03 March 2014

Foundations for a New Virus

Sometimes it seems like we are about to transform into the undead. Life is fictional, and it is not. There is a saying - "work will set a person free"...and that must be the worst saying of all, for historical reasons, so let's never say it again.

Still, keeping busy is a motive to motivate, to stay alive, and not be undead. I love writing, and present these pictures. It's a mindset. Love is a mindset. The mindset is to respect the living, to respect life, to have reverence for the mysterious, so even the undead which are increasing in numbers is a mysterious thing; I stay alive by respecting.

02 March 2014

Thoughts Outside of a Vacuum?

There is nothing glorious, glamorous, or motivational about depression or anxiety. It doesn't reasonably serve as an excuse for anything, it just is. It is understandable that it is used as a reason. One should see the condition(s) of anxiety/depression as akin to a concrete wall, brick wall, or whatever kind of wall (but not paper or any other easily breakable material). It will not do to pretend that one can break it down. It isn't that easy. It isn't a figment of the imagination. It exists. The condition is partly social in nature, but it isn't only that. I am not even trying to write a riddle here, only to depict what it definitely is, and what it is not. It isn't like describing a face, a table, or a street. 
Work is one form of relief from the condition, but unfortunately, it is very difficult to accomplish the various forms of relief when one is alone. Is it good for the person who is ailing to constantly be among people, though? I wonder. Certainly, a lot of inspiration and relief can be found, particularly when one regularly interacts, face to face, with like-minded people who are friends, and who quickly become closer and closer as time goes by. 
Life is a riddle, and contemporary life is the worst riddle of all. It is part of what encompasses that terrible wall. Nobody interacts with any reasonable expectations of social meaning via telephone. The internet is even worse; in fact, the latter is one of the biggest culprits in banishing meaningful social interaction from the universe. I'm not saying that it's all gone, but people are suspicious, hateful, etc. of anyone who has anything real to say anymore. People are suspicious if you have any real opinions, or if you don't say anything that is not cliche. I'm not sure what else is to be said. I am glad I have said what I said in this post, though. To write is a good thing. To write words that are not part of the ephemeral landscape of Facebook, and not into the void of one's own Microsoft Word document or aything of that type does make me feel like I have accomplished an expression of meaningful intent. 
In part, being alone for a few hours, or for a day or so is helpful, and motivational, contrary to what I said earlier. I want to know how one can create thoughts outside of a vacuum. Did the world (not this earth, but the world at large) exist outside of this universe? Big bang or not, it didn't exist, I believe. Everything has always been here constantly here the whole time. That is why we dream things that will happen to us the next day or in the future. That is why we sometimes live the same day over and over again. We are all one and the same people. Scary thought. On the other hand, it is possible to attain freedom from the situation by realizing the lack of freedom one has. The reality is, we have small freedoms, and we can get those by simply knowing and acting. The fun is in analyzing the small details, sampling them, and testing them. 

24 February 2014

Vote for Hugo Drax, World President!

Hello again. It's been a long time. But here's a little return to my memory scrapbook, and scrap it is, although far from it be a book. Most blogs that I've followed in the past 10 years have had far more updates with far more pictures and words.
In the past two or three years, what have I been up to?
It's easier to keep my friends and acquaintances up to date with my life via Facebook, and for the past year and a half, my Samsung tablet has made that easier. The above picture of the renovated Miaoli Train Station is one example of a picture taken with that tablet. It has a pretty decent camera.
Another thing I've been doing is trying to get back into the idea of writing. Themes? I'm not sure, and I don't want to give too much away, so I'll simply let you free associate with a few TV shows and books that have gotten me obsessed with them, including The Following, Murakami's 1Q84, Anger Management, starring Charlie Sheen. As you see, my tastes really range all brows, from low to high, although I mostly despise such distinctions. That's a failing of mine.
Tonight I listened to Shirley Bassey's soundtrack theme, Moonraker. I like the villain of that movie, Hugo Drax. He's kind of kind of like Elon Musk/Richard Branson and some Ayn Rand heroes rolled into one. Sure, Drax's ambition is to poison the majority of the population of the world and replace it with his favored super-race, but I like how the beauty of the details he conceives of in the film, using exotic orchids for this purpose, and having his favored changelings live in a space-station for a period of time before returning to earth. After all, it seems almost like a welcome relief from the inane evil and banal horror that is today's world, where I constantly read of things that just defy...human sense, human compassion, and whatever else. An example I recently read about a woman who put her three month old kitten in a microwave as "punishment" for it attacking her goldfish. I felt emotionally sick about this story for days after.

