Sunday, 21 December 2008

The week before Christmas

It's been a strange summer in Shepparton, hardly a day over 30 C so far, when normally we would have already hit the 40 C mark more than once alrealy, and the wind had been blowing alot making the past month seem more like a South Island summer than a northern Victorian one. There has been rain at least once a week, also very unusual for this time of year, it's great for the apples and pears but has caused big problems with cherries and early apricots, rain at harvest time causes the fruit to split, the cherries become unsaleable and the apricots only good for jam.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Little to say

Not much to report. Working on the main farm monday to friday, a different farm saturday and sunday. Been thinning peaches, apples, plums, and repairing irrigation sprinklers. That's about it at the moment.

Sunday, 30 November 2008


Xu Xu is back in the land of Oz. I arrived back to my apartment on the orchard, the front door unopened since I was last there in early june. I was greeted by the daddy long legs spiders which had woven their webs throughout the three rooms, covering me as I enter. There are also numerous black house spiders, which I always take as a good sign as meaning there are no poisonous white tail spiders in the rooms. This could just be some class of urban myth but it is known that the black house spider is the favourite prey of the white tail. The flyscreen edges are the favourite dwelling places of the mean looking black house spiders, which keep to themselves and I like to have around, as they are very adept at catching any flies that manage to get inside. Sometimes I catch a fly or two and throw them into a web and watch spidey come out and grab it. There are soooo many flies outside, which is par for the course in these parts.
Work - currently I'm busy thinning peaches, which will be finished this week and followed by some apple thinning before the first harvesting of the season begins in a couple of weeks with apricots.
The crop is looking good this year with the exception of the plums which are disappointing.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Last post from Taiwan ..... for now

This will be my last post from Taiwan for some time. Tomorrow I fly to Australia to work in the fruit orchards of northern Victoria's Goulburn Valley.
I leave just as ex president Chen has been arrested and detained pending charges of graft, bribery, forgery, money laundering and illegal possesion of state assets. He is also one of the few world leaders with the guts to stand up to the Chinese communist party and it's goverment. His arrest is making news around the world, and depending on the editorial stance of various news outlets he is either a crook or one of the few world leaders with the balls to stand up to the Chinese. Which is he? He is both.
The Taiwanese judicial system will deal with him, fairly or otherwise, but to many he will always be the hero of Taiwanese independence.
I believe that that the Taiwanese government is correct in choosing to engage with the mainland government in dialogue, but I also believe that Taiwan is, and must be recognised by the rest of the world as, an independent nation, providing that that is the will of the Taiwanese people.
As for me, my posts will likely become slightly less frequent, as I will have more limited internet access, and will be busy with work, but I'll do my best to post regularly. I'm yet to replace my stolen camera, the crazy exchange rate fluctuations of the currencies I use mean that it is cheaper for me to buy the camera I want in Australia rather than in Taiwan.
So it's goodbye Taiwan, for now anyway.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Taitung, Chenggong, Hualien - 台東 成功 花蓮市

Man it was good to get outta the rat race of Taipei! Even though this weekend I'll be back in the boondocks working again among the trees of the Zurcas orchards in rural Victoria, I wanted to head down Taiwan's rugged and relatively sparsely populated east coast. I took a train from Taipei Main Station, following the coastline down to Hualien then heading inland passing through the Eastern Rift Valley, a land of tropical fruit orchards and rice fields. Stunning scenery. I arrived in Taitung (pronounced Taidong) to discover that the hostel I was planning to stