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    Posted by Sean at 01:16, March 25th, 2008

    So I haven’t learned much Chinese in Taipei, but I have developed a nice line in learning which sinitic compounds used in Japanese do not carry over into Mandarin. You will doubtless profit from hearing that Chinese and Japanese write “lamb” differently.

    I made this important discovery yesterday at the dry-cleaner’s. At a birthday party for a friend over the weekend, another friend had (kindly) offered to give me some lamb but (unkindly) cut it so that some of the connective tissue whipsawed. I ended up with a very neat diagonal line of gravy spattered across my shirt. Chuckles all around. A torrent of fervent apologies from my friend–the only way to salvage your friendship with another member of the Family after you’ve ruined his outfit is to abase yourself big-time.

    Luckily, I was wearing a T-shirt underneath, and Taipei’s an informal city, so Mr. Button-down was relegated to my bag until the cleaner’s could deal with him. Naturally, yet another (sloshed) friend decided to pitch forward (sloshily) and expectorate half his cosmo onto my shoulder a few hours later. (I know I’m something of a wit, but I don’t think what I’d just said was that funny.) In case you didn’t know, pink liquid shows up rather well on light blue fabric in bar lighting.


    Given a choice between going through the rest of the night either (1) looking like a cosmo drinker who was too far gone to aim his glass at his own mouth or (2) barechested, I decided to keep the shirt on and adopt a happy/spacey expression. T-shirts are machine washable, after all, and I’m only in this city for another week.

    Later, though, it was time to go to the cleaner’s. The receptionists in my office offered to take care of it for me, but since I have a perverse sense of adventure, I went myself. That’s how I ended up trying to explain to the woman behind the counter (who spoke a little English and a little Japanese but understood neither “lamb” nor “ko-hitsuji“) what the hell was splashed across my shirt front. Luckily, through a combination of 羊 and 汁 and a few other Chinese characters, which I scrawled on an empty receipt as she giggled, I’m pretty sure I got the general idea across. Can’t wait to see what my shirt looks like tomorrow!

    Good times.


    Posted by Sean at 08:15, March 21st, 2008

    The election here is this tomorrow. Campaigning has to stop by law tonight. Very exciting!

    BTW, it’s certainly not wrong to translate 国民党 (kuomintang: “Citizens’ Party,” or what your history books called “the KMT”) as “Nationalist Party,” but I’m not sure why the NYT does so:

    Mainland Chinese officials loathe Taiwan’s current president, Chen Shui-bian, and his party, the Democratic Progressive Party, for pursuing greater political separation from the mainland. Beijing has been wary of the party’s candidate, Frank Hsieh, even though Mr. Hsieh has repeatedly voiced much more willingness than Mr. Chen to allow increased Taiwanese investment on the mainland and more cross-strait transportation links.

    A victory by Mr. Hsieh could be perceived in Beijing as a high price to have paid for forcefully putting down demonstrations in Tibet.

    Mr. Hsieh received an influential endorsement on Thursday. Lee Teng-hui, a former Nationalist president [!] of Taiwan who now favors much greater political independence from the mainland, said that he would vote for Mr. Hsieh.

    You wouldn’t even know they were talking about the KMT there, would you?

    Added on 22 March: So between drinks last night at my friend’s birthday party (unconnected to any March babies in my family), I started to wonder how you do translate 国民党. I mean, I always either read about it in Japanese (in which case the characters are used) or hear about it from people connected to Taiwan (who just call it the KMT). Wikipedia says that it can be referred to as the “Chinese Nationalist Party,” which makes a lot more sense to me than just plain “Nationalist Party” given its origins.


    Posted by Sean at 06:43, March 21st, 2008

    Happy birthday to my father and my little brother. Yes, both of them. When my parents converted to Sabbatarian Christianity when I was little, they went full-on into Nature: avoiding doctors in favor of anointings from the ministry, growing their own vegetables. My mother baked all our bread until I was in high school. (That’s why the reception of Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Con thing as if it were NEW! and EXCITING! made me giggle a while back.) And they decided on a home birth for my brother, so my father spent the morning of his own birthday delivering him. Dad tied off the umbilical cord with new white shoelaces. I read him (my brother, not my father) his first story. My mother, I’m assuming, rested. I have this feeling massive doses of painkillers were not part of the natural birthing plan.