If he ran for world President, I would vote for Hugo Drax and let him exterminate me and my fellow human beings. Just do it beautifully and expensively, damn it!

08 May 2012

Post-Midnight Ponderings

Feeling my mortality ebb and flow recently. It's the prospect of missing things, missing the right opportunity, of having burned a bridge somewhere back, yet never knowing if I could have stopped myself...
Does travel does this to you? It has, to a certain extent, done it to me. I would not say it is a state which results exclusively from travel, from emigrating away from one's own home country, or home city, for that matter. I used to feel a great deal of disruption when I lived in Montreal. After all, I came from Vancouver. Perhaps the less you fit it, the more the place takes you over. The more shattered and...identity split becomes inevitable. And no, nothing about any psychotic breakdowns (oh, sometimes that would seem a relief from the loneliness and worry about the future that I feel). No solid escapism for me, except from our domesticated Persian cats, Snowball and Icecream.

Japan has a lot of cat cafes like this one (called Cat Rain Cafe) in Danshui.

There is one in Hsinchu, and I suspect they are going to become gradually more and more popular in Taiwan. Cats take some getting used to for some people, especially, for, it seems, the Taiwanese, who prefer more demonstrative and straightforward animals.

26 February 2012

Paul Auster

I just finished reading Auster's Sunset Park. Like everything I've read by Auster thus far, I loved it.

One of the most impressive things about it is the fact that you have these recurrences, or motifs. Auster's work tends to have these, but the the motifs in Sunset Park are stronger.

One of these motifs is the movie, The Best Years of Our Lives. Auster has chosen this particular film because of its theme of post-war recovery, intergenerational misunderstanding and generational role reversals, male-female relationships (again, with misunderstanding, as well as hyper-detachment, and the essential and tragic reality of non-reconciliation), and hope, or the illusion of hope.

There is something about the writing of Haruki Murakami, as well, that conveys a similar feeling of having-been-there. Both Auster and Murakami have this. It is an eery feeling, based on narratives that allow accessibility without losing intelligence or detail. It is also based on pop-culture references, the ever-prevalent theme of soul searching (whether it is about finding one's manhood, womanhood, artistic identity, or even as in the case of Auster's Ellen and Bing, sexual identity as almost a niche personality.

Auster and Murakami are both writers of the Underground. I put this label on them not to declare that they belong to some subculture (both are highly popular and widely read novelists) but to refer to the actual scope of their imaginations. There is the continuous sense we have of something in their works, like an animal, a mole, say, burrowing between different people, different countries, different worlds, etc. In the end, these worlds, so strange to one another, become reconciled, not by becoming less strange, less surreal, less ambivalent, or anything like that; they come together by a simple terrifying magic, which these writers themselves create.

This magic is most terrifying and most preoccupying in Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It is not good enough to reduce it to a simplification of dreams bringing us together, or dreams being a magic carpet ride, or anything like that. It is not sufficient to conclude that the magic simply comes from The Writer, or The Reader, or The Story. It is far too simplistic to say that the well in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle's protagonist's back yard is that specific conduit to another world or other worlds. There is something more than that. It is the multiplication of coincidences - Jung said there are no coincidences, a fact of which I was recently reminded by my viewing of Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method. It is the darkness which is that place where we all meet. Not in dreams, but in darkness. All light is composed of different colours, but in darkness is where we all meet. Cosmology loses dimension. Human experience and personal travel crush the infiniteness of the universe. To get there is not quite the same as dreaming. It is a kind of meditation which is required.

