Monday, 3 December 2007

Back on the farm

Well it's been a couple of weeks since I arrived back in Australia and made my way to the ol' orchards again. I didn't waste any time and got right down to business, which at the moment is the business of thinning plums, peaches and apples. For those who are wondering what this means, the trees produce bunches of fruits, some of which must be removed to allow space for what remains to grow, and to allow the tree to put it's energies into producing fewer but larger fruit. At the moment the fruit is for the most part all green and pinball sized, and after we have been through the ground is littered with discarded fruit. The flies are particularly numerous this year.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Confucius, Big Cities, Countryside

I've not been posting much of late,that's not to say that not much has been happening, quite the opposite. Jen and I have had some great market/festival events, the chinese classes confused and vexed and taught me alot, it's seems that just as one thing begins to make perfect sense I discover some other incomprehensible triple unrelated meaning for some such pictogramic character or other......... however todays news is that this evening I fly to Sydney, will spend the weekend there before heading to Shepparton in regional Victoria, Australia, for a completlely different sort of cosmic mindshift, yep its goodbye to the megopolis Taipei and hello once again to the leafy apple and pear orchards, time for some deafening quiet and clean air, which if the drought gripping that part of the world doesn't foul the cogs, will be my locale for the next six months or so..........

Friday, 2 November 2007

Taiwanese Aboriginies

Some local aboriginal kids clowning around during one of our market events at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Fishing at Keelung Harbour

A shot I took of locals fishing amonst the flostam and jetsam at Keelung Harbour, northeastern Taiwan.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Election time in Australia

Here's a link for the Aussies out there, those into old Chinese propaganda films, and fans of a bit o' good ol' Chinglish. I thought this was pure gold, I only found out about it because it made the international news page in the China Post, one of the english language rags here in Taiwan.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

At The Market

My partner Jenny and I often attend creative and festival markets here in Taiwan, Jen makes jewellery and I focus on antique items. Here's a shot of us at a market last weekend held at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Signs Part 4

Seeing as no words here are being used as expletive, I'm confident nobody will be offended..............
I need to point out here (after having offended somebody) that this picture (unlike most on this blog) was not taken by me, it is from a hospital in Mainland China. As I am living in Taiwan I don't want to give the impression that the Chinglish, while it is alive and well in Taiwan, is as bad as this...........

Chinglish Part 5

Makes sense.......

Monday, 15 October 2007

Taipei 101

A view of Taipei 101 from my balcony. Currently the tallest completed building in the world, however an as yet unfinished building in Dubai is already taller, but isn't expected to be finished until next year. The view from the 88th floor observation deck is impressive, as are the giant balls suspended by cables near the top which serve as earthquake dampeners. There is a luxury goods shopping mall in the first few lower floors, popular with brand obsessed Taiwanese and wealthy expats alike, and an imported goods supermarket in the basement, where you can even buy VB beer and vegemite.........

View from my balcony

Here's a shot looking out from my balcony, showing the street below and apartment buildings opposite. In the top left corner is Taipei 101

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Taiwan's National Day

Today was Taiwan's national day, as it falls on october 10th it's commonly known here as Double Ten Day. As a show of Taiwan's ability to defend itself against a Chinese attack there was a big military parade as part of the celebrations, the first of it's kind to be held in 16 years. I've always associated these big parades with dictatorships and communist countries, so thought it would be a rare oppotunity to witness such a spectical. Upon arriving at the area near the presidential palace I found the road blocked by riot police and barricades, where me and many Taiwanese were dissapointed to learn that the performances were for invited guests only. I decided to hang around all the same, and my patience didn't go unrewarded. There was an amazing flyover of columns of choppers and attack helecopters, jet fighters, spyplanes, transport aircraft. A little later a large variety of military vehicles drove out from the parade area in columns, including many amphibious vehicles, tanks, rocket and missile launch vehicles, large missiles, frogmen, unmanned drone aircraft, etc. I'm not normally into this kind of thing but it really was impressive.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Surveying The Damage