    Now he (again, my brother, not my father) is thirty. Thirty.

    “You’re turning thirty! That makes me–“

    “Past it.”

    “Try waiting until the next time I visit home and saying that to my face, buddy.”

    “Sure. I’m taller than you now.”

    So happy birthday, guys.

    It would also have been my last remaining grandfather’s birthday this week.

    Three of my grandparents died in their early sixties, in rapid succession, between 1981 and 1984. My father’s father was the only one left. He remarried after my grandmother died; his second wife died, too, a decade ago. After that, he lived alone. His hearing was always bad, and he was in his own little world, but he lived in his own house until the end. His woodworking shop was in the basement. (Contemporary safety Nazis would have a coronary if they saw the way we used to play with Dad’s and Pop-Pop’s tools when we were little.) He used to make furniture for people in need at church–bedsteads and things like that. He was a regular churchgoer and made a Bible stand for the congregation that was much beloved. His income was limited, but he gave to charity regularly. He spoke with benevolence about the new neighbors–noisy, the other old-timers on the block complained, but they were polite and kept their property tidy and didn’t cause trouble.

    My father’s sister checked on him and helped him out every week. My father gretzed that if he kept insisting on doing woodwork, he was going to kill himself with the circular saw at his age one of these days. I visited most times I went home. (No, not every time, to my discredit.) He was kind of abstracted in later years but always happy to hear that I was still enjoying Japan. He wasn’t totally out of touch with the talk of the day, either. Once not too long ago, I gave him a bag of rather frou-frou green tea, and he said, “Thanks! Full of antioxidants, they say, huh?”

    He wasn’t the story-telling type of grandfather. He never talked about his childhood in England, or about being in Europe during the war, or about how Allentown had changed over his lifetime. He’d outlived both his wives and had trouble getting around. When he died in November, I think he was ready. My mother hadn’t even had time to get word to me that he’d been taken to the hospital. He would have turned 93 on Tuesday.

    One year after Hawker murder

    Posted by Sean at 06:09, March 21st, 2008

    It’s been a year since Englishwoman Lindsay Hawker was murdered. The chief suspect, who escaped capture when police came knocking at his apartment door to question him, still hasn’t been found and brought in for questioning. The BBC’s Tokyo correspondent has an online report here.

    The practice of showing people photographs of a suspect with possible disguises is not unusual here. But why has he not been apprehended?

    “When an offender is determined to run and hide,” the detective says. “It’s hard to find him. Ichihashi didn’t have a phone or a credit card, anything that might make him easier to trace.”

    Lindsay Hawker’s family have expressed their frustration at the lack of progress in the police investigation, although they say they have no alternative but to keep faith with the Japanese police.

    Her friends too are frustrated.

    Recently they gathered on a Sunday to hand out fliers appealing to the Japanese people for any information that might lead to the arrest of Tatsuya Ichihashi.

    Paul Dingwell, a fellow teacher who knew Lindsay well, says the fact that this man has been able to disappear reflects badly on the Japanese.

    “They should feel some kind of guilt that this has happened in their country, to someone who came here to help,” he says.

    “If someone is hiding him they are just as guilty as he is, if not more.”

    I was disturbed last year when Hawker’s father called her death some kind of national “shame.” At the time, of course, her death was a raw wound for her family and friends. Also, I wondered whether the invocation of “shame” might not be a shrewd way of playing off Japanese psychology to make solving Hawker’s murder seem especially urgent.