It is, as I said, The Underground.

Postscript: I tend to resent readers who read books like 1Q84 or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or The Master and the Margarita or Cloud Atlas in one day, or three days, or even in less than one week. I don't believe such people are actually reading. Even those who take the time but then say frivolous things about the works are not actually reading. All these people - most people, most "readers" cheapen literature. To actually live the book, to have actually been there, because you've been there before is a remarkable meeting of minds between Reader and Writer. Real reading is rare.

I read. I love to read. This is why I say this, and this is why I wrote this. If you think this statement is a remark of arrogance, then so be it. I am not your man. If you think there might be something to this statement, and you are saying, "At last, someone has said this!" then welcome to my little part of the world. (I suspect, too, that e-readers/Kindles have not only cheapened literature but are, in addition, gradually spelling the death of it, and of the writer as a profession. I am not going to say this as a statement of fact though, but simply as a mere suspicion or foreboding).

21 February 2012

Shihtan Temple

Shihtan, one of my favourite places to go and eat and smell in Miaoli County. My favourite, at the market, is the small fried shrimp and fish (no deshelling needed, because they are so small) dipped in kumquat sauce. I would eat that every day, if I could.

10 January 2012

Previously Unposted Photos & Travel Commentary

This week feels sad to me. I don't know why. I wish my future was brighter, and I wish I could make the most of my skills, previous opportunities, my current knowledge, but there's a way forward...somewhere. I feel like I'm flailing helplessly for the way, knowing I'll never find it. One nice thing, though, is I've dispatched the deja vu I used to have into oblivion. It used to make me think I was onto something, but the deja vu was never really a cheerful or uplifting sense. If I had lived this life before, I only knew something ominous was ahead. At least, now, the only feeling I have is that I've taken my life into my own hands, for better or for worse - but probably for something in between.

My proudest moments, in some ways are my photographs and the reading (sadly insufficient) I've done. The first photo above, was taken on our way back from Ilan. I drove Sharon and I from Hsinchu to Ilan and then, the morning after the next, we drove back through Taipei, of course, which is why you see the Taipei 101 at dusk. We took our time coming back, stopping for juice, or stopping at an Italian restaurant in Keelung (actually pronounced Jeelung).

The two photos that follow Taipei 101 at sunset were taken in Banciao. There is a special rotating platform or elevator which you pay...basically, it costs an-arm-and-a-leg...at first I thought the Photoshopped photo of us as couples against the background of images you see when you are on the thing was included, but it isn't, so the deal isn't a good one. Still, I got a couple of nice photos from the platform, as you see below.

I have been careful to try and record unusual sights that one can see in my neighbourhood. I should probably include the sound trucks that usually blast political messages either from the KMT or the DPP, but I haven't and I probably won't, because other people have likely done that on YouTube. There is the neighbourhood cow, however, which doesn't show up very often in many neighbourhoods. This cow (which has recently been replaced by another, younger black one with long curly horns, mostly likely because the one you see here died). I suspect that it probably provides a family with milk and nothing more. Or maybe just a pet. Still, someone usually leaves it out to graze all along the kilometre-long road from my house to the highway here. I have never seen the owners. You can go very close to the cows. They won't hurt you (even the male ones). They don't even seem to notice strangers very much.
I like geometrically inclined shots, like the following. I don't know if call it geometrical is a fair assessment. It might be the visual suggestions in it or the apparent magic or contradictory appearances. Hands reaching out toe the sky. Or ocean overcome by clouds of ink. Anyway, I took the shot at a park called 19 Hectares Grasslands near my home.