Typhoon Krosa was a surly ol' bitch, causing mudslides, flooding, uprooting trees, blowing stuff about that shouldn't be blown about. My apartment has metal sliding doors at it's entrance, and the roof overhangs by about two metres, so normally whan it's raining I can stand out there and not get wet. Yesterday the wind was so strong that water was spraying in through every tiny gap between the doors and doorframes, not just at the bottom, but all up the sides and at the top as well! I had towels trying to block the gaps, but the water still found a way to blow in. The wind howled liked I've not heard wind howl before. This morning I want out for a walk. It was a perfectly calm morning, as the typhoon has now moved away from the island, on toward mainland China, but rain continued to fall, as it does now 15 hours later. The roads were a sea of green, strewn with leaves and branches blown from trees. Many trees have been uprooted. In parts of northern Taiwan more the 1000 (one thousand!) millimetres of rain have fallen, so far....... meanwhile, more than one million people in mainland China have been evacuated from areas in Krosa's path.

Friday, 5 October 2007

It's heading this way!

Typhoon Krosa On The Way

It's typhoon time again, this time it's called Krosa. The government has announced that there is no work or school tomorrow. There was some criticsm of the government after typhoon Wipha passed through, it's effects were not as strong as feared so many were upset at the day off, claiming that it cost them a great deal of money in lost earnings, and some students and teachers had to make up the lost day on the following saturday. Krosa looks pretty strong so far, it's a category 4, and most tracking projections have it making landfall on the island, unlike Whipha which passed by just north of Taiwan. So far it looks as though it will make landfall on the northern tip of Taiwan, or just skim the coast, around 3am sunday morning, which puts Taipei pretty much right in its path, but these beasties don't always do what people think they will. Nevertheless, saturday and sunday look pretty rough around these parts........

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Taiwanese Moon Festival Barbeque

Here's a shot of Alice and Killer, enjoying the traditional Taiwanese moon festival barbeque at Orange Cafe in Shilin District...........................

Friday, 28 September 2007

Thursday, 27 September 2007

On My Balcony

On my balcony is a special plant with a special flower. It's special because it's quite large, will only open at night, and will only open for one night before expiring. In Chinese it's called tanwha, but it's otherwise known as Broad-leaved Epiphyllum, or Epiphyllum oxypetalum. I checked last night while I was moongazing, but it wasn't ready to show off. Perhaps this evening............

After the Moon Festival

There were alot of barbeques, Taipei smelt like a barbeque, the weather was kind enough to give most people a good view of the moon, although one thing was odd, I discovered yesterday that the true full moon was the day after the observed moon festival. This has been explained a couple of times to me in Chinese, but I haven't quite grasped the meaning of these explanations. Oh well, I went out last night and gazed respecfully as well.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Moon Festival

This years moon festival is fast approaching. Moon festival, or Mid Autumn festival is one of the most important holidays on the Chinese calender. It falls on the 15th day of the 8th month on the lunar calender, which typically equates to mid to late september on the gregorian calender. This year it falls on September 25. This is when the full moon is said to be at it's biggest and brightest of the year. Taiwanese typically celebrate by eating mooncakes, small pastry buns about 5 to 10 cm in daimeter with heavy fillings of things like lotus paste or red bean paste, the expensive ones having a centre of salted chicken or duck yolk, so that when the cake is sliced it looks like there is a "moon" inside. Mooncakes are considered a delicacy, and at this time of year many shops pop up selling moonkakes, some of them extremely expensive.
Another way people celebrate here is to cook barbeques outdoors, although that often means crouching on the footpath outside ones house or shop, around a small brazier cooking up a few morsals of meat. It's quite comical watching some peoples hopeless efforts at trying to get a bit of charcoal burning. I shouldn't laugh really. You are also supposed to gaze at the moon in a respectful manner.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Taiwan's Bid For UN Membership Fails