    Be that as it may, statements such as “they should feel some kind of guilt that this has happened in their country” are rather nasty in their implications. Every country has criminals, the U.K. most assuredly not excluded. That part about “came here to help” doesn’t sit well, either. It feels condescending, somehow. (Wouldn’t the English find it creepy if, say, an Indian surgeon were murdered in London and her relatives complained that her death was unjust because she’d only come to England to help?) Plenty of Westerners come to Japan to teach English mostly out of a desire to have an exciting adventure abroad and sock away some money, and they deserve not to be murdered just as surely as does someone who’s motivated by a saintly desire to bring correct English to the Japanese.

    And it’s hard to believe that Hawker’s friend thinks disappearing into the landscape in Japan requires some kind of sinister network of assistance. Light plastic surgery that uses surgical wire to nip in the nose or cheeks or to raise the eyelids is cheap, fast, and popular. It doesn’t change bone structure, but it would be very easy to use to avoid recognition. Besides, Japan is a country of 127 million people with huge, anonymous metropolitan areas, isolated mountain hamlets, and a very rapid transportation system. I don’t think you’d have to be Jason Bourne to figure out how to hide out. Of course, an accomplice would help, but it wouldn’t have to be Japanese society in general–just one easily gulled woman with an apartment and a source of income could do it.

    I wouldn’t have a difficult time believing that the investigation methodology isn’t as advanced as what you’d find in London or Miami, but that’s because Japanese police just don’t have to deal with cases like this one very often. And even at home, murder investigations frequently drag on for years. It’s great that Hawker still has friends who are dedicated to helping to find her killer, but I don’t think it follows, in this case, that the police force–let alone “Japan” as a generalized, amorphous entity–isn’t doing enough.


    Posted by Sean at 04:27, March 21st, 2008

    While the federal government cannot figure out how to appoint a new Governor General of the Bank of Japan, it’s had no trouble filling another important position:

    In a bid to help boost Japan’s international prestige and disseminate its culture, cartoon character Doraemon was inaugurated Wednesday as the official cultural ambassador for Japanese anime.

    Cartoon character Doraemon is a catlike robot from the 22nd century and is considered a Japanese cultural icon.

    “Please work hard to let people around the world learn more about Japan and encourage people to foster friendships with each other,” Komura said.

    Doraemon replied by saying: “It’s an honor to do such an important job. I’ll work as hard as I can.”

    Perhaps his first assignment will be to go back in time to the day this plan was hatched, draw a cluebar out of his 4th-dimensional pocket, and whack some bureaucrats with it. Hard.

    Survey says?

    Posted by Sean at 08:14, March 20th, 2008

    I’m not sure the English Mainichi editorial on the ongoing failure to get a new Governor General of the Bank of Japan approved is the best, but I like the graphic. The Xes need only boxes around them to look like the strikes on Family Feud back in the ’70s.

    Efforts to fill the Bank of Japan governor’s position have gone back to square one, and the post remains vacant. The Bank of Japan stands at the core of Japan’s economic management, and its movements are watched closely overseas. Now, it has nobody at the helm. And politicians are to blame for creating such a situation.

    The House of Councillors failed to approve the appointment of Koji Tanami, head of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, following the rejection of earlier nominee, former BOJ Deputy Gov. Toshiro Muto. Both men formerly served as Administrative Vice-Minister of the Finance Ministry.

    The government has appointed as deputy governors former BOJ executives Kiyohiko Nishimura and Masaaki Shirakawa, who is also a Kyoto University professor, with the latter to serve as the interim bank chief until a permanent posting is made.

    There’s a meeting of G7 central bank governors in April. The Mainichi hopes, plaintively, that the BOJ has an actual chief by then.

    Things I don’t get

    Posted by Sean at 01:43, March 19th, 2008

    Cab drivers in Taipei don’t like taking you to an intersection. Ask for “Zhongxiao East Road where it crosses Dunhua South Road,” and you frequently get a blank look. “Which section?” the driver asks. (As in, “Do you mean the 300 block, or the 400 block, or what?”) Once I didn’t remember, and since I can write Chinese street names but can’t speak Chinese, I drew a little diagram: See? These two streets. They cross here. Take me to the intersection…any old corner will do by this point. I stabbed conclusively with the pen. No reaction. Finally, I remembered I wanted Section 4. Scrawled it down. The driver beamed. Oh, okay. Zhongxiao East Road Section 4. Why didn’t you just say so? Well, I gave you the intersecting street. We’re not talking about Moebius Avenue and Tesseract Boulevard–they’re two major arteries, and they only cross in one place!

