, drone aircraft) for the Department of Defense. Sharon is a teacher of first grade at a local elementary school of about 4,000 children. they told us there is an elementary school in Taipei with about 10,000 students!

while we're not allowed to speak Chinese to the kids at any time in the school building, i took this opportunity to ask Tina for her Chinese name, and i had her write it down. i haven't yet figured out how to get the characters to show up on here, but it sounds something like Tsung Hsiao-Ting; the Ting i guess is where Tina comes from. as i'm sure you're all aware, Chinese names are usually three characters: the first is the family name, and the next two are the given name. as far as i'm aware, they don't really have words that are strictly names; they choose names based on the characteristics they assume the person will have or those they want the person to have. i've heard it said that we choose names based on how attractive they sound, and the Chinese choose names based on how attractive the concept is that the name embodies. For Tina's name, the family went to a fortune-teller, which is apparently a pretty lucky, and popular, thing to do.

my own name, for which dozens have now been consulted, has finally come down to the most logical choice. it sounds like Bao Tse-Jie; it's the same name Porsche goes by here, and is basically a coincidentally appropriate transliteration of that word from English: it means "make time fast".

as if you needed more proof of Tina's cuteness. this picture was taken in front of the pond at Toscana Garden.

21 March, 2005


in the continuing saga of the Governor of the State of Utah versus Roger Ball, it appears as though public opinion is tilting ever more strongly toward the latter. in the following op-ed piece from Sunday's Salt Lake Tribune, Claire Geddes offers an reason why, while Tribune columnist Paul Rolly puts the firing in its wider context of more generalized government corruption. government? corrupt? how strange.

19 March, 2005


Friday was quite a day for the Professor's administration. it was the big day of the spelling bees. we had two, one for the younger kids and a second, larger one for the older kids. in neither case did my little cherubs disappoint. two younger students, from my Basic Reading class competed, and came in first and third place. they are pictured below. as you can see, Tina may be the cutest thing ever; she is standing fully erect on the same floor as King.

King and Tina took first and third place, respectively, in the first spelling bee on Friday, March 18. This is my Basic Reading class, clockwise from King: Ray, Albert, Leo, Nancy, Daniel, Moses and Tina.

later, my fifth grader Sherry finally prevailed in what became the longest spelling bee in school history. i had eight kids--six current, two former--in this one. after a tense final showdown with a smart third grader, Sherry was able to spell his word "excitement" when he just kind of fell apart on it. too bad for him, but it rounded out a great day in the life and times of the Professor.

18 March, 2005


Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a tatol mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by istlef but the wrod as a wlohe.

we were shown this interesting little piece while at training prior to coming to Taiwan. when i wrote in theupdate that Chinese folks have to learn something like 3,000 characters to be considered literate, i realized that it would seem like a lot to most English speakers. while it is nice to have a phonetic system in which unfamiliar words can be "attacked", or figured out, we appear to end up memorizing the look of most words, hence our ability to read the above paragraph with ease.

things are, as you might expect, not that simple, however, and there are some scientific issues that interfere with the simple teaching and amusement value of the paragraph. they're worth a look though, and they're done by an actual Cambridge researcher! his site even has the paragraph in several foreign languages.

(just in case you are having trouble with it, the above paragraph states: According to research at Cambridge University, it doesn't matter what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letters are at the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without a problem. This is because we do not read every letter by itself but the word as a whole.)


recent cartoons about my dad from Salt Lake area newspapers, the one above from the Salt Lake Tribune, and the one below from the Ogden Standard-Examiner.

16 March, 2005


I'll leave it to the folks at the hospital to decide if this surmisal is correct.


pictured below is the behemoth referred to in the picture above, which truly earned its title. Getting a package here is a rare event--postage is outrageous--so i owe a great deal of thanks to AnnaMarie, Claudia, Elena and Kay, my friends at the hospital for providing me with such a sweet moment. the contents will provide me with many more. i was the object of great envy as i opened it in the teacher's lounge, most of them gathered around to enjoy the experience vicariously through me. i'm sure they won't be so content to enjoy the contents vicariously through me though.

It's a good thing I've been working out, or I wouldn't have been able to lift this. Truly, The Mother of All Packages.

15 March, 2005


to voice your concern over the shameful firing of Utah's utility watchdog, Roger J Ball, and the cowardly manner in which it was executed, call, write, or send an email to Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. be sure to remind him that such actions do nothing to support his campaign's promise that his would be a consumer-friendly administration, and that pandering to utility companies smacks rather more of a desire to play power politics. don't forget to mention that an upright governor wouldn't hide behind a hatchet man like Russell Skousen, the Executive Director of the Commerce Department, and just one of the cronies with which Huntsman's carpet-bagging administration is riddled. Skousen gave Ball 20 minutes to gather his belongings and leave the state premises before being escorted out; his books are still there, a week after the fact.

Huntsman is already under fire for this, as well he should be. turn up the heat on Governor Huntsman and let him know that making the already imperfect situation of government regulation worse by hobbling the process worries you as a consumer. as a resident of whatever state or country you may be, you will be sending an important message that will hopefully set an example for potential corrupters everywhere.

a further good idea would be to send your opinion to the local newspapers, The Salt Lake Tribune and The Deseret News, both of which have informative articles on the subject which can be linked to from the previous post on this site, thesack.

14 March, 2005


further proof you don’t need an economics degree to appreciate the evils of government. one standard argument for government meddling in our lives is that in industries as large and complex as utilities—energy and telephone companies, mostly—costs of entry into the market are so high as to be entirely prohibitive, and so governments should grant monopolies to companies already in the field and then strictly regulate them; all in the name of protecting consumers, of course. the trouble is, or rather one of the many troubles is, that governments are everywhere and always prey to corruption derived from the power-seeking individual’s positive response to the special pleading of selfish interests, and so create distortions in the markets they purport to be overseeing. business may be heartless, but individual ambitions will always be squelched when they come into conflict with the overarching goal of profit maximization. a fine example of government’s spectacular inadequacy and mendaciousness was recorded last week when the State of Utah summarily fired its chief utilities regulator and consumer watchdog, my father Roger Ball. the details can be found in the following stories from the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News. for those who prefer to watch their news, a broadcast is available from KSL TV, Utah’s NBC affiliate. a decent op-ed piece is found in the Tribune as well, as is a terrible op-ed piece from obvious political pawn Pat Shea, a useless relic of the Clinton administration.

Roger J Ball, my father and Utah's erstwhile utilities regulator and consumer watchdog.

for those wishing to understand the fundamentally immoral nature of government, either call me or read Milton Friedman’s book, Free to Choose. Friedman is the 1976 Nobel Laureate in economics, and is pretty much the godfather of American and modern laissez-faire economics.

11 March, 2005


i've been trying to figure out a way that the folks back home can check out the actual music of theotherjayfather. it's a bit involved, but if you're willing to give it a try, you can hear the king of Chinese hip-hop without even having to cross the Pacific. first, click here, which will (slowly) open the website in a new window, then pull up this screen again to find out what to do while you're waiting.

the link takes you to a Chinese page that offers streaming Jay music, but has been translated by Google software. it's worth the visit just to check out some of the translations. i defy anyone to make real sense out of it. most of the site remains in Chinese however, and unless you want a page full of little error boxes, you should tell your computer that it is okay to download the simplified Chinese text display support. this will let you see the Chinese characters on the site. the download only takes a couple of minutes, and is not very big.

you should scroll almost to the bottom of the page and find the entry in the right column that says "Week outstanding roentgen (Zhou Jie Lun)", then click that link. this takes you to the Jay page; choose the third album down, which is named "Ye Hui Mei", and click the link. this is the album whose cover i posted at the beginning of the blog, under thereason; explore the other albums at will. if you scroll about halfway down the current page you'll find translated (loosely) song titles, with three Chinese-character buttons underneath. pressing the leftmost button will select all songs, while pressing the middle button will deselect all of them. the right button will play the songs you have selected.

i suggest the following as a place to start: the fourth song has some pretty good stereo acoustics, and sounds quite good on headphones. song five, "The East Wind Broken", has a couple of good arhu sections; the arhu is the traditional two-stringed instrument of China, played with a bow, and it will sound familiar to anyone who has seen such movies as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "Hero", or "House of Flying Daggers". arhu actually means "two tigers"; each string i suppose is a tiger. the last song on the album, which is actually "Double Blade", is pretty good, and has the best music video. it stars Jay as Double Blade and he basically kicks everyone's butt in mad kung-fu style. Song number one is actually the title track, and would be better translated "In the Name of the Father". it's probably the best song, and is part of thereason for the title of this site. enjoy.

