Friday, August 29, 2008

My brother Jamie comes to Taiwan; Penghu pt.1: Tainan Airport

I haven't written for two weeks because I have been busy. Yesterday was my first day back at school after my two-week vacation. The vacation falls between the end of one academic year and the start of the next. The academic year in Taiwan and Korea starts in August or September whereas in Australia and New Zealand it starts in January or February. The difference seems to be a product of the seasonal difference between the northern and southern hemisphere.

Anyhow, many months ago my brother Jamie booked his time-off from his job so that his vacation time would coincide with mine and he came to stay with us here at the wonderful Music for Haydn complex. Of course we didn't just hang around Jyunping Road eating at the buffet restaurants and buying icecreams from 7-11; we took up the map and ventured forth into strange new worlds to discover what we knew not.

One of the places we went was Penghu island.

This map shows Penghu labelled as the Pescadores with the capital Ma-kung (or Magong, Makong, Magung). I chose this map because it includes part of the coast of Mainland China. You can also see Tainan, where we live.

(Image copied from

From Wikipedia: The Pescadores are an archipelago off the western coast of Taiwan in the Taiwan Strait consisting of 90 small islands covering an area of 141 square kilometers. They are administered as Penghu County, Taiwan Province, Republic of China.

To get to Penghu you can take a ferry or a plane. There had just been a close call with a typhoon and the ferry had been cancelled but the plane was still going to fly so we decided to fly there on Thursday and get the ferry back on Friday. This necessitated a trip to Tainan airport.

Tainan airport is a clean, modern facility with an air of homely intimacy about it, by which I mean that it is quite small for an airport. As a result of being small and not serving international flights, it fails to live up to the promise of larger airports. You can't expect the same luxuries and signs of decadence that you might find at Taipei international (okay, still small relative to other international airports but as big as it gets in Taiwan).

Yes, at Tainan airport there is a convenience store and a restaurant (kind of). Here is Jamie having a quick browse through the dried seafood section.

If you are hungry and want to eat before boarding the plane then you can either buy from the convenience store or sample one of the delights offered by the Frog Family Mexican Restaurant. We had time to spare and space in our stomachs and so we decided to try the "nachos". I don't know exactly what constitutes nachos but what we got was corn chips poured onto a plate, cheese of some kind sprinkled on top and then a quick zap in the microwave and *pow!* - nachos! The worst nachos I have ever had. Damn, if that is nachos then even I can cook great Mexican food. I liked the way that when we asked if we could get nachos, the girl on duty produced an open bag of Doritos from somewhere behind the counter and gave us a uncertain look. By the way, the beer paraphernalia scattered around the "restaurant" (counter with stools at which food was available) led my brother to thinking that he would be able to order a beer. However, the lake of yeasty, malty goodness proved to be a dry one; they don't have any beer.

Jamie browses through the Tainan Airport library corner. I think it would be fair to say that their collection is a bit thin: there are about five books on the shelf. It does look as though they envisaged something greater when they set up this area.

Upon exiting the main airport public space through the main glass doors towards the departure gate, the first thing you are met with is this beautiful garden. Every instance of flora here could be classed as an everlasting: they're all plastic.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

My three-three birthday

And thus it came to pass that in a country of ornate temples, maniacal drivers, and 7-11s, far from the place which he loved, Adrian Brown came to pass the mark of 33 for his age, and thenceforth called himself a thirty-three-year-old. And in the making of 33 there had been much ado about nothing much and everything. What meaning could be contrived in it and what bodings of the future did it entail? Know only that 33 is not much different from 32. But yea, he took it as an umbrage to his good face, a sore point thrust among the embers of his entrails, and thus came to wield his flashing sword among the unwary and faithless. And lo, a great battle ensued with the fell and wretched cretins of that place falling here and there by his blade, so keen his eyes were and so trained was his blade. It was a great day of reckoning, the deeds of which were sung in songs in long years after and with every flash of his sword the world became a changed place until we lived in a different world than that in which we had begun. Thus spake the seers of Ghanding who descry all that passes oer the minds of men and women.

Something like that. I have been reading Tolkien again.

The day is a fair one and the sweet breezes of this morning bring with them the promise of adventure, for we shall set out ere the day is old and travel to that most bountiful city on this isle, the place called Taipei. There we will enjoy our time without labour until the morn of Monday when we should venture out to the Korean embassy and apply for police checks as part of the application process to get spouse visas for our respective countries. Later on that day we will go to the airport where my brother will arrive and stay with us here in Taiwan for 10 days. Yay! I am now excited and am looking forward very much to seeing my brother.

O, I forgot to say that yesterday was the last day of the teaching semester at my school, quite an uncanny coincidence, allowing the day of my birthday to fall on the first day of my vacation.