Well it's been a blow for Taiwan this morning, it's bid for membership of the United Nations was rejected by the general committee, so it will not be put up for discussion by the general assembly. Predictably, the application was blocked by China, as well as Egypt. It didn't bode well when a couple of days ago Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said that the UN's position on Taiwan hasn't changed since 1971 therefore the bid was legally bound to fail.
It's very disapointing and another example of the world submitting to the demands China.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Taiwan's Bid For United Nations Membership

Today Taiwan's bid for UN membership comes up for discussion at the UN general comittee, which will decide whether or not it will be put before the general assembly. Why is Taiwan not in the UN (or a member of the World Health Organisation, WHO)? At the end of the Chinese civil war Mao's communists took over all of mainland China and Chiang Kai Shek's nationalists were left with only Taiwan and a few small islands. However, the Nationalist government retained the China seat at the UN under it's official name of "Republic of China", while Mao's "Peoples Republic of China" had no representation. This changed in 1971 when the UN gave the People Republic the China seat and expelled the Republic of China aka Taiwan. For the past fifteen years Taiwan has annually applied for membership under the name "Republic of China" and has been denied entry, mainly because nobody wants to upset mainland China, also many countries have a "one China" policy, and because China has a seat on the security council so can veto it anyway. This year is different, Taiwan is applying under the name "Taiwan" for the first time. It fulfils all the requirements needed to be considered a nation state. There is absolutely no reason for Taiwan not to be granted membership of the UN. Apart from geopolitics and Chinese pressure. The bid is bound to fail as China is sure to veto it if it even gets as far as the security council. China has also in the past few days increased it's vitriolic rhetoric threatening Taiwan with military action if it makes any move to formal independence. China still regards Taiwan as part of it's sovereign territory and repeatedly threatens to take Taiwan by force if Taiwan moves toward formal independence. Hopefully the bid will make it as far as the general assembly so as to gain some wider exposure. Taiwan is a nation of some 23 million people, but UN reports, figures, statistics do not include any information or data regarding Taiwan. It is a ridiculous stuation supported by Western governments afraid of upsetting an increasingly powerful China.

Taiphoon Wipha moves on to China

Wipha has left the Island, however the rain if forcast to continue for the rest of the week. The winds were not severe as the typhoon did not make landfall, however there is alot of flooding and there have been several landslides. The hills around Taipei have recieved around 450mm of rain so far, some areas over 700mm. It's amazing to think that I have lived in places that are lucky if they recieve that much rain in a whole year! Wipha has moved on to mainland China, where over 1 500 000 people have been evacuated from coastal areas south of Shanghai.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Typhoon Wipha

Still not much wind yet, so I've been able to come out to the internet cafe. Plenty of rain though, in the past 24 hours there has been 250mm in the Taipei area.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Another Typhoon

Another typhoon is set to brush by Taiwan tonight. It has been named Wipha, a girls name in Thailand. The Taipei city and county governments have declared tomorrow (Tuesday) a typhoon day, that is to say there is no work and no school tomorrow.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Signs part 3 - Chinglish

This little gem was spotted on a drink vending machine. It all sounded too good to be true, so I tasted once and got me deamy world.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Signs part 2

This is an actual toilet sign, at an arts market where Jenny and I had a stall on the weekend. Anyone interested can check the G&J Boutique link on the right hand side of the page.......

Friday, 7 September 2007


Last night at around 1:51am there was an earthquake measuring 6.6 off the coast of Taiwan. A 5.7 quake followed four minutes later. Taiwan has quite a lot of earthquakes, and I've experienced a few, when I've been in bed they've been the:
roll over and go back to sleep variety,
lie there with your eyes open wondering when it will stop variety, or
sit up with you heart beating wondering if will get stronger or just fade away variety.
Last night was a new kind, it was the wake up and "things shaking and rattling, no I'm not on the metro I'm in bed - leap out of bed in a flash put on your clothes in a flash realise you're on the eigth floor go stand under a doorway try and keep your beating heart inside your chest" variety.
It lasted for about 30 seconds and took a while to get back to sleep afterwards.
A three quarter length mirror in the bathroom fell over, luckely it landed on a bathmat and did't smash.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Back in Class