10 March, 2005


as much as i love having pictures on this site, i would trade them all in for a short video clip of what happened to me last night: i had my first brush with the law! after six or seven weeks riding the motorbike everywhere, doing as the locals do, running red lights right in front of cops etc., i was finally pulled over for... actually i'm not sure what for. i was riding down Taichunggang Road, the main drag through Taichung, and wanted to turn right off it. seeing the traffic snarled up just ahead of me, i did what any self-respecting Taiwan dweller would have done: i rode up on the sidewalk to get around the jam. then i turned right against the red--apparently illegal here--but only after waiting for all the cross traffic to pass. it was safe as houses. when i straightened out and looked up i saw a guy with a small clipboard standing in the middle of the street waving his long arms at me. the arms should have tipped me off but i had to see the small police-issue scooter parked next to him before i realized i was being pulled over, or at least flagged down.

the look on his face when he started jabbering at me in Chinese told me he wasn't looking for a jump-start though, and my mad language skills notwithstanding, i had no idea what he was trying to say. i thought for a moment that he wanted to compliment me on my inventive use of the sidewalk, but then i figured he would probably use his clipboard to write me a ticket for not having my turn signal on. fortunately for the story, i did have my SARS mask on, and when i pulled it down to say "what?" the poor fellow was utterly crestfallen. he looked like he'd stepped in something of canine origin, and with pure disgust he just said "ugh, english." now, to properly picture this brief exchange, you have to imagine Mr Miyagi from the Karate Kid talking with all the gravelly contempt of the Godfather. it came out slow and scornful, "ugh, engerrish," like it was the throwdown line from a bad kung-fu movie. he dropped his long arms and stepped aside quickly, not wanting to have anything more to do with the engerrish. my language and i had been but the dirt on this officer's shoe, but we left feeling quite like a whole corps of diplomats. what a wonderful country.

09 March, 2005


this one's for the folks back at the hospital. this was on the condiment table at the loal shabu shabu restaurant. sounds delicious...

08 March, 2005


one week ago i celebrated my 26th birthday. celebrate is used quite loosely there, since i had to teach three of my four classes that day; actually, teach is used very loosely, since i just had a party in each class, justifying that action on the grounds of teaching birthday and party language. it worked quite well; i had told the kids to bring food, and they did--it was even mostly edible. i had digital pictures taken with each of my classes that day, but the only one that turned out in a way that i am currently able to post here was the one of my fifth grade class, who range from 11 to 13 years of age. they are quite a handful, and the last time we tried to have a party, on the day before the Chinese New Year holiday, they had entered into a pact to not talk to me, and by so doing they talked themselves right out of a party. i gave them plenty of homework for their vacation. one girl even did it. but this time the party was for me, and even if they hadn't been cooperative, i would have had the party myself. in any event, it went quite well, getting together with other classes and mostly playing games--that involved English speaking, of course.

i had wanted to put the pictures of my Basic Reading class up, being my favorite class to teach. they are anywhere from seven to nine years old and are mostly very good. they brought the best food, and by far the most (i'm starting to think that this site should be called thefoodfather). anyway i will get a picture of them up as soon as technological conditions permit.

i had a fun day, thanks to the kids and thanks to my colleagues, who made me a cake and decorated the place for me; and to those of you who called or sent gifts, thejayfather says xie xie.


all the teachers at the Berhan School, enjoying the cake they made me for my birthday. from the top, left to right: Jill, Jacquie, Michelle W, Amy, Tanya, Michelle B, Lee-Ana, Emily, Brittany, Jen, Anna, Robin, me and Ginger.


my fifth grade class on my birthday. this is widely known as the most troublesome class in the school, and the ringleader, Robert, is not even pictured. left to right are: Peter, Steven, Richard, me, Sherry, Jade, Sandy, Judy and Becca.

07 March, 2005


an 89th-floor view of Taipei's urban sprawl.


the interior display of a 101 elevator, taken just before we descended.

