24 May, 2005


thejayfather knows that at least one person back in theStates has been keeping very close tabs on the hair situation. it's been about six months since my last cut, and it's really showing; i had thought that i might be able to get longer hair to do something cool eventually, but it's just not happening. and now it's just annoying. but not one to let language teaching opportunities slip away, i have turned this problem into an activity for my students: thehaircut contest.

of course there is a selfish side. with the end of the semester rapidly approaching, and the warm weather here to stay, the natives are getting restless and thejayfather is getting sick of their crap. so basically it's a behavior contest between three of my classes, with the best behaved class--determined on a strictly subjective basis, of course--getting to use my clippers to shave all my hair off in a couple of weeks. the other classes will have to make do with the photos.

and so, unfortunately, will you, dear reader. below is a rather fitting pic to clue you in to the extent of my hair problem, and to keep you going until the results of thecontest are announced.

and non't do nothing else we nouldn't like, neither.

22 May, 2005


thejayfather has been a bit busy lately and the sweet bloggy blog has suffered somewhat. apologies. but there's a lot of catching up to do, what with three weekends and a speech contest unaccounted for, so we'd better get started rather than crying over spilt milk.

a couple of weeks ago we went to Tainan, the city whose name literally means "Taiwan South". it is South of here, and i would say it's in the southern half of the island, but it's not the southern-most city by a long shot. it is the fourth-largest however, and certainly one of the oldest. Tainan is known for it's historic places and for having more temples than just about anywhere else. at this point however, i'm about templed out. when i say these things are everywhere, i really mean everywhere; i try to appreciate their cultural value but they're all much the same anymore.

about a third of the Shengmu Temple in Tainan, and the main, middle section

good thing Tainan does it better. apparently, there are a few warring factions down there who all seek to build the largest temple. i have read that there are three which tend to swap the title depending on which group can raise the most cash. the one currently in the lead, and so the one we visited, was the Shengmu Temple, in the Luerhmen district North of town. having said what i did about temples, i can't let on to being too impressed by this one, but it was rather amazing, if for no other reason than it didn't seem to serve a purpose. at least not a purpose a much smaller building couldn't have served. it's size did allow me to ride through almost the entire thing without ever getting off my rented scooter, and i think you'll agree that there's a lot to be said for drive-through worshipping.

and the last third of the Shengmu Temple in Tainan, with a billboard depicting yet further building plans for the future. it looks like they will wall in and gate the temple

the thing was so large we couldn't fit it in one picture, so above are three. below you'll find a shot of one of the large lagoons separating the sections of the shrine, and one of the many marble etchings on the outer walls; owing to the newness and lavishness of much of this building, it has many features other temples have let lapse into decay or have simply gone without.

a view of one of the lagoons at the Shengmu Temple in Tainan, and one of the many ornate marble friezes on its side

Tainan really does have some history. it was the capital of Taiwan from 1624, when the Dutch invaded and set up their headquarters there, to 1661, at which time they were expelled by a Ming dynasty loyalist known to the West as Koxinga. on our way back towards town from the monolithic temple area, we swung by the old Anping Fort, or Fort Zeelandia as the Dutch called it. since it was only a few minutes to closing and they wouldn't cut us a discount on the admission, we decided to forego the formal tour, but it looked pretty much like a fort, on a little hill and all that. then we stopped by the whimsically named Eternal Castle, which was built by French engineers in 1875. all that remains of this castle is a small gate, a moat, and some cannons; whether this is because it was built by the French or because it was so presumptuously named is not clear, however.

the castle had nothing to do with Koxinga, of course, but the good people of Tainan have adopted him as a sort of patron saint. way North of town is said to be a memorial site marking his landing to expel the Dutch, and right in the center of town is a large shrine to him in the mould of most temples erected to deities. though it was well after closing when we got there, the whole place was well kept up and enjoyed some nice grounds.

entrance to the Koxinga shrine in Tainan and me, Jill, Jacquie and Michelle on a bridge on the grounds

all in all Tainan seemed to be the quintessential Taiwanese city, without being so Taiwanese (read filthy) as to be offputting. returning to the train station late Saturday night we passed through a large park with a huge pavilion set in the middle of a lake. the pavilion, as well as the walkways to it on either side, were held up on stilts, and the whole scene was very picturesque. it appeared to be very much typical of what people imagine China and Taiwan to be like, though this was the first time we'd even seen a structure like that.

i'm sure that if i had seen it earlier in my stay i wouldn't be able to say that Tainan is the best Taiwanese city, but since i've seen all the big ones i feel qualified to make that call. as we were riding back along the nice new highway that connects the historical district to town, the sun shining brightly on a skyline that is neither to busy nor too empty, passing the ocean and somewhat normal looking homes, it seemed like the most Western of all the places we've been so far, vaguely reminiscent of San Diego. Tainan is even rumored to have a Chinatown, and if i can confirm that on my next trip there, then its exalted status will be confirmed. a Chinatown in China. perfect.

