Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sunday arboretum

A few weekends ago Andrea and I went for a Sunday drive (or scoot) off into the somewhat hinter-lands to the north-east of Tainan. We hadn't planned to go any where (intentional separation of "any" and "where") in particular but were just looking to get away from Tainan and hopefully find some nice greenery. Living in Tainan, it can take a while to get to anything like a natural, forested area.

What we did eventually find was an arboretum of sorts.

From Arboretum, Origin: 1830–40; < class="ital-inline">arborētum a plantation of trees, equiv. to arbor tree + -ētum suffix denoting place where a given plant grows.
Sometimes we both feel the lack of hills and forests as we spend most of our time living in Tainan which is flat and lacking in significant areas of natural forest of bushland. Perhaps it's just us, both being from small towns with the forest close by, but sometimes you just need to be surrounded by trees in a natural landscape. It's good for the soul. I read a book called The Power of Place by Winnifred Gallagher and I remember that she cited research conducted in different cultures and countries aimed at investigating what kind of landscape people are most comfortable and happy in. It seemed to be universally true that what everyone needed was blue skies, green belts, and a bit of water. And now let's see how close my paraphrase was to the actual point she was making.

From The Power of Place by Winnifred Gallagher: Research shows that people in many different cultures have what looks like an innate preference for landscapes made up of a meadow, some woods, and a body of water - in short, the African savannah where we evolved.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

On an island of many names: Xiao Liouciou, part 2

We eventually found the Hsiao Liouciou Ecological Camping Area. There it lay below us, between the cliffs and the sea, idyllic in all its ecological grandeur.

(picture from )

Actually I don't know what makes it ecological. Perhaps the use of the term in this context derives from a meaning of the word that I am not familiar with. However, the cabins did look very nice and the views were fantastic. The cost of renting a bicycle from the campsite, however, was prohibitive and so we deferred that course of action until a more reasonable offer presented itself. We were limited to purely pedal means of transportation, for example: walking, loping, striding, running, jogging, etc.

The ecological camp provided all the camping gear, which was fantastically, but not surprisingly, terribly convenient. The cost was middling verging on steep but the convenience this option afforded us when compared to what we would have gone through to bring our own gear made the financial sacrifice worthwhile.

Here I am, able to claim transient ownership of this wonderful piece of coastal real estate with genuine ocean views and breezes. Lovely.

Once the tent was up and our belongings organised, we began the long trek back towards the harbour with a view to being able to claim transient ownership of a wonderful piece of mechanised transportation. We ended up renting a scooter from a woman at the harbour, probably the same woman who tried to rent one to us as soon as we walked off the ferry.

This is a good time to provide a little more information about Xiao Liouciou (from the Dapeng Bay website: ):

Liouciou island as a result of the northwest orogenesis occurred in Taiwan is the only island nearby with the coral reef terrain. And being affected by Japan Current influence in Pacific Ocean, the ocean water around is limpid and the fishing production is rich. The total area is 6.8 square kilometers and all the scenery spots are all in line on the island-round road. Water and electricity are transmitted from Taiwan by water pipe and the electric cable on the seabed.
As a coral reef terrain island Liouciou has all the advantages of the marine resource. To experience the fishing village life with unique scenery, pure sea, rich seabed landscape as well as exciting surfing activity is fantastic for all the visitors.
The sea was indeed relatively "pure" and "limpid" in contrast to the dirty, garbage-ridden beach we were used to in An-ping.

Here's Andrea enjoying just being here. We realised once we were half-way back to the sand that we were walking on little starfish for which evolution had chosen an unassuming, black, mossy appearance. Incidental for us; unfortunate for the starfish.

Rocky cliffs. By the sea. Nice.

Rocky grottoes. By the sea. Nice.

Cage aquaculture. ... I guess that's nice too. While checking out what Wikipedia had to say about cage aquaculture, I stumbled upon the fact that off the coast of Newfoundland lies "Dildo Island". Interesting.