06 March, 2005


so yesterday was an historical day, not just for me but for the city of Taipei. it was the public opening of the 89th floor observatory at the Taipei 101, or ee-ling--ee building, and i was there. i had thought it would be packed, but apparently the Taiwanese care little for such things, and i'm glad they were so apathetic. we were able to go up about an hour before sunset and check out the huge city, with the aid of a listening tour, and then see the sunset and the city lit up. it was a total 360-degree view, and it was very impressive. the observatory is several floors down from the top, but is still incredibly high. one of its coolest features is the 660 tonne "tuned mass damper" that hangs from 16 steel wires from the 93rd floor down to the 87th, and then rests on eight huge pistons. the hanging area is completely open so you can see the whole contraption, but i wasn't able to discern it absorbing any of the 40 percent of wind or earthquake vibrations it's supposed to. i guess that's a good thing.

in any case, i should have pictures up pretty soon, but the website is worth a quick check, if you're interested: http://www.tfc101.com.tw/english/taipei/belcaney/bel01.htm. in the meantime, a word about the elevators, correcting my previous stats. they have a little monitor inside the elevators to tell you the altitude, velocity, etc. and it actually turned out only to take 37 seconds to reach the top. the acceleration is quite rapid, but you don't really notice until your ears start to pop with the altitude. the top speed was 1010 meters per minute, and i think the height of the 89th floor was about 430 meters up. on the way down they don't take you so fast--our top speed was only 600 meters per minute, so if i had tried, like i do at the hospital sometimes, to jump when it first started decending, i would have been in the air for a little longer than usual, but i certainly wouldn't have been in freefall for more than a split second. sorry to those who had wanted to try that. it ws fun anyway.

01 March, 2005


Since I've been such a terrible e-mailer, I thought it couldn't be much worse to send a form letter. But it came out to about five pages, and I wondered who'd want that in their inbox, so I guess you can check it out if you want to. If you desperately want the Word file, let me know. Here goes:

Apologies for starting at the very beginning to anyone who’s heard it all before, but the beginning is the flight I guess. 14 and a half hours is quite a long one, especially without having had much sleep the two weeks prior. Who’d have thought I could have accumulated that much stuff in four years in a house? Obviously my mother, but she saw the state of my room when I was growing up. Anyway, I can report that China Airlines is not nearly as bad as everyone had feared it would be, but they don’t let you choose your seat until you check in, so it’s like trans-Pacific Southwest Airlines—not the greatest idea. But they did give me all the hot noodle pots I wanted, which was a lot, though they looked at me very strangely, as if white folks would never like the processed seafood blobs in them. I thought it would be wise to get a jump on getting used to the food.

Indeed, it was wise. With such delicacies as squid on a stick and chicken heart filling up the market stalls both day and night, processed seafood blobs seem quite delicious by comparison. The food is something I cannot dwell on at length, being quite a tender subject. Many of you know that none of the meals I have eaten in the last four years were prepared in my house—or by me, moreover—so finding nothing particularly edible for sale here has been quite a shock to the system. McDonald’s has hitherto been something of a curse word, but now often seems salvific. Rare is the week we can’t be found there twice. At least their menu is slightly different than in the States, a couple of their burgers have rice buns, for instance. They’re actually quite good. The one food thing I cannot fail to mention is stinky tofu. There is a street here in town which is known by and to all non-Taiwanese (even many of the locals, actually) as “Stinky Tofu Alley”. Many of the stalls there serve stinky tofu soup, which they cook in great vats and which smells as if every old sock in the world were dumped in its filthiest bathroom and then left to rot. Actually, that description is quite generous. I don’t know how they make it, and I’m told it’s not actually that bad, but sometimes the smell will hit you and it’s so bad that Chinese water torture would seem less cruel.

So enough, what else? I should say that even stinky tofu would be a relief from the filthy air that we have to breathe. I’m quite sure my lungs will look like I’ve smoked for three years by the time I get back. Which is not to say we don’t take precautions against the airborne particulates, but there’s only so much a couple of pieces of fabric fashioned into a surgical mask will block out. But they do look awfully dashing. Hopefully I’ll be able to enclose pictures of my latest SARS mask, as we call them. They tend to be worn mainly when out riding around on one’s motorized steed, which everyone here seems to be doing, all the time, and at top speed. I like the red lights the best. Everyone pays fastidious attention to the other set of lights and about as soon as it turns amber the fifty or so scooters and motorbikes around you take off in a manner that can best be likened to the starting grid of the Manx TT. It’s quite spectacular, if not for the sight then for the total disregard to fuel economy.