Gotta go and make some calls.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Taiwanese English - Part 1

In Taiwan, as in many other Asian countries, there is a real drive to learn to speak English. I should qualify that by saying that Taiwanese children are driven by their parents to learn to speak English. The acquisition of English as a second language is seen as an investment in the child's future and parents are keen to make this investment in what is a competitive job market and will probably still be a competitive job market in the future when their children are old enough to be looking for jobs. There are English schools everywhere just as there is English everywhere. But it doesn't take long to realise that while the ability to communicate in the English language is a thing most desired, the English that is plastered on t-shirts, sign-boards, packaging, vehicles, etc. often leaves much to be desired. This then is a small collection of some examples of English employed with more exertion than expertise.

O the irony.

I know what they meant but it doesn't sound good.
Love Baby Preschool Pudding Burger American School? Really?

I'm not sure how this one came about. I suspect that whoever devised this business name has some idea of the meaning of the word but little idea of how offensive it could be to the ears of a native speaker. It's funny how Chinese swear-words don't seem to hit you in the 'guts' of your brain in the same way that English swear-words do. The relationship between swearing, the evocation of taboo concepts, and particular areas of the brain is a well-established one. There is even a medical term for uncontrollable and impulsive swearing, 'coprolalia' that is often a symptom of Tourette Syndrome and can be associated with certain kinds of brain injury. I don't think the individual responsible for naming this business was suffering any severe brain injury.

Motorcycle slogans deserve their own, dedicated category. Manufacturers do their best to come up with a slogan in English that conjures up images of the paradise on two wheels promised by the scooter to the prospective buyer. Going 50 - Move your creative heart!

Cabin - with fashionable feeling!

Party 50 - Flying Angel of Elegant, Nimble and Beautiful. At least they punctuated correctly.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mid-week mediocrity and Mongol invasions

It's Wednesday evening and I'm half-way through the week. During my lunchbreak (does that last word need to be hyphenated or can it stand as a compound noun?) I managed to watch a documentary about the mysterious disappearance of Kublai Khan's fleet off the Japanese coast during the attempted Mongol invasion of Japan. I had heard of this historical episode before and remembered something about a divine wind "Kami-kaze" destroying the Mongol fleet or blowing it away and out to sea. A quick precis of the explanation provided by the documentary Kublai Khan's Lost Fleet: The Mongol's did attempt to land on the coast of the Japanese island of Takeshima but were repelled by Samurai. The general in charge of the invasion was caught between a rock and a hard place, being unable to return to Japan in defeat but fearful of being slaughtered by the Japanese samurai, and so vacillated off shore somewhere until a couple of weeks later a typhoon came along and smashed most of the fleet. The Mongols/Chinese were the master ship-builders of the age and properly built ocean-going Chinese vessels would have withstood the typhoon. However, Kublai Khan had been hasty in his move to invasion and used many river-boats to build his invasion fleet. These river boats would have capsized in the rough seas. Also, the invasion armada was constructed in large part by conscripted (slave) labourers whose country had recently been hijacked by the Mongol invaders and so were none too keen to perform at their best by constructing good, solid warships with which the khan could further his ambitions of world conquest. They built shoddy ships of which many perished in the typhoon. The documentary followed the trail of evidence recruited by the principal investigator in support of the explanation for the fleet's disappearance. The explanation evolved over many, many years of research and marine archaeology.

Back in the real world, I am getting my class into shape for the graduation show on Sunday morning. Ho hum.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Life goes on

Andrea has been away in Canada for the last two-and-a-half weeks and she returned to Taiwan safe and sound on Saturday. I took a special shuttle bus to Kaohsiung airport to meet when she walked through those doors in the arrival section. Those doors are magical doors. They are the real barrier that separate the departed from the departee. The moment that the traveller walks through those doors is the moment that they rejoin the people in the country in which they have arrived. They are also the barrier beyond which freedom lies; freedom to do what you want in the country to which you have come.

I kept myself very busy while Andrea was away. I managed to get through the second book of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I managed to take care of a lot of little chores I had had on the back burner for a while.

Going back to work today was not easy. It felt as though I had also been away and was about to have my first day back at work after a long break. I was exceptionally tired on the weekend and managed to exhaust myself in the last three weeks at work and out of work.

I was going to ramble here about the (thus far) hypothetical relationship between the french word for goat, "chevre", and the English words "chevron" and Chevrolet. Apparently it has something to do with the shape of goats' hind-legs. The name of the motor company Chevrolet derives from its founder, Louis Chevrolet. The family name Chevrolet is supposedly either a corruption of the French "goats' milk" or roughly translates as "little mountain goat".

I found a website last night that made me happy. On this site you can watch over 600 documentaries. Strangely there are no or few ads and you don't have to register or install a special player or anything. It is almost too good to be true. And the site contains links to some very good documentaries. I saw "The Fog of War" listed there somewhere and I remember watching that one in the Luna Cinema in Perth many moons ago. Anyway, before bed I managed to squeeze in a filmed lecture about evolution and butterfly wing patterning with implications drawn to human evolution. I'm very happy to have so many documentaries to watch.

Work again tomorrow. *Sigh*