I started attending Chinese language classes again on monday. I studied for six months here in Taipei last lear, and will complete a three month semester this year. I've seven classmates. a German man, a Japanese woman, a Korean girl, two Indonesian Chinese girls and two Indonesian Chinese boys. I have classes from monday to friday. Learning Chinese is quite, that is to say, very difficult, as I mentioned in an earlier post, in fact alot of what my teacher is saying I don't understand too well, as classes are conducted entirely in Chinese. This doesn't seem to matter too much - when I was a complete beginner I understood very little of what was going on but still managed to learn a great deal. Thus far I am able to write around 350 traditional characters (as opposed to thier simplified forms introduced by Mao in mainland China), still a long way from the 2000 or so you need to be "fluent". I can also speak more that I can write, from where the real rewards for my efforts come from, being able to make myself understood out on the street puts a smile on my dial.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

At the supermarket part one

One think I like about the street market near my place is I don't see stuff like this, a single apple on a polystyrene tray. The Taiwanese love packaging, so much of it wasteful and unnessesary. A packet of biscuits might have each biscuit individually wrapped, a packet of lollies almost certainly would. Eggs individually wrapped in plastic. About three years ago the government passed a law banning the use of plastic bags at restaraunts and food stands. Everybody ignored the law and the government had no way to effectively enforce it, so they repealed the law! To be fair they are making efforts, supermarkets charge for plastic bags at the checkout, things are improving, but they still have a very long ay to go. Eating out is common, and daily produces mountains of paper trays, plastic cups, disposable chopsticks, and plastic bags. There is so much rubbish that rubbish trucks drive up almost every street every day, somtimes twice a day, playing music that to a westerner would likely mean that the ice cream van was here!

Friday, 31 August 2007

A new abode

After staying at Chicago Stu's place for a couple of weeks, and starting to stress about where I was going to live, I finally moved into a new place last night. It's what's known as a "rooftop" apartment, small and on the rooftop(!) It's on the 8th floor, I can catch the elevator to the 7th then climb stairs to the 8th. I'm actually only renting one of the two rooms, but the other room is empty so for the time being I have the whole place to myself. Well, myself and the shrine to my landlords parents and to the gods, which he comes up to every morning to pay respects(he lives on the 7th floor). I have good view of the city, especially of Taipei 101, the worlds tallest building (until one in Dubai is finished next year). The apartment is in YongHe city, across the river from Taipei, so technically it's in Taipei County not Taipei city, and only 2 metro stops from my school (I start Chinese classes next week). Is a really old part of town, more laid back the Taipei proper, lots of old style markets and restaraunts, and narrow winding alleys to explore. Old apartment buildings with old ladies sitting at the door, old shops selling dried mushrooms and powders and chinese medicine. There is a morning market on my street which operates every day, you can get just about everything you need. Today I bought some chillies and garlic, the vendor asked me if I was american, then if I was Canadian, I'm used to that now. He also gave me some help with my pronunciation. They seem like a friendly bunch around here. At this market there are people selling clothes next to vegetables next to a pork seller chopping up a pig with a cleaver, chop chop chop, intestines and stomach and other offal hanging on hooks, people and flies and dogs looking on with interest, next to a vendor selling high mountain peaches, next to a stall selling fresh fish and squid and shellfish next to a noodle seller next to a bra seller next to a kill while you watch chicken seller, next to a dried mushroom seller, and it goes on. There is a lot of noise and bustle, but come the afternoon and evening it reverts to a quiet little back street.

So, this is my new neighborhood.

Friday, 24 August 2007

I want beer

A rip off wannabe trying to cash in on the dubious good name and can design of Taiwan Beer.......