There is a stray cat that was miaowing for food outside our house. It looks just like this one, which is actually a different stray that I saw in Baoshan. Asian shorthairs are smart, fast, strong, and sociable. They don't mind checking you out. This one did get bored of me taking pictures after a while though, and after about seven minutes, it left.  By the way, our stray...we wanted to take it in, but we ended up taking in another unwanted cat that someone else really wanted to give away. Which is almost a shame, considering the fact that the orange Asian shorthair (for whom we have since put out a box, blanket, and regular food and water) is much better natured, and gets along with Sharon (my fiance, not my cat) a lot better, to boot. Maybe in the future. As long as the Persian Chinchilla which we did adopt doesn't drive one of us crazy.

I regularly go to a cafe called The Melting Pot. This is where I took a picture from inside:

As you can see below, there is a grey building, which is actually a large block-encompassing prison for young offenders. I think I once drove my scooter past the other side of it during visiting hours, when the kids were coming back in and the parents leaving, and the guards overseeing it all. At least, something on that order was occurring.

On my way back from a solo trip to Ilan via scooter, I encountered this half-finished train station in the East end of Hsinchu City. This will probably be Zhuzhong Station or some such. It lies directly below, or south of, the easternmost stretch of the Science Park. It is an excellent idea that a train line is finally built between Hsinchu City and Zhudong. That way, people can visit Neiwan without having to take a bus (which takes a long time, particularly with the narrow mountain roads) or drive a car (tourist traps become intolerable when cars parked like sardines make any actual moving vehicle a source of anxiety, exaggerated or not).

By the way, I just managed to take some pictures of the finished station recently:

Aboriginal areas and aboriginal villages in Taiwan have a very distinctive look. They even paint the road furniture in the colours of their particular aboriginal tribe. In much of Hsinchu, Taoyuan, and Ilan county, I think the tribe is Attayal. Below is an aboriginal restaurant. The food is fresh, the staff/family owners are friendly...but the cost of the meal is prohibitively expensive. I ended up forking out NT$600 for my own lonesome self. Anyway, lesson learned, or not. I should ask, beforehand, what the prices are.

This is the family that owns the restaurant.
There is a distinctive bridge that, once you arrive at it, you know you are halfway to Ilan City. There's a lot of bicycling activity, if you're into that sort of thing, and a busy village that has at least one hostel which most likely caters to the cycling community. Silly me forgot the name of the town, and I just checked Google Maps, Street View, and it seems that every time I go to Google Maps for Taiwan, they have less and less information in English there. For example, what used to be Hsinchu North District and East District are now labelled as Bei District and Dong District. This is utter nonsense, no doubt perpetrated at the behest of some typical dunderhead in Taipei who thinks they know English and the non-Taiwanese or foreigner community, but doesn't really. Even local Taiwanese don't know and call their city areas Dong District, or even East District. At least, calling it East District would give a Western nomenclature to it (after all, you are writing the names in English, so why muddle names up into something that doesn't make any sense to anyone, really?).  
The above paintings, the tunnels and the art/designs in them, are next to the red bridge, which you also see in one of the photos below.

The representations, of course, are of the aboriginal tribe. I saw a lot of plastic peaches, and I think, persimmons. The real peaches they sell up there are delicious. I've had them.

One bridge is a driving bridge; the one I am taking the picture from is a pedestrian bridge for tourists to...well, take pictures of and from.
This is the town I mentioned. Sorry I am so terrible with names sometimes.

The advantage of living in Taiwan is that you don't have to spend hundreds of Canadian dollars to see the mountains or see the ocean. You just hop on your scooter, pay CAD$3.50 and drive for five hours to the other side of the island and immerse yourself in both mountainsides and sea scenery. Just bring a picnic lunch, or whatever, because mountain restaurants often charge a lot of money. Even cafes will sometimes charge NT$150 for a cup of coffee (and not even great coffee, at that).

Ilan is hot and vibrant at night. At least in the summer, when I sent there.
One of these days, I would like to drive all around the island. I will probably do that with my son, Jacob. It is my dream. Once I achieve that, a big item will have been checked off my bucket list.