    Another time I was in a speeding cab with a few guys who do, in fact, speak Chinese. They asked for the intersection of Something and Something. “Which section?” An exchange of looks among the passengers–did anyone remember? “Section 2!” the guy next to me said, in clear confident tones. Then he turned to the rest of us. “It probably isn’t Section 2, so when we get there, we’ll just ask him to keep going to the next section until we get to the right intersection.”

    I’ve lived in Japan for twelve years and am used to being baffled by cultural differences. I have to say, though, I’m stumped by this one. Maybe it’s because the cities I’m used to are New York (where the address numbers can’t be divined from the street numbers) and Tokyo (where half the streets don’t even have names), but most of the cabs I’ve been in in my lifetime refuse to move for you unless you pinpoint the intersection you’re going to. No one has been able to explain to me how Taipei ended up developing the other way, though I can see why passengers would use addresses more often, since the address-numbering system here is very intuitive.


    You can be openly gay and get the benefits (nothing to hide), or you can be closeted and get the benefits (acceptance into the mainstream at all levels). You cannot do both. Those who want to be vociferously gay and simultaneously demand that people accept and adore them for it are insufferable, but it’s people with the opposite problem who’ve been inflicting themselves on me lately, so they’re the ones I’m going to grouse about.

    You want to get married and have children? Good for you. It’s none of my business. Whether you really feel affection for your wife or just want your family elders to get off your case or think you’ll look more socially stable when it’s promotion time at work, I don’t care. However, sweetie, if you’re going to sit in a gay bar (run by someone who’s not afraid to show his face to the licensers and beer distributors and everyone else as the manager of a known gay bar), drinking whisky (served by guys who are not afraid to work at a known gay bar), talking to me (gay, for those who haven’t noticed), then do not expect sympathy when you launch into a monologue about how hard it is to lead a double life, how you hate sneaking around, how you feel lonely all the time, and how you’re really scared you’ll run into a colleague in the wrong place someday. What exactly is the reaction you’re expecting? We all make our trade-offs, and by definition, that means we’re not going to get some things we want. News flash: If you hide what you are, you’re going to feel like you’re hiding all the time. Part of taking grown-up responsibility for your own choices is accepting that and not taking every opportunity to whine about it. Sheesh.


    Posted by Sean at 00:24, March 19th, 2008

    Yeah, I saw the latest McGreevey story, via Rondi, among others. Since I thought the guy was a parasitic jerk the moment the sentence “I am a gay American” fell from his mealy political mouth, I can’t say my estimation of him has changed. And luckily, since I’m not tortured by constant exposure to American cable yak shows, I’ve been spared seeing Dina Matos McGreevey ham it up for the camera about how hurt and betrayed she was. (This is not to say the hurt and feelings of betrayal aren’t sincere, only that a seasoned politician’s wife in the middle of negotiating a bitter divorce is naturally going to make sure her presentation of them is blocked, lighted, and cropped to present them in the fashion most flattering to her. The probability of her delivering an unstudied outpouring of emotion is vanishingly low.)

    As if the happy couple weren’t setting new lows for vulgar exhibitionism on their own, the former household staff has apparently now decided to join in. The information itself is pretty shrug-worthy–you can see people having threesomes on CSI: Miami at this point…though at least then, one of the participants usually ends up dead and thus incapable of yapping about it to the press years afterward.

    Anyway, it’s the reasoning behind this guy’s public statements that gets on my nerves:

    Mr Pedersen said he had only decided to come forward with his claims after seeing Mrs Matos McGreevey criticising Mr Spitzer’s behaviour on television.

    “It’s frustrating to hear her call Gov Spitzer a hypocrite when she’s out there being as dishonest as anyone could be about her own life,” he told the New York Post.