Andrea enjoys ocean views Tainanians (people who live in Tainan) can only dream of. In the background another bus-load of mainland-Taiwanese tourists discover the coastal pagoda. We chose not to be in the same place as the other tourists at the same time as them. It was much quieter and nicer.

A little bit more about the island, this time from Wikipedia (

There are no rivers on the island, and farming is very difficult. Most residents make their living by fishing, and in recent years the island has become noted for cage aquaculture. Efforts for planned development received a boost after the island was included in the Tapeng Bay National Scenic Area in 2004. Some of the best known local sights include Black Ghost Cave, Beautiful Maiden Cave, Houshih Rock Formations, and Venice Beach.

We never did get around to checking out Black Ghost Cave but upon returning to Tainan and my beloved internet connection, I found this slightly disconcerting article about the history of the place and the island in the online X-Pat Magazine ( ). In short it appears from the article that the island was cleared of its original aboriginal inhabitants by Dutch forces. I don't know if this act counts as genocidal but it's pretty horrible. Hundreds of women and children burned in a cave? The remaining aboriginal males enslaved in Batavia? The female survivors sent to the mainland to serve as concubines for Dutch officers? You'll have to read it for yourself. It is a dark ending to a weekend away on a tropical island for two burned-out teachers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On an island of many names: Xiao Liouciou, part 1

Samagi. Little Liouciou. Xiǎo Liúqiú. Hsiao Liu-ch'iu. Lamay Island. Golden Lion Island. That's six different names for an island that covers an area of just under seven square kilometres. That works out at almost one name per square kilometre!

From Wikipedia:
It has an area of 6.8 km² and a population of over 14,500 residents in 8 villages. It lies 15 km (8 nautical miles) west of Tungkang and it is Taiwan's only coral island.
Anyway, this pretty little island was where Andrea and I spent two days after my brother left. Jamie left in the middle of the second week and I faced the prospect of returning to work on the following Monday. Andrea and I decided to leave for Xiao Liouciou on Friday night and return on Sunday afternoon.

After Andrea finished work on the Friday we caught the local city bus that stops outside our apartment building into the city and alighted close to the central train station. From there we caught a bus to Kaohsiung and then another bus to the town of Donggang further down the coast. After walking quite a distance in search of a hotel we decided to return to a place we had passed by an hour earlier. It was a little expensive but came with a buffet breakfast. Our options were few and our feet sore and so we resigned ourselves to paying more than we would have liked for luxuries we didn't need or didn't have time for (e.g., air-conditioning, flat screen television, refrigerator, etc).

We were up and eating the buffet breakfast early the next morning so that we could catch the first ferry of the day to the island. At about 7am the ferry departed from the less-than-stimulating town of Donggang and we sat back to enjoy the short ride to the prospect of sunny Xiao Liouciou. Well, to be honest we didn't sit down much. It was nicer outside on deck despite the ceiling being a little too low for me to stand properly upright.

I spent most of the journey either sitting on a steel rail or standing beneath an area of the ceiling that was a little higher than the rest of the ceiling. You can see the recess in the ceiling in the photo above, just to the right of my head. I did, however, get the opportunity to talk to a man who told me that he had worked in Australia at some kind of ship-building yard. Obviously an avid conversationalist, he kept me amused, perhaps bemused, for most of the journey to the island with his inscrutable talk of building ships in Australia.

Here he is explaining the laws of the sea to me. The furrow on my brow indicates not doubt or confusion but awe and wonder at this man's grasp of nautical knowledge. Maybe.

The trip was mercifully short and my conversation with the old sea dog was cut short by our impending arrival at the Xiao Liouciou terminal.

Here's Andrea posing in front of the terminal itself. It was a beautiful day to be on an island. It was a beautiful day to be anywhere.

Another view of the harbour, this time of the harbourfront townscape. Strangely, the place felt a little like an Italian seaside town. Strangely, I was able to feel this strongly about this without having ever been to Italy, much less to any Italian seaside towns.