03 December 2011

Book Review: Why China Will Never Rule the World

Why China Will Never Rule the World

To start with, I was really intrigued with Parfitt's book, even before it arrived in my mailbox. I first heard about this book on The Peking Duck, after which I checked out the link posted therein, where I found an interesting online interview with this author talking about his book.

The attitude of adventure found in this book is acerbic, not unlike chef/food critic/TV host/writer, Anthony Bourdain. In Bourdain's case, however, the acerbic wit isn't so organically embedded in his commentary. Bourdain, as much as I like him and find him entertaining, engages wit not so much as a result of his journeys, but as a condiment instead.

The great thing about Parfitt's more organic brand of wit (it certainly helps that Troy Parfitt is Canadian!) is the ability he enables in us to flip the bird at conventional stereotypes and Politically Correct motivations, lazy thinking, etc. etc. This is what is most needed, I should add, for commentary about China, particularly with the proliferation of pollyannaish commentary from the likes of Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist, and author of The World is Flat. We are starting to see less of the latter now that the 2008 Beijing Olympics have faded from view; cheerleading for China has become less trendy, to be replaced by other things, like environmentalism, if CNN's self-advertisements are anything to go by.

Parfitt's commentary, observations, experiences, and dialogue are all profoundly entertaining. While one of the drawbacks of this book is that it rarely engages direct commentary on its title (there are ten pages at most, if that, of actual direct discussion involving why China will never be anointed the kind of dominant superpower status the majority of commentators have been relishing), the countless array of anecdotes does give one the impression of a nation and a culture which is exceedingly dysfunctional. Examples of this include the top-down attempts to curb behaviour and manners by the government. One constantly sees signs, written in Chinese, and the supposed equivalent - but, usually bad - English proclaiming things like "No Striding," "No Tossing," "Please! A Civilized Train!" or at a zoo, "Wild Animals Are Not Food."

Bo Yang, author of  The Ugly Chinaman and the Crisis of Chinese Culture, and Lu Xun, author of A Madman's Diary and The True Story of Ah-Q are repeatedly invoked by Parfitt; this is a deliberate attempt to go against the grain of mainstream thought in Chinese-language culture. Yang represents an individualist approach to Chinese culture (in the way, I suppose, we have been taught that writers in the West are exceptional achievers/thinkers, etc.). On a side note, by invoking someone like Bo Yang, isn't Parfitt engaging in an almost meta-Chinese paradigm? Isn't he suggesting that the only way China could progress is being almost...non-Chinese, or a kind of Chinese in another dimension, like Bo Yang?

Bo Yang, however, has not been respected, even after-the-fact, after his exile, imprisonment, and ostracization, in the Republic of China's system. Bo Yang, whom Parfitt characterizes as an aberration who could have represented an alternative, sophisticated sortie or progressive conduit, has only been ignored and punished by the culture which he rubs, and rubs him, the wrong way. Yang is summed up in a number of interesting ways. A sample: Harmony in Chinese society? It doesn't exist, in reality! The only thing that so-called harmony actually applies to is the everyday rapport between superiors and inferiors.

Living in Taiwan as I do, and having read Parfitt's countless anecdotes about observations in China, I can concur with the idea that the Chinese idea of harmony is, as Yang claims, a fallacious and even fatuous idea. Parfitt continuously observes confrontations and arguments that take place in plain public view, be it in Beijing or on the airplane, for example (the latter example being when the author was challenged to move to another seat by a surly PRC soldier). As for my own experiences, you only need to take thirty minutes of time in a car on on a scooter during rush hour in Taiwan to see how the default mode is the opposite of commonsense.  I've lost count of how many thousands of times I have seen people drive their motor scooters and turn on their right turn signals and then turn left, and then keep their signals on for block after block after block. Don't get me started on triple or quadruple parking either....

The anti-Confucian appeal of Bo Yang is a salve for our own, and Parfitt's nonplussed reaction to the persistent lack of self-consciousness, self-awareness, or logic, endemic in China, or "the other China." Parfitt declares the importance of the Socratic method, to independently question, examine, understand, and objectively observe. Such a method is contrary to the Confucian paradigm, which demands things like filial piety, respect for one's elders, feudal ideas like fealty to one's superiors (bosses, kings, emperors, lords, etc.).

I myself recently read a particularly detestable passage in Confucius' Analects: "44. Yuan Jang (an old acquaintance of Confucius) was on one occasion squatting on his heels, and did not rise when Confucius passed by him. Confucius then said to him: 'When young, you had no respect for your elders, in manhood you have done nothing to distinguish yourself, and now you are dishonouring your old age, which is turning you into nothing but a rascal!' With that, Confucius lifted his staff and hit him on the shanks." We are making a serious mistake if we think that we can learn everything from a quarrelsome old character who goes around hitting people when he considers them lacking in what he considers virtues!

When Parfitt proclaims that "the ideas for reform espoused by Sun Yat-sen, Lu Xun, and Bo Yang provided the prospectus that China must adhere to if it ever hopes to become a truly great nation" and concludes that "the changes which are occurring presently are totally unrelated" he makes a truly thought-provoking statement. It's a real pity, however, that he doesn't follow it up or support it more with previous information. For example, the details given about Lu Xun and his works don't give us any idea about what Lu Xun's "ideas for reform" are. Rather, what we have are severe criticisms, in both Lu Xun's fictional accounts and Bo Yang's critical account of Chinese cultural proclivities. One truly wishes Parfitt has substantiated his claims, at least a little. Certainly, what he says about Sun Yat-sen is true. But he only writes such things about Sun Yat-sen's ideals much, much earlier in the book (almost seventy pages earlier!): "His objective was to overthrow the tyrannical, ham-handed, and hopelessly unprincipled Qing government and to replace it with a republic based on his newly devised political philosophy, the Three Principles of the People, often translated as nationalism, democracy, and the people's welfare or livelihood. Originally penned in English, the Three Principles of the People traces it's origins to Abraham Lincoln and his belief in a government '...of the people, by the people, and for the people....'" Parfitt later concludes his discussion of Dr. Sun by stating that no doubt, his "heart was in the right place" and, interestingly, in light of Parfitt's, and Bo Yang's own versions of pessimism: "Dr. Sun Yat-sen, Father of the Republic of China and Father of Chinese Democracy, wondered aloud more than once whether a democratic system was even viable in China. In his later years, he made statements to the effect that it might not suit the national character."

Most of Parfitt's experiences with "Chinese" culture originated from living in Taiwan. It might seem questionable to lump them together. M. Turton, over at the blog, The View From Taiwan, and Richard at the previous mentioned blog, The Peking Duck, have both mentioned this in their reviews. They are unjust, in a way, however. Certainly, Richard's criticism of this is more informed, especially as he has lived in both countries (among others cities in Taiwan and China, Richard lived lived in Taipei and Beijing). The particular meaning that Parfitt pursues regarding "Chinese culture" seems to be different from what his critics have in mind, however. Part of the problem is the apparently hastily put-together title: Why China Will Never Rule the World: Travels in the Two Chinas.

In this regard, we have a quandary. One the one hand, Parfitt has challenged us to conceive of China differently. On the other hand, this author hasn't editorialized enough about what exactly he means by "China," at least in any explicit form. Parfitt would do well, if he ever republishes the book, to scrap fifty pages or so of entertaining anecdotal reveries contained herein. Following this, he should lay out what idea of China, or Chinas, or "the Chinas," he has in mind. There also needs to be some sort of groundwork laid out in reference to the falsity of an emerging China being anything resembling a superpower, a ruling hegemonic state, or what have you. As I said, he almost does this in the few pages that end the section about what we can call, based on Parfitt's historical/literary/political perception of China, the Mao version of China (as opposed to the Chiang Kai-shek version of China which has taken place of the apparent tabula rasa of Taiwan.