Of course, after the start gate comes the traffic, particularly in town, and since there are no actual rules in Taiwan (there are, actually, but they are referred to as “suggestions”), weaving in and out of traffic provides a tremendous amount of fun, and a very healthy dose of adrenaline for the week. I bought a 150cc Yamaha motorbike a few weeks ago, and since I’d only ridden one once before, I pretty much got to teach myself how to ride in all this chaos. I think it’s been quite beneficial though, I was paying so much attention to what I was doing with the gears and such that having to watch out for traffic signs would have been an unnecessary burden. And now it’s pretty much come down to a game of avoiding all objects that move or could move. Or that stop right in front of you suddenly in the middle of the road. Not that these things ever happen, Mother. Anyway all is well, and all is fun too, about the fastest I’ve had the iron steed going so far is 70 mph, but I have at least 25 more cc than all the scooters on the road so I can take them off the line and beat them on the straightaway too, if need be. In any case, it sure beats taking the bus to church.

Church, like much else out of the ordinary around here, happens in Taichung (say Tie-jhong). Taichung is the third largest city in Taiwan and is about three-eighths of the way down the western side of the island. We live at the school where we teach, which is in the city of Feng Yuan (say Fong Yuen), about 8 miles north of Taichung. I believe there are about a million people in Taichung, and I have no idea how many in Feng Yuan, though I understand that it is home to many retired 30-something businessmen, whose children provide a reason for my labors here. There are many English schools in town, and as such many teachers, ostensibly of English. Many of these appear to be South African, which I understand is due to the weakness of the Rand these days (who said an economics degree would be useless?), though most are probably American and Canadian.

There are also a lot of Chinese English teachers, which certainly, at least in my mind, helps to perpetuate the common problems of syntax and grammar that our students have. Most of the teachers here are quickly perfecting the art of “Chinglish”, if not in spoken form at least enough to be able to understand it. Allow me to illustrate with a direct quote or two, usually heard on a daily basis: “teacher, you do not have tell we”, referring to homework they didn’t do, or “teacher, you see”, when trying to get you to look at something. Actually, the constant appeals to “teacher” has vindicated my beginning plan to have the students call me Professor Ball. Thought by my colleagues to be purely a display of ego at first, it has forced the kids in my class to think about what they’re saying before they automatically say the same words, and has saved me from the insanity that those formerly derisive colleagues are now experiencing.

Of course, we are learning some of the Chinese too. The government reckons that to be literate in Chinese one must know 3,000 characters; a list of the particular 3,000 they are talking about can be readily found online, in case you’re interested (though you will usually have to download programs to read their fonts). A couple of decent pages about Chinese in general are: http://www.mandarintools.com/ and www.zein.se/patrick/mainenf.html (One or both of these have links to the list of 3,000). Needless to say, learning 3,000 Chinese characters is a little beyond the scope of my time here, but once again the government comes to the rescue. At some point in time they came up with a phonetic system which consists of 37 sounds, which are the only sounds in Chinese. This system is called bo-po-mo-fo, which is essentially representative of the sounds made by the first four phonetic symbols (very roughly). Each Chinese character is composed of two phonetic symbols, and the children’s books are written with the character just to the left of the bo-po-mo-fos (go ahead and say bo-po-mo-fo a few times, it’s fun). So this is the way I have gone about studying Chinese, just like the kids do it. I wouldn’t say I’m fluent yet, but just wait until July.

It’s quite a confusing language to grasp by hearing it, since they have so many homophones, or words that sound exactly the same but mean completely different things, like through and threw, for example. They have hundreds of these, primarily because Chinese was never meant to be a spoken language, or so I’m told. Its strength lies in its written aspect, and it is apparently quite powerful at expressing concepts, but the people frequently have to explain what they mean, or you will see people finger-writing the character on the palm of their hand so the other person can visualize which character they mean. Some of their words are also homophonic with some of ours, and as you might expect, this can generate humorous results. For instance, a visitor to Taiwan will become increasingly aware that the locals keep calling each other “nigga”. One’s delicate Western sensibilities might suffer injury at this, were one not quickly to learn that the locals are actually saying “nay ge”, which means “that one”, and which is used pretty much as a place-holder or attention-getter, like “er” or “um”. What complicates things is that “jay ge”, which comes out sounding like “jigga”, is thrown about almost as often, and since “yo” means “to have”, it is not at all uncommon to hear people crying “yo nigga” or “yo jigga”. There do not seem to be many Afro-Americans in Taiwan.

