Sunday, November 29, 2009

Front Row Center

at Armin Van Buuren.

No big deal.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I love puppy posses.

On Thursday morning we had a lecture at NCCU by Professor Chung-li Wu of the Institute of Political Science Academia Sinica on Taiwan Politics and Government. Professor Wu explained Taiwan’s Democratic Electoral System; it’s political parties, constitution, and the five branches of government. Professor Wu went into each branch (or Yuan) in depth: the Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Examination and Control. Professor Wu also discussed the major world organizations of which Taiwan is a member (including the WTO) and those that it is not recognized by (including the WHO) and the effect this has on government practice. Professor Wu finished his lecture by discussing the most recent major elections held.

Following this lecture, we went to the Taipei Municipal Muzha Vocational High School, headed by principal Chen-Huei Hsu. The school of 2000 students is one of only seven public vocational, and 30 senior high schools in Taipei. It has 162 teachers and 47 staff. The majority of students continue on to science and technology universities in Taiwan. Though traditionally vocational enrollment has been declining, with the economic recession Muzha Vocational High School has found its enrollment numbers rising, possibly because of the demand of vocational jobs. Tuition at the school is $10,000 TND per semester. After this brief information session and a campus tour, we were paired up with Muzha students for lunch and discussion.

This lunch was fairly awkward. Actually really awkward. But really, I guess no matter the language barriers, luncheons with 16 year olds surrounded by curious pre-teen onlookers is going to be awkward. Lunch was followed by a MASSIVE photo session, when conversation simply dissolved into a seeming competition between the students to see who could get the most photos taken with the foreigners. Our bus was actually stormed on the way out by people eager to get their photo taken with Barack Obama.

Thursday afternoon we visited two companies: Taiwan Mobile and Saab. Taiwan Mobile deals in phones, wireless communications and cable television and internet. The company boasts 6.25 million customers, a 30% cell phone market share, and $2.06 billion in revenue. Taiwan Mobile is now starting to enter the wireless repeater market in a push to replace landline phones. Taiwan Mobile’s parent company is the Fuban Group.

Saab is a car company based in Sweden and owned by General Motors. We visited Saab’s Taiwan headquarters for a look at how a foreign owned company operates in Taiwan. The facility we visited mainly did repair service. We had a chance to tour the facility and to ask questions. The manager talked with us about the current economic market and about the hiring and training process of employees – which are often directly sourced from vocational high schools in Taipei.

Thursday night I went with Anna and Isabelle to a vegetarian restaurant called Om Ah Hum. According to my guide, the "red toy poodle" claims all the attention at the restaurant. Little did we know, this meant a literal POSSE of TEN miniature poodles ALL in DIFFERENT OUTFITS. Usually clothed animals make me sad, but this was just too much cuteness. Too much. The one dressed as a piggy may have peed on Isabelle. I am possibly in love with the one dressed in plaid. They were often found sleeping in piles of cuteness, or riding around in the POCKETS of the owner's APRON.

After dinner (which was insanely delicious) we went night-marketing (oh my God, again) and got fun clothes. The night market near Taida is much more bohemian and cutesy than the others. I wish we had had more time to spend there. We eventually ended up at a coffee shop till 2am. I love, love, love that coffee shop culture exists in Taiwan. It's one of the main things I miss in Shanghai, and a huge impetus for considering moving here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Of Milkshakes and Tea Meals (a side of Government)

Tuesday morning we went back to NCCU for lectures etc. In the morning we had a lecture on environment and community development. I had been hoping for a look at Taiwan's environmental policy, but instead it turned out to be a case study on some village where the fish were threatened and what they did about it. It was interesting, but not necessarily what I was hoping to learn about.

Tuesday afternoon we were able to attend a session of the Legislative Yuan where we witnessed some of a debate on legalizing U.S. beef imports. Following this audit, we met with a representative from the KMT and the DPP, Taiwan’s two major political parties. First we met with Yun-Kuang Kuo, Director of the KMT Department of Overseas Affairs. Mr. Kuo gave an overview of the KMT party and answered questions students posed on politics in Taiwan. These questions included both KMT-specific questions (such as the party’s official stance on various issues) and general Taiwan questions (such as with whom Taiwan maintains formal diplomatic relations). Students also inquired, and received answers to, Mr. Kuo’s personal opinions on what is needed in government reform, the presence of lobbies in the legislative debate, the current economic situation, and the path towards normalizing relations with Mainland China.

Next we met with Representative Wong of the DPP. Representative Wong is a second term legislator and a former women’s rights activist. Our session with Representative Wong was also run in a question and answer format, and because of her background, much of the initial discussion centered around women’s issues in Taiwan. Representative Wong also discussed political and inter-party corruption, major accomplishments of the DPP during their years of majority rule, the DPP stance on Taiwan-China relations and the future goals of the party.