The immensity of the book is breathtaking. I confess that I am surprised how uninteresting Parfitt found Harbin. The historical reflections on Tibet (Parfitt shatters a lot of myths propagated by Free Tibet types), Chongqing (the center of gravity for Chiang Kai-shek and his forces), and Shandong (home to the rebellious so-called Spirit Boxers) are intriguing and eye-opening. The chaotic nature of Chinese history greatly contrasts with other histories, for instance, Egyptian history (towards which much of Western history owes its genealogy, particularly via Alexander the Great. While there have been chaotic periods in Egyptian history, there have also been remarkable periods of calm, unity, and progress, as seen in some of the Mamluk period, or during the Ottoman Empire, for example. Chinese history, on the other hand, astonishes one with how few periods of calm there have been, and how much repression has been the driving force throughout its history.

As an alternative "China," Parfitt sees Taiwan, via the Republic of China, as little better. Foundering on the same chaotic, yet authoritarian bases, the smaller version at first appears to imitate Western models, with its democratic elections, friendlier and less confrontational outlook, but when looked at more closely, Taiwan/ROC is seen as muddling in the same Confucian, inward-looking paradigm. Just like in China, where foreign tourists are perpetually pointed at and ridiculed by children and adults alike, we see the same thing in Taiwan, particularly in more provincial areas, like Jinmen. I can confirm that similar experiences can be had in places like Fengyuan, Taichung or Miaoli City, Miaoli County. In Taipei or Hsinchu City, people are a little bit more educated and worldly-wise because foreigners are a much more common sight in the such places.

This is a fine book. For the most part, I agree with Troy Parfitt's conclusions. However, the statement put forth in the press kit for this book, stating that China's top-down way of doing things is incompatible with the Western way of doing things is unfortunately wrong, at least in a number of ways. You only have to look at what is happening in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom - particularly the latter two countries - to see the sad fact that many of our governments are apparently imitating totalitarian states. I am not merely speaking of CCTV cameras installed on the streets. That is merely cosmetic, all things considered. More and more laws are being passed regarding what we can or cannot say, regarding how much more about our private lives that the government can peer into, etc. Lawmakers have even expressed desires to outlaw people from wearing MP3 players when they cross the streets! Our governments tax us ever more heavily and our taxes go to repressing us even more - and we have to work even more hours to pay off the debts we owe, and to make up for what we lose in taxes. This may not be a Chinese thing, nor even an Asian thing. Top down rules, heavy taxation and repression are not merely the trademarks of Chinese culture. The money that Western governments owe countries like China does have an impact, however. China's restriction on foreign media in China, and what it can say about Chinese interests are elements that have an impact. These are things that Parfitt doesn't go into in his book. Mentioning this doesn't help support his thesis that China will never rule the world. Such things, however, do show, that we are getting dangerously close to being numbed down when it comes to repression of freedoms.

If the loss of freedom of expression is experienced uniformly and as a normal state everywhere, online or offline, and not merely in China, then we are truly headed for dangerous times indeed. This is not China's fault, but what is everyday experience in China might have become our nightmare, as well. This is, of course, not Parfitt's conclusion, but my conclusion. What is one to make of this? Certainly, we have started to react. More of us have voted "conservative" governments - whether the conservatives are actually "conservative" is up for debate - but this has been the reaction, in North America, and in some of Europe (many of whom don't really want the European Union being forced upon them).

Troy Parfitt is somewhat unconventional in his approach to writing about culture. I truly look forward to reading what he has to say about Canada, which according to some of the author's statements, is another project on which he is working.

TROY PARFITT'S WHY CHINA WILL NEVER RULE THE WORLD  is also available on Amazon. There are a number of positive customer reviews there, too.

16 October 2011

Update On What I'm Doing

I just started reading the review copy I have of Troy Parfitt's book, Why China Will Never Rule the World. I aim to write a review of it by next weekend. So far, just a couple of pages into it, I find it engaging.