Studying Chinese in Taipei

Today I had a placement test for my Mandarin Chinese course. I studied here in Taipei for six months last year, and the test was to determine whether I could continue where I left off or if I would need to repeat some lessons. Fortunately I don't need to repeat any lessons.
To be honest I find Chinese a difficult language to learn, especially the writing, but I've surprised myself at how much I've learned so far, and being able to hold conversations with people in the street is a real buzz, and more than enough incentive to continue.
Walking to my school reminded me of a couple of things about Taiwan. It's amazing to me that when I come back here after a few months away to number of shops and restaraunts that have gone out of business or have opened up, the turnover here is really high.
One really good thing I was reminded of is the way blind people are treated on the metro. There are always attendents to escort people on and off the trains, and once on there is always somone willing to help, infact it's often the closest person to them, a complete stranger will just take them by the arm and offer assistance, and more than once I've seen sombody help a blind person off the train and out of the station, even though it wasn't their stop.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

White Lobster

White Lobster has been found washed up on the Mosquito Coast, wrapped in thick rubber packaging, labeled "made in Columbia" Perhaps an example of "Cargo Cult"?

Sunday, 19 August 2007

After The Typhoon

Sepat came and went, is now wreaking havoc in mainland China. The wind blew, the rain fell, trees fell, scooters fell, now it's calm and life goes on, the old people are back in the park doing their excercises, the young people are back in the internet cafes playing online games, or out on their scooters, or taking their bag dogs with them shopping for hello kitty and doreamon t-shirts. Life goes on.....

Friday, 17 August 2007

Typhoon Sepat

Taiwan is on high alert for super typhoon Sepat, the strongest typhoon of the year, which will make a direct hit on Taiwan tonight. It's already quite windy, and there are squally thundery torrential downpours. The island has recently been hit by a couple of tropical storms so the soil is already saturated and major flooding and lanslides are predicted.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Beitou Hot Spring area, Hell Valley

My mate Chicago Stu is in Thailand for a couple of weeks and I'm doing a bit of housesitting for him. He lives in a part of Taipei famed for it's natural hot springs, Beitou. In fact his hot water supply in the bathroom is natural hotspring water known for it's health giving properties. It's strong sulphurous stuff, apparently with a pH of 1.2 - 1.6, which sounds quite acidic to me. It is definately quite corrosive, the taps and metal fittings in the bathroom are all black and severely corroded, and any shiny new coins you might happen to leave on a table will be black or have turned some funky other colours within a couple of days. There are many Hot Spring hotels and public bath houses in the area, as well as a small steaming kind of lake where the water comes out from the bowels of the earth, an aptly named area called "Hell Valley". Occasionally some drunk decides to jump in for a swim, but as the water is over 90 degrees celsius this proves to be a fatal error.

Back In Taiwan

Well it's been bye bye to Olomouc for Mr Quinky and hello to Taipei for Hello Xu Xu. What a contrast! It's like being teleported to a different galaxy. Taiwan is a most interesting place, evoking strong emotions daily, some pleasant, some not. Here are a few little tidbits regarding the island sometimes known as Formosa, or to the Chinese as "the renagade province that will oneday be returned to the motherland":
It's very crowded, Taiwans population density is second only to Bangladesh.
There are more scooters per capita here than any other country, that is to say there are 23 million people, and more than 10 million registered scooters, so it's something that strikes you at once. There are also alot of cars, the favoured colours being black and silver.
Taiwan has the highest per capita consumption of cement. They like using concrete to make stuff.
The fruit here is fantastic, a trip to a fruitshop yeilds seasonal wonders at a very affordable price.
The vegetables here aren't so many and varied, they consist mostly of green shoots and leaves, oh, and corn (anyone for Taiwanese pizza?)
There are the largest number of 7-Eleven convenience stores per capita in the world. They are everywhere, and are wonderfully convenient, you can buy food, beer, wine, photocopy items, pay your bills, enjoy a bit of air conditioning, and lots of other convenient stuff.....