So here we were on Xiao Liouciou. This is a good time for a bit of exposition copied from the Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area website ( click here to explore the glossy side of Xiao Liouciou). Dapeng Bay is one of thirteen National Scenic Areas in Taiwan. I think the designation gives those places a status lower than National Park but still offers some protection.
Liouciou is originally named Samagi. It's history can trace back to 1775 AD (Qian-long year 20, Qing Dynasty), when Mr. Lee Yue reached the island from his hometown at today's Kaohsiung Port (of Fu-jian province, Mainland China then). The first time ancestor Lee stepped on the land was to take shelter from the storms. After scrupulous adventure, however, he found the place inhabitable for its copious catch of fish and nice weather. Taking advantage of its natural resources, Lee called about 20 Lee families to migrate overseas here and started their living by fishery. For being separated from the motherland Taiwan, this island to the Lees was just like a ball drifting on the sea, from which Liouciou (drifting ball) was named. To tell Liouciou from Okinawa, Japan, which pronunciation is the same as Liouciou in Chinese, people here is used to calling it Little Liouciou.
Yeah okay. We'll talk about the island's darker side a bit later.

Our first move on the island was to find our accommodation which we had reserved several days earlier. We had decided in advance to stay at the catchy-sounding Hsiao Liouciou Ecological Camping Area. Luckily we had a map of the island with us. It looked something like this:
(Image copied from here)

You can see the camping area marked on the map on the west coast of the island. It didn't look very far away and we knew the island was tiny anyway. Walking to the camp site seemed like a good idea and we had been told that we would be able to rent bicycles there. And so we walked. For an island that looked so small on paper it took us an awfully long time to get anywhere. It was also uphill away from the harbour and the sun that had been helping to set the idyllic island scene suddenly seemed to be beating down on us with a vengeance creating a slightly stifling air without a breeze to cool us. We stopped close to the top of a rise while Andrea inspected the beads of sweat forming on her legs.

Eventually we did manage to find our way to the camp site, panting and needing immediate refreshment.

(To be continued...)

Quote regarding the possessive 's'

I love this quote from the Chicago Manual of Style which is apparently the guide to punctuation and grammar followed by most book publishers.

How to form the possessive of polysyllabic personal names ending with the sound of "s" or "z" probably occasions more dissension among writers and editors than any other orthographic matter open to disagreement.
I happen to be rereading The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and this quote sounds like something I just read in that book. Funny.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mundane continuity

Today, just a smattering of the thoughts which are currently on my mind.

I haven't written here for almost two weeks. I'm taking a little break after getting through the "My brother comes to Taiwan" series. And what now is the current hot topic in my life?

... to hospital ...
... to the hospital ...

What a dilemma! I have become aware in my time overseas that being in the position of teaching English as a second language and living overseas amongst ESL speakers, my own command of old mother tongue is prone to decay and distortion. It is common among people living overseas, especially those employed in the English-teaching profession, that we start to question hitherto automatic grammatical and linguistic contrivances that we have never had to think about before. It also seems to be common that their own English gets progressively worse while that of their students gets better (you have to hope so anyway). Yesterday somewhere in the middle of conversation (should that be "... a conversation ..."?) I uttered the construction "to hospital" to which Andrea reacted to by pointing out that I had officially joined the ranks of the English-impaired ex-pat. This was a state of affairs that I had long feared, as others might fear the four horsemen of apocalypse (probably "the apocalypse") as a sign of impending ... uh ... impending apocalypse.

Sometimes you will be speaking or thinking along nicely when all of a sudden your train of linguistic thought grinds to a halt as you reflect, possibly for the first time in your life, on the meaning or grammatical integrity of a particular phrase or sentence you have just uttered or thought. I find that I can usually apply a little reasoning or recall to the prickly problem and resolve it quickly. But in the case of "to hospital" I was genuinely stumped for the first time and a little bit concerned that I had finally lost it and there would follow seven years of grammatical plague with metaphorical rains of frogs and rivers running with red ink. Yea, my written tradition was bordered by a dark and confusing border of ominous and brooding cloud.