    “She’s framed herself as a victim – yet she was a willing participant. She had complete control over what happened in her relationship.”

    Is it now acceptable to air personal secrets, supposedly held in trust with other parties, just because one happens to feel “frustrated” with one of them? (Don’t answer that.) Ick. Not that one should be shedding any tears for James McGreevey, of course:

    However, Mr McGreevey, 50, insisted his former driver’s claims were true. He said in a statement that he and his wife needed to move forward in their relationship for the sake of their six-year-old daughter.

    Ah, yes. Nothing more salutary for the six-year-old daughter than to have Daddy appearing before the press to confirm that he and Mommy used to get naked with Driver on Friday nights.


    Posted by Sean at 09:23, March 17th, 2008

    This is an interesting weekend to have returned to Taiwan from Japan. On Thursday, Nobushige Takamizawa, the head of the Ministry of Defense’s Defense Policy Bureau, spoke more candidly than he was supposed to:

    In a highly unusual remark for a Japanese official, Nobushige Takamizawa, director general of the Defense Ministry’s defense policy bureau, said a contingency over Taiwan would be “a security matter for Japan.”

    “Because it would be a seriously significant matter for our country, the Self-Defense Forces would obviously step up their alert and surveillance activities before judging whether the contingency is happening in our so-called surrounding area,” he told a gathering of ruling party lawmakers.

    Of course, if you live in Asia, you get used to hearing over and over from Beijing that Taiwan is an internal matter internalmatterinternalmatterINTERNALmatter. That was the major reason that Minister of Defense Shigeru Ishiwa came before a press conference the next day to spray squid ink:

    He apologized that, “If his words were taken at face value, there are parts that would not preclude the possibility of misunderstanding,” he said by way of apology.

    Taiwan is being watched especially because of the elections to take place this Saturday. I haven’t followed politics here very closely–they’re covered pretty well by the Japanese press, since Taiwan lies within the geographical area surrounding Japan (not that that makes them significant to Japan, according to Defense Minister Ishiwa, of course). The two countries also have close ties economically. Japan notices when big things happen here. (Besides, politics can be amusingly rambunctious in Taiwan. The most interesting thing Japanese politicians do is yell and pull each other’s hair sometimes in the Diet.)

    They’re predicting a very high turnout for the election:

    Hundreds of thousands of people have taken part in rival political rallies across Taiwan.

    It was the last chance for big weekend rallies before the island votes for a new president on 22 March.

    The events – organised by the two main political parties – were also aimed at expressing public opposition to China’s anti-secession law.

    In its carefully-choreographed event, the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) asked people to gather at designated points and to walk anti-clockwise, highlighting the party’s campaign slogan to “Reverse the Tide” – to turn back their political fortunes and that of their candidate, who has been trailing in opinion polls.

    The party’s presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh, attacked his rival’s plan to establish a cross-strait common market with China, saying it could lead to job losses and other social problems.

    He said he and his party stood for the protection of Taiwan’s core values – which was important if the island was to avoid the fate of Tibet, which had seen peaceful protests violently put down by the Chinese military in recent days.

    I do my best not to take the word of my cab drivers as the voice of the representative citizen. But the consensus among both resident expats and Taiwanese friends I have is that, while Taiwanese voters are wary of handing the presidency to the DPP again, they’re also wary of handing it to the KMT, given the broad majority of its coalition in the legislature. The DPP, which pushes officially declared independence from the PRC vocally, was supposedly handing out “I love my country” T-shirts. (The reference was pointedly to Taiwan, not to the whole of China including the mainland.) And the DPP has pushed on worries about a flood of workers from the PRC into Taiwan if strictures on economic exchanges are loosened. Less than a week to go now before voting.


    Posted by Sean at 00:13, March 16th, 2008

    I’m returning to Taipei today, and my company has booked me on China Airlines; but that’s fine, since I don’t think CI has had a fatal incident for…hell, it must be six or so years. So we’re all cool! I just hope they remember to close all the doors before we take off.