Tuesday night I went with some NCCU students, Anna, Isabelle, Shaun and Jose out for a life-changing meal and some more night-marketing. We went to Kiwi Burger, a New Zealand burger place that makes amazing veggie burgers. It was arguably my first real Western meal since August, and it was amazing. There was goat cheese. And fries. And cranberries. And I got a MASSIVE milkshake. So fat and heavenly.

On Wednesday morning we had the opportunity to visit the National Palace Museum. At the museum we saw various works of Chinese history, dating from prehistoric times to the Qing dynasty. These included works (mostly statue, vessel and tool) made of bronze, jade, porcelain and ivory.

The museum was so, so so crowded though. No one was really able to enjoy anything because you were constantly being shuffled about by bajillions of people. It was hard to hear our tour guide and difficult to stay at any one exhibit longer than about five seconds. I wish we had a longer amount of time, and less crowding to contend with.

For lunch Crystal took us to a restaurant where everything was made out of tea. Cool concept. I had bubble tea (of course), green tea dumplings, and Stephen, Isabelle and I split waffles made from tea for dessert.

After lunch, Amanda, Stephen, Ann, Shaun and I went to the hot springs at Beitou. It was an awkward experience. I was, of course, the only person in a two piece. We were collectively the only white people and the only people under 60. There were 6 pools. One freezing, one kind of freezing, one lukewarm, one warm, one hot, and one scalding. You were supposed to start cold and work your way up. Success, although I couldn't stay at either extreme for longer than 15 seconds. I'm pretty sure I may have experienced actual burns in the top pool, and my lungs were cold 5 hours later from the cold one. My lungs.

Then we went to Danshui, a port town just north of Taipei. We checked out the night market, and sampled a bunch of snacks. Some delicious (kale filled dough thingies), some foul (wind dried, unknown bird eggs). The meat eaters had the danshui specialty: tofu wrapped around noodles and clams. We took a water taxi up to the Lover's Bridge, and I later met up with Anna and Isabelle for some more shopping and Sassy delights.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mondays in Taipei

On Monday morning we had a lecture at NCCU by professor Chen-shen Yen entitled Taiwan Religion and Culture. It turned out to be really interesting, but I do wish it had more to do with religion. Professor Yen’s lecture was an excellent introduction to our trip as he gave a good overview of he ethnic, linguistic and religious makeup of the island before delving further into his topic. Professor Yen also covered identity issues faced by Taiwanese populations: Zhangzhou versus Quanzhou, Minnan versus Hakka, Han versus Indigenous, Ming (Han) versus Qing (Manchu), Chinese versus Japanese, Taiwanese versus Mainland, Taiwanese versus Chinese, and Taiwanese Chinese versus Chinese Taiwanese. Next, the professor discussed the various theories of Taiwan’s origin. These theories fall into three camps: Southern (Taiwan), Northern (China) and Austronesian (Australia and Indonesia).

Aside from the ethnic population divides discussed earlier, Professor Yen also went over cultural and religious cleavages including: ethnic versus sub-ethnic, linguistic cleavages, regional cleavages (East versus West), religious identity, and vertical versus horizontal class cleavages. Finally, Professor Yen ended his lecture with a discussion on Taiwan’s relationship with Mainland China, and the possibility of reunification, with an emphasis on the ramifications on Taiwanese identity.

Then we had a quick tour of campus. The capus was really nice and the weather was gorgeous. They had a ton of fabulous amenities and a bunch of the buildings are built into the surrounding hills. It's metro accessible, but it's way on the edge of town so you can go for hikes and walk along the river, and from several academic buildings there's a wonderful view of the city.

On Monday afternoon we had a lecture at NCCU by professor Yih-Chyi Chuang on The Economic Development of Taiwan, which was intersting and the professor was great, but I will never be totally fascinated by a subject that always leaves me feeling so lost. The lecture began with some data on population, imports and exports, land use and industrialization of the island. Professor Chuang touched on the narrowing wealth divide between rural and urban incomes, the structural change brought on by rapid industrialization, and the recently growing unemployment rate.

Next, professor Chuang discussed some important historical economic policies. These included: the 1953 Land to the Tiller program, the 1949 Compulsory Rent Reduction act, the 1951 movement to sell public land to tenants, the 1960s outward oriented development policies, the 1968 implementation of Export Processing Zones (EPZs), the 1979 development of research and development institutes and industrial and science parks, and the 10 major infrastructure construction projects of the 1970s.

After a discussion on Taiwan’s export partners and markets, including its largest – China – Professor Chuang ended his lecture with a set of goals he felt the Taiwanese economy was now faced with. The first is to normalize relations with China, and the second to expand Taiwan’s economic cooperation with other countries.

I did have an opportunity to duck out in the middle of the lecutre for a bit to meet with the head of GW's study abroad office who coincidentally happened to be in town checking out the school for a future exchange program on the same day that I was there.