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Bye For Now Olomouc

At the wine shop

Here's a shot from the inside of a local wine bar in Olomouc. A good place to try some local wines at a very affordable price. You can enjoy a glass at one of the few tables in the place, or get a takeaway by having any sort of empty bottle filled directly from the barrel, you are charged by the litre. The ten taps bahind the counter are where the wine is dispensed.
Outside the wine shop.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

the chess grand master

I saw this chess master in action when I was in Olomouc two years ago, and just happened to find myself in the upper square a few days ago and was able to see him in action again. Basically there are 25 boards set up, and he moves from table to table, playing all 25 people at once. Many of his opponents were obviously quite skilled, writing down every move played thoughout their game, relishing the opportunity to pit their skills against a grand master. He would make many of his moves without more than a couple of seconds hesitation, with pehaps three or four of his opponents giving him cause for longer consideration. On this occasion he was in fact playing only 24 opponents, as the bearded fellow in the denim jacket sitting in the foreground of the photograph is one of the local drunks, he and a couple of his comrades were having a rather animated game of their own!

The Diving Piggy

Those of you who live or have lived in Taiwan will be familiar with the "visa run", whereby you must leave the country and apply at one of Taiwan's overseas missions for a new visa. While visiting Prague on just such a mission I encountered a most bizzare piece of street art.

At the garlic festival

While Greg "Echuca" Chandler and I were at the festival of garlic in Buchlovice in southern Moravia, we happened upon this fellow admiring some carved wooden garlic.......

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Lunch at a Czech Buffet

Had lunch today at a local buffet in Horni Namesti in Olomouc. A kind of inexpensive place to get a good Czech feed, where people just sit down at the table with you to eat, builders, workmen, office workers and business people alike. Just line up with your tray, tell the women what you want to eat, in my case it was Goulash with bread dumplings, which was measured on scales to determine the price. The girl asked me a question I didn't understand, but to which I replied yes and recieved some sliced onion. A glass of beer to wash it down, as is customary here. I enjoy these kinds of local eatery, it really gives you a feeling that you are sharing a small part of of local life. It's also nice when people just sit at the table with you, here it's customary to say hello and goodbye (in Czech) in these situations.
When I'm in Taiwan it's a little different, looking so different to the locals, they generally won't sit next to the foreigner even if it's the last seat available, this applies at eateries, on buses and trains. Not always, but often enough to notice.......

The travelling fruitpicker

For the past ten years or so I've funded my travels primarily through fruitpicking. Initially I would pick whatever was is season wherever I happened to be, so it all began with apples in New Zealand. Between then and now I've done:

Three apple seasons in Kent, England

Oranges and Mandarines in Gayndah and Mundubbera, Queensland, Australia

Oranges in Hillston, New South Wales, Australia

Oranges in Goodnight, New South Wales

Kiwifruit in New Zealand

Apples in Batlow, Australia

Apples in the Huon Valley, Tasmania, Australia

Rice in Burma, Laos

Nine seasons of Apples, pears, plums, peaches, apricots in Shepparton, Australia

Broccoli, Snowpeas, Zuchini, Rockmelons, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Cucumbers in Queensland, Australia.

I've pretty much given up on the vegetables. Now my partner Jenny and I usually just travel to Shepparton in Australia each year for the picking season there, the money we save there is usually enough to fund the best part of the rest of the year, which we spend most of living in Taiwan,
but that's another story.....

Monday, 30 July 2007

Who is Mr Quinky?

Welcome to the first posting on Mr Quinky's Eye For Detail. Why call it Mr Quinky, well it's a nickname I'm being called during my stay in Olomouc, Moravia, Czech Republic. If I happened to be in Taiwan it could easily have been called "Hello Su Su's Eye For Detail", or in another place perhaps "Mondegas' Eye For Detail".

Actually don't be surprised if the title changes depending upon the country I happen to be in!