Maybe they don’t like the food. But don’t let me get started on that again. How about the school, colleagues, students, etc. Okay: I am the only male teacher at the school, and my colleagues number 14, 13 of whom live here at the school. Somehow I left the hospital thinking that working long night shifts with many wonderful female nurses would have left me well prepared to live with 13 women; I don’t think that anymore. I like to say the nurses tried the best they could, but they really didn’t, and that’s a very good thing. If I ever thought we had drama at the hospital, I’ve entered a whole new ballpark of drama here. I won’t go into details, but my theory on it is that because all the soap operas are in Chinese, there’s a deep psychological need to get understandable drama from somewhere. Let me know if you have any better ideas. At least I get my own room. TV is worth a mention; it’s often really funny. We get a lot of movie channels, and all the movies are in English, with subtitles, but they also have these cool pseudo-religious puppet shows in which all the long-haired characters repeatedly kill each other in extremely violent ways; this is apparently supposed to teach profound Confucian principles. Or something. It’s a little hard to make sense of, just like the soap operas around here. My thanks to the hospital crew, I look forward to being back where I know what’s going on.

The school itself is four stories of pure concrete, with a flat concrete roof (for a better view of the smog) and tile everywhere they couldn’t get concrete. But we have fire drills anyway. It’s a pretty new building—about five years old, I think—and quite nice and well-equipped. The students are generally quite good, though I was told when I arrived, in no uncertain terms, that I would be getting some of the “problem classes”. According to my understanding of Taiwanese logic, they assumed that since I was the man, I’d be the natural disciplinarian. I’ve been happy to oblige in most instances, though sometimes the kids are too funny to really hold their feet too close to the fire. Most of them get a big kick out of fighting with me, and it’s often easier to get them to talk when I not trying to “teach”. I have four classes, with kids aged about eight to around 13, for a total of 28 hours a week, not including planning time. Speaking of which, since having learned in my very first week how important it was to have a plan, and a comprehensive one, I have come to a whole new respect for what teachers do, and wonder how many times my teachers wished they could kill me, like I sometimes do with my kids. By and large they are very good though, and I’m lucky to teach in a school where my average class has about 7 kids. It makes for a pretty good learning environment, but even that many kids can be crazy together. The one problem I have is realizing that in six months it will be very difficult to discern much real progress in the students, though occasionally you do see flashes of enlightenment sweeping the classroom, and it can be quite rewarding.

As far as the country itself, you may be aware that it was dubbed by its colonizers, the Portuguese, as Ilha Formosa, the beautiful island. (Incidentally, that the Portuguese were the colonizers and so first to romanize the language is the reason it reads, in the roman alphabet, so much differently than it sounds, and may be another reason why there are certain sounds that are consistently misspoken. Many things here, like street signs, store signs and product labels are in English, or at least the Pinyin, or Portuguese, romanization of English.) the island does have its very beautiful points, like a very lush green mountain range running the length of the island’s east side. Once you get away from the smog, or above it anyway, it’s very nice. I haven’t really been to the beach yet, but this last weekend I did see the harbor at Kaohsiung (say Gao-Shung), which is the city with Taiwan’s second-largest population and Asia’s largest port. It’s apparently the third or fourth largest port in the world. Kaohsiung was really just another big city, but we did go up to “Monkey Mountain”, where there really were lots of monkeys just hanging around, or at least scavenging for food.

The largest city, and the “national capital”, is Taipei (say Tai-Bay), and it is home to most of the touristy stuff, especially monuments. One is a huge building in honor of Dr Sun Yat-Sen, the founder of the Kuo Min Tang (say Gwo), the party that fled the mainland in the 40s when the communists took over. This is the reason Taipei is the “national capital”, because the actual capital of the Chinese province of Taiwan is some small town in the middle of nowhere. So as long as the dispute over Taiwan’s actual status continues, Taipei will continue to be the capital of the Republic of China, while the People’s Republic will consider it the “provisional capital of the province of Taiwan”. The other main monument is the massive square built up to Chiang Kai-Shek, the more familiar leader of the KMT to Westerners. Good old Mr Chiang is on everything here, especially the money, but I have read that Dr Sun is enjoying quite a renaissance of reputation back in the PRC, as the more moderate politicians are trying to distance the founding of their modern state from the radical Chairman Mao.