15 May, 2005


welcome to the rainy season. though it rains quite a bit in Taiwan, the last few weeks have given us more precipitation than we have had the rest of our time here put together. i'm told that most summer rains come in the afternoon, in short-lived thunderstorms, but on Thursday night we experienced the exception to that rule.


the sky was clouded over, and the lightning diffused in amber-pink hues across it, often in flashes so bright as to be temporarily blinding; this around midnight. i threw open the large window in my room and watched entranced, even as rain dripped onto the floor--the frosted glass would have distorted my view, and it was a nice way to cool things down. the storm lasted until well after i had fallen asleep a few hours later, and with thunderclaps as booming and earthshaking as came with it, it goes down as the second most intense weather-related experience of my life.

the first, of course, was the hurricane which caused us to be stuck in Samoa and which provided me with a free trip to New Zealand at the beginning of last year. known as Tropical Cyclone Heta, it battered the Samoan islands along with several others in the South Pacific, and caused near-famine conditions for about the first six months of 2004. the satellite image taken by NASA shows the storm on January 6, after it had passed Samoa and just before it was to collide head-on with Niue. compare the size of the storm's eye to that of the island, which is about one and a half times the size of Washington, DC, and you get some idea of the tremendous power nature possesses.

weather i am glad not to have experienced was the tsunami of Boxing Day 2004, which hit much of Southeast Asia and claimed the lives of thousands. this website contains an interesting graphic, near the top of the page, showing the path of the tsunami; near the bottom of the page are some amazing satellite photographs of the northern tip of Indonesia's Aceh province, probably the worst hit area anywhere, both before and after the wave. the contrast is hard to fathom; all that destruction looks more like what you'd imagine a bomb would do, rather than a wave. once again, however, the natural world helps to keep us humble.

12 May, 2005


three Sundays ago we had Stake Conference in the morning, and so the afternoon was free for once. not that i'm complaining about getting to sleep in on Sundays. it seemed as if we'd done a bunch of exploring over the whole island, but not much right here in our own backyard, so we set out to rectify that situation.

putting theYammy to work, we headed from Feng Yuan towards Taichung on a country road that runs along the foothills of the nearby mountains. we took a promising-looking road off toward the mountains and were not disappointed by the knowledge we eventually gained up there. at first we took a road that became a lane, that became a path, that became dirt the farther up we went, and the strange looks we received increased in frequency commensurate with the altitude. when an old lady took the time to jabber at us in the language of the Middle Kingdom, despite my pleas for "ing wen", we decided to turn back and find less forbidding trails.

i guess they ran out of money?

what we found was this strange creature, which looks like it was intended to be a fairly impressive temple. in what i assume was the absence of funds, they appear to have settled for a single room of templeness; no matter, there was only one guy anywhere near it. they haven't seemed to embrace the maxim of location, location, location when it comes to building temples here. but the austerity of the place will likely go largely unnoticed: taking a ride northwards the other night i came across the trappings of a temple housed in a sheet metal shack with a billboard painting of a temple roof above it.

the next temple we came to was a bit more impressive, especially for its rather liberal attitude toward creeds and beliefs. most people here tend to follow a queer sort of folk religion, which is a mix of Taoist and Buddhist thought with a healthy dose of Confucianism underpinning the whole system. they worship when they want, and at any one of a bewildering array of temples, which often have a Buddhist section and a Taoist section. many have the idol deities from the different religions side by side, as was the case at the temple pictured below, though this one went a little beyond the traditional norm.

Jesus even gets into the Buddhist/Taoist/Confucian temples

with the abundance of temples, one is quickly inured to the profusion of icons in them, but i admit to being more than a little surprised to see that even Jesus had infiltrated the Far East folk-religious consciousness too. not that Jesus isn't big here; he is, and getting bigger. as you might imagine though, the hard part of converting Chinese to Christianity is not the getting them to accept Christ, but the getting them to abandon other practices that Christianity often requires.

Woo-Hoo (five lakes) Pagoda (crematorium)

one of the next places we went was right next to this fairly magnificent building, the Woo-Hoo (say Oo-Who, five lakes) Pagoda. both buildings are actually repositories for the cremated remains of the faithful departed who are, in the case of the building not pictured (their architecture is much less attractive), Catholics, and Buddhists in the pagoda.

where they keep what's left of Buddhists

it's a seven storey building and though we turned up about five minutes before they were supposed to close, we met a Chinese-American man who took us on a fairly grand tour. i was surprised to learn from Mr Moon Chen that to have your remains kept at Woo-Hoo, you need only pay a one-time fee, which at something like NT$24,000 (US$800) seemed like a bit of a steal. the economist in me wondered how this business model could be made to sustain itself, but it seemed like a question more appropriate to leave unasked.