On Monday I also asked out host at NCCU - the dean of the OIC International Affairs School - about graduate school. They offer a few programs in English that really interest me - various Asian studies degrees, cross strait relations, Masters in IA, etc. Also, a masters here is extremely cheap, and the government is offering substantial scholarships to foreigners for next fall/academic year. If I can figure out if the program is internationally recognized, I'll be looking into it further.

Monday night, Darci, Ann, Anna, Isabelle and myself, along with some NCCU students, went out to the night markets. It was raining, which blew, but we saw a bunch of shops and got to try a bunch of interesting snacks. We visited Shida and Taida, and tested noodles, tire cookies, brown sugar bubble tea (omg so good) and began out ongoing addiction with a spectacular store called Sassy.

After we got back, Anna and I went out again in search of a mysterious night market that was apparently all delicious food. We walked for about 500 hours, epically failed and got wet feet, but did come out successful re: deep fried taro balls. Picked up some beer and watched what became out new favorite show: Role Play Queen. After dark, or maybe all day - we've only watched TV at night, channel 85 and 88 became softcore porn. From midnight to 1 AM is Dancing Queen - an upskirt camera dancing show. It's as awkward as it sounds. Then, at 1:30, Role Playing Queen comes on. I think the two shows are linked as some sort of variety show. Role Playing Queen begins with the host dressed as a nazi marching girls dressed as sexy soldiers around. Then he dances and juggles a blow up doll, then we cut to the store. Each night the girls don a different costume which progressively comes off during the show as they complete various variety show tasks. Anna and I have become committed to the drama of teh show - you can call in and vote for your favorite girl - and we're rooting for "sexy cat."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Taiwan I: Salad Ice Cream

Getting to Taiwan from China is a bit weird, because it’s a quasi-international flight. Obviously China and Taiwan have differed views of Taiwanese sovereignty. We took off out of the domestic terminal in Shanghai, but we had to go through customs. We landed in the international terminal in Taipei, but though we went through customs, we didn’t have to fill out any declaration forms. We ere checked for swine flu and there was a produce sniffing dog, though.

We were met at the luggage claim by our hosts from NCCU and then changed money and bought SIM cards. The situation is so “one country” that you can’t change RMB to TND in the mainland, so we had to do it here. And the Chinese cell phones don’t work. And it was way complicated for the Chinese nationals to get permits to come here. Nuts.

Then we checked into our hotel and went to dinner. This city has a great vibe. Laid back, modern, stylish. I know that sounds contradictory, but whatever. People have been so friendly – the restaurant gave us gifts when they heard it was our first time in Taiwan. They also devised a special, and beautifully presented, menu for me, even though we ate at a steakhouse. For desert I had vanilla ice cream in a chocolate bag. Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds, but no, it wasn’t Chinglish as suspected. This is a salad:

Unfortunately, I’m a bit too full now to go out snacking. Huge disappointment as all of my research tells of Taiwan being a nation of night markets and xiaochi. And you know how I feel about eating my way through ravel. Food + travel – culinary tourism as the secret to happiness.

So, while I’m disappointed at missing Obama’s visit, and challenged by the traditional characters, I’m really optimistic for this week and this city.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mmm Cake

Sometimes you have to get creative in China.

And make cake in a camp stove.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Just Some Taiwan Anticipation

Two weekends ago it was Halloween - what did you dress up as? I toyed with the idea of going as blackmail (wearing black and postage stamps) or stealing the classic Megan and going as gum-under-shoe (all pink with a shoe tied on my head), but ended up being distracted by other matters and copping out, going as a nudist on strike.

The day before Halloween I made a last minute decision to go to Hangzhou (杭州) for the weekend. I needed to get out of Shanghai (those of you who knew Mason - RIP - understand. I've been pretty torn up for the last week), and have been meaning to visit my friend Drue there for some time anyhow.

Hangzhou is beautiful, and certainly doesn't seem like a city (or by China standards, small town) of around 7 million. It takes about two hours to reach the city from Shanghai by bus. I took a sketchy van/bus/面包车 which was cheap and oh-so-legitimate. My fellow passengers were quite nice; I befriended the other young girl in the back row and someone even produced After 8 mints!

While I'm not sure that Hangzhou is truly is a cross between Lake Geneva and Aspen, it did have lovely parks and the lake was pretty remarkable. I highly recommend renting a boat for a few hours. Also, next time I go I'm for sure spending at least one night in one of the "vacation huts" along the shores.

Drue and his friends were lovely hosts and I had a great time. We visited a bar where one of their friends had his debut DJ event, carved pumpkins, met some Russians, and played some good old American drinking games at Zhi Da.

This past week has been relatively uneventful. A little bit of class, a little bit of actual work. I am however fully engrossed in planning for Taiwan!! We leave next week Sunday. It should be a pretty excellent time. If anyone has ever been to Taipei (台北) and has some suggestions, I would absolutely love to hear them.

Hope all is well with everyone.


P.S. I forgot: this week I rode go-karts in China. It was surreal.