Now, the internet is a wonderful contrivance. I have just now been able to check on the veracity of hospital used with and without a definite article or determiner (by which I mean "the" or "a"). It seems to come down to regional differences, for which I am hugely relived and feel some kind of vindication. The omission of a determiner before some nouns is probably more common than you might think. Here are a few more examples:

to school
to market
to college
on television
in prison
at college
on vacation
in line

So I can relax and continue to say "go to hospital" if I am sick or "Go directly to jail" if I am playing Monopoly. But I still refuse to accept that "healthful" is a real word even though I have heard it many times in the past few years.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My brother Jamie comes to Taiwan; Taipei

Taipei. 2 brothers. 2 days. Too much to see and do. Taipei. City of light. City of pollution. Big city. Fast city. Glass and steel city. Hop on Pop city. And I quote from that most incorruptible and incontrovertible opus, wholly meritorious and estimable chef d'oeuvre, and literary incandescence:

We like to hop.
We like to hop on top of Pop.
You must not hop on Pop.
Mr. Brown upside down
Pup up.
Brown down.
Pup is down.
Where is Brown?

There is Brown!
Brown downtown.
Fun at Taipei 101.
Brown at 101 downtown.
Now this non-limerick is done.

Phew! Rhyming that much is hard work. Back to some regular prose. Look at those! Robots. Lots and lots. I've lost the plot(s). Gundam is a popular Japanese animation/comic-book franchise that has been snowballing since 1979 when the TV series Mobile Suit Gundam was first shown on TV. A block away from the hotel in which we stayed in Taipei we found this shop which sold Gundam... stuff. Lots of... stuff. I had to get a photo of my brother standing next to the human-sized version.

After climbing to the top of a hill in Shilin, we were rewarded for our effort with this view of the Taipei cityscape. The Danshui River is bordered by green parklands and the traffic teems along the roads. The Taipei 101 rises above the morass of concrete and glass like a giant stalk of bamboo. And on top of everything, a HEAVY BLANKET OF SMOG. Yuck!

After making our way down the hill in the gathering gloom we wandered along to the Shilin Night Markets. I was impressed by how the market went on and on, and on. And on. And in different sections. It's quite big.

The shot of Jamie with which I will end this photologue: Jamie standing in front of the Paris Hilton store in Taipei. I can't say that we planned it this way but it was just too good an opportunity to miss. I wish that I could say we went in and looked around but
a) I didn't want to go in because I wasn't interested in any of the products on display.
b) I didn't want to go in because I probably couldn't afford any of the products on display.
c) I don't like Paris Hilton much.
Actually those weren't very good reasons but they gave me an excuse to construct an alphabetised list, something which I like doing.

Early the next morning we caught a shuttle bus to the airport. I think we caught the bus at about 5am. Outside the bus station a taxi driver offered to take us to the airport for a low rate but perhaps out of habit I declined; it could have been a good deal. At the airport Jamie checked in and then we went downstairs to a restaurant where breakfast was being served. As usual I had trouble deciding on what to have and intended to choose the "western breakfast" up to the point where my order was taken whereupon I spontaneously requested the beef noodle soup. It turned out to be a good idea. Jamie wasn't really hungry because we had already eaten breakfast after we left the hotel. In that case I don't know how I managed to get through a huge bowl of noodles only a couple of hours later. Sometimes you're better off with the indigenous food (in this case, noodles) rather than an imitation of a foreign dish because you never know how it might be different.

As is the case with so many friends and relatives of those about to fly, my last sight of Jamie was as he walked through the gate towards the security checkpoint. Once he was gone there was no longer any reason to be in Taipei or the airport. I bought a ticket on a regular bus and was taken from one end of Taiwan almost to the other. I can't remember what I thought about. Perhaps I reflected on my relationship with my brother. Perhaps I thought about home, wherever that is. More than likely I was too tired to read but unable to sleep on the bus. And then I was home again. Home. It has been on my mind lately. The home I grew up in that no longer exists. The home that is my mother's house. The home that is my father's house. The home I share with Andrea. The home I might have with her in Canada, or Australia. Perhaps Australia is home. Perhaps Collie is home. Perhaps for a short while, for those nine or ten days that Jamie was here, this was a bit more like home.