Mr Moon Chen giving me the skinny, and the view from the top

still, Mr Chen did a wonderful job of answering questions and providing interesting information on both Woo-Hoo and Taiwan, even though he himself was only visiting. he took us up to the seventh floor where we got out onto the balcony and admired the 360-degree view, which even with Taiwan's permasmog was fairly impressive. and it was nice to see the geographical relationship between our city, Feng Yuan, and our much larger neighbour, Taichung.

we also spied our next bit of adventure from the top of Woo-Hoo: the local cemetery. since Sunday is a day of rest, i suppose it's appropriate that the theme of the day became permanent resting, though it was unintentional. among all the other figures the Chinese worship are the ancestors, so burial is very important. there is even a yearly national holiday known as Tomb Sweeping Day, which fell in early April, during thecircumnavigation.

some typical burial plots

though this holiday had been not three weeks earlier, most of the tombs we visited looked like they could have used a good sweeping, though many also looked to be inaccessible other than by climbing numerous walls and other tombs. some of the newer tombs look very nice, and their landscaping makes them vaguely reminiscent of sand traps on a golf course, but i'm sure in time they'll succumb to the ravages of overactive flora in such a humid place. many of the tombs are so overgrown that the only tool sufficient to clean them is fire, rather than a feeble broom. its not unusual to see parts of the hillside on fire, but then what's a little more smoke in a country where they'll burn stacks of paper "ghost money" in the streets outside temples?

in all, the local trip was very valuable for gaining a little perspective on what the Taiwanese find important. issues of life and death are very close to them, as you'd expect with a group so preoccupied with their ancestors. but while we find the Taiwanese very backward about coming forward in everyday affairs, it's a bit funny that the one subject we try so hard to avoid is on ever-present display here.

05 May, 2005


for some time now i've been meaning to get a picture of the iron horse up here for everyone to admire. though this isn't the ideal shot of my sweet ride, you can get an idea for the basics. it's several years old but only has about 20,000 kilometers on the clock (12,000 miles), and it performs well with little maintenance. it does have a "V-twin" engine, a la Harley Davidson, but with a displacement of just 150cc it sounds more like a screaming banshee than any rolling thunder. the upside here is that i spend about US$3 a week keeping the thing gassed up, and i'm reliably informed that such economy would be hard to come by in the States these days. i've thought about having it shipped back, but it would be hard to justify spending more on shipping than i did on the bike itself.

Yammy 'n me, out for a country drive

but it's important to remember that there really aren't any Harley Davidsons out here. the biggest other thing on the road is a 125cc scooter, but there are a lot of them. they are used for absolutely everything, from commercial freight and delivery vehicles to hot date mobiles, but perhaps the most common purpose is as shown below: family sedan.

the family sedan. notice little Jimmy in the "jump seat" up front

this is the most people i've ever seen riding on a scooter at the same time (five), but i'm told they will get six or more on sometimes. it really is peculiar, and nobody, even the friendly local cop, seems to mind. though i already found that the police aren't too worried about most traffic infractions. nevertheless, more ubiquitous than mobile phones, scooters are the engines of the economy here, and you see everyone from hot rodding youths and deliverymen to high powered businessmen zipping around on them. they drive them on the streets, on the sidewalks, and even into stores sometimes. if you can physically do it, then it seems to be implicitly allowed by law. somewhat paradoxically, this fact actually made it easier to learn how to ride the bike. during the time that all my energy was focused on changing gears and manipulating the bike, i really didn't have to worry about obeying any traffic rules. it was quite liberating. and though traffic is far more orderly in the States, i feel safer riding here than i would there, because here people are at least expecting two-wheeled vehicles to be everywhere they want to go.

yet even having quickly mastered the concepts of Taiwanese driving, i have decided to work on becoming a bit more street legal. not necessarily because i feel an overwhelming need to obey laws that nobody else does, but because i think having a Taiwanese drivers' license will be a cool souvenir. i have a Samoan one, albeit temporary, and i should get this one--the real deal--just in time for leaving the country. i went to get the drivers', or rather riders', handbook a couple of days ago, and i must quote a few of the sample test questions, they're gems:

from the "Driver's Morals and Knowledge of Traffic Safety" multiple choice section:

26. When you start to feel tired and sleepy on the way, what should you do?
(1) Go on riding.
(2) Take or rub on some refreshments of fostering spirit then go on riding.
(3) Stop at the nearest appropriate place, get off and take a rest then ride on after you do not feel tired.

48. How does a rider think about his clothes and appearance?
(1) He is free about them.
(2) He can wear slippers.
(3) He should be clean and tidy.

from the "Driver's Morals and Knowledge of Traffic Safety" true or false section:

2. We can obey the rule of having priority to give way to pedestrians. That is driving morals.

10. Casually honking the horn makes noise pollution. It is not moral.

11. A riders without traffic morals is a misfortune both for himself and others.

from the "First Aid Theory and Skills" multiple choice section:

3. If a car catches fire by collision, the people in the car will
(1) be in shock.
(2) suffocate.
(3) vomit, due to lack of oxygen or being stuck in the windpipe.

so it's anybody's guess how a fire would cause a person to be stuck in their own windpipe, but it wouldn't really surprise me; strange things do happen in Taiwan. believe me, they really do.