So much for the history lesson. Taipei has some nice parts, and those touristy things are often worth seeing, but I have not yet made a full investigation of the new jewel in Taiwan’s crown, the Taipei 101 building, currently the world’s tallest. So named for having 101 stories, I understand it to be 508 meters tall, and it is apparently designed to look like a stick of bamboo, with the nodes and all. It is quite attractive, as far as really, really tall buildings go, and they light it up quite tastefully at night. The elevators, which with a top speed of 1010 meters per minute are the world’s fastest, and can get you to the 93rd floor in a mere 39 seconds, have yet to open, but do on the 4th of March. I hope to ride them, but I understand that it costs about 300 New Taiwan Dollars, or NT$. The exchange rate is around NT$31 to the US$1, so it’s only 10 bucks, but 10 bucks goes a long way over here. I could eat quite handsomely (if I were so inclined) for 10 bucks. Do you see how food becomes a preoccupation?

The best thing we did over Chinese New Year, which was the second week of February, was up in Taipei. It may have been the best thing we did so far. Some of us stood on a bus going up the twistiest mountain road ever, then took the smallest, ricketiest train ever further up that mountain, then took a (sadly nondescript) gondola across to an adjacent mountain, and found what appeared to be the Taiwanese version of EuroDisney—at the very top of this remote mountain. It was so weird, and for some reason I was feeling quite put out about the whole thing, “why would anyone ever do this?” I wondered out loud, more than once. It was raining, like it is now, and has been here for a few weeks, on and off, and it really was strange, but we took a wander around, and found the best thing ever. Right by the condos up there (condos?), there were a bunch of military assault-course style exercise contraptions, like rip-lines and rope nets. It was wet and getting dark when we started to play, but play we did, and it was fun. We only found the first 10 of the exercises, but later found there were 16 more, bigger and badder than the ones we had found. We got really wet and really filthy, but it was the best time ever, and when we go back, which we will, I actually kind of hope it rains again.

Chinese New Year was actually kind of strange, almost a let-down. We wandered around the town here in Feng Yuan to see what people were up to, and basically it amounted to them standing out in front of their homes with some incense burning. Some of them had little fires, and all had a small table with two bunches of flowers (always two), more joss sticks (burning), and some food items, always including pineapple. Apparently the ghosts of their dead ancestors will come and eat the spirit part of the food so laid out, before the people eat the physical part. The ancestors also get to make use of the “spirit money”—small yellow papers that people are burning in their little fire drums. That money is supposed to keep the spirits in the style they’re accustomed to through the whole year, so people burn a lot. As if the air wasn’t bad enough, during Chinese New Year you can almost feel yourself on your way to meet those spirits. It was all very strange because it didn’t seem like anyone was that excited about it, even the kids. They were all up, but there was no real sense of anticipation. Keep in mind that this is the closest thing to Christmas in the calendar here. We did see some madness though, going down to the main temple in town, which is of uncertain denomination. Most folks tend to believe a mixture of Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian beliefs, all sprinkled with just enough Western thought to make things really confusing, so it becomes a sort of strange folk religion. The doors to the temple were closed at midnight, which was the first time I’d ever seen any temple doors closed, but the huge forecourt was packed with people, all burning ridiculous amounts of incense. Right at midnight, a guy on a PA system started counting—up, not down—and then the doors were flung open and there was this unbelievable rush of people through them. We later learned that there is some prize or blessing that awaits the first to plant their incense in the large incense lavers. It was quite a sight, and the pictures might have turned out if it weren’t for that much smoke being generated in an enclosed space.

Well, I’m sure there’s a lot more that I could be saying, but hopefully this gives a pretty good overview of how things are. Hopefully it will get me a little forgiveness for being such a bad (or nonexistent) e-mailer since I’ve been here. Please let me know how you’re doing and if there’s anything I should be writing about, either by sending me an e-mail, or by leaving a comment. Thanks.


riding the 'cycle. note the extremely attractive SARS mask.


taking the luxury bus to Taipei


conversing with my simian friend at Monkey Mountain in Kaohsiung


crossing the Love River in Kaohsiung


everybody loves jay.


the cover of jay's fourth album, imaginatively titled "volume iv"

commonly known as "the king of Chinese hip-hop", zhou jie lun, or jay, was the inspiration for this curious name. more accurately, the cover of this album was the inspiration, for hopefully obvious reasons. when i started calling him thejayfather, the girls made the connection--again hopefully obvious--to me, and the nickname has stuck. xie xie Taiwan.


who is thejayfather? i am thejayfather, of course, but why? to find the answer you will have to check out the next post...