I am also trying to get back into practicing music. Today I played flute for a few minutes. Tomorrow I hope to practice for at least half an hour, if not more, and maybe try to practice guitar, which is an impossible struggle for me.

A number of other books I am reading include The Age of Wonder, Arthur Koestler's The Act of Creation, H.G. Wells' When the Sleeper Wakes, and David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumn's of Jacob de Zoet. There is an odd correlation between the Koestler, the Mitchell, and the Wells with the intersection of the history of science seen in The Age of Wonder.

Perhaps I will see some odd sort of continuities with Parfitt's book. Sometimes things have a way of organizing themselves like that. Life is like that. The very hazard of life is such a thing, nothing more and nothing less, and yet strangely the very embodiment of a weird accident.

04 October 2011

Yesterday was Monday. Sharon and I went to see The Killer Elite. I don't highly recommend the movie, particularly if there's more interesting things playing (I recommend Horrible Bosses or Seediq Bale, although the latter I haven't seen, mostly due to the fact that there are no English subtitles in movies shown here in Hsinchu. Taichung, yes; Taipei, yes, but not Hsinchu. I have always gotten the impression that there are a lot of foreigners in Hsinchu (far more so, percentage wise, it seems, than in Taichung City, so, if you ask me, the theatre managers have their heads on backwards, particularly since there are very good dual subtitled (in both Chinese and English, simultaneously) versions available here. When I lived in Fengyuan, I used to frequently go to the Taichung City theatres to watch films playing there. Surprisingly, two subtitles do not crowd out the visuals. They've gotten quite good at make subtitles unobtrusive yet clear.
More details to come on what I think of Killer Elite. Although, to start with, the movie is not really a remake of Sam Peckinpah's as the title purports to be(perhaps somewhat fraudulently).

21 August 2011

Plain Daniel

 Memories flood back: plains in Ontario, in Wolfe Island, in Belleville, in Reid. People often think of Ontario as rocky and rugged. There are actually a lot of plains there, too. Just like there are hills in Saskatchewan (not many big ones, mind you, but really, go to Toronto. Most of what I've seen of Toronto is flat, flat, flat, just perfect for easy cycling, I might add. Taiwan doesn't have much in the way of plains. Except. And here is the big EXCEPT...

 The East Coast (Hualien, Ilan, Taitung) has a lot of plains. I should be fair. Some of the West Coast is flat, too. Miaoli City, Jhunan City (the main part), and most of Taichung City (again the main part) are flat. A lot of Miaoli City is very flat. Actually, the central and northern parts are flat. Nanmiao is a different story. Anyway, Ilan is one of the flattest places you'll see in Taiwan. It is a relief to see that after driving or riding in the mountains. It must be tough farming on the steep mountainside.

 I'd be curious about how much saltwater from the ocean mixes with the water in the river, particularly when there isn't very much sloping.

Before crossing this bridge, I noticed there was some big traditional children's festival being held inside a gated area. I suppose it is a festival that happens all year around, although I'm not sure. Most of the big activity in Ilan County seems to take place in Luodong (which has a lot of hot springs, along with Jaoshi). The Monkey Festival is one example of a Luodong festival that they recently held. I know this because Sean, the proprietor of Titty Tea, told me.  
 The flatness allows a lot of strange distortions in one's perspective. I'm speaking subjectively and aesthetically, of course.

Sensing more depth in the layers of clouds is exhilarating, too. Where I live, in Hsinchu, is actually, funnily enough, more hilly and mountainous than Montreal was (Montreal was pretty hilly, as well).

 This is Jaoshi (the bottom picture show the Jaoshi train station).

Rice farming is back-breaking work. Taking pictures of rice farms is ridiculously easy.

If I could lift the ocean up and doff it as I would a hat, I would.  Even a machine seems to have difficulty with this task...

POST OF THE DAY: Kudos to the folks who have the courage to do this. Check out the men and women who cosplay Harry Potter. I myself would feel like a fish out of water if I tried that. But these folks look good cosplaying it right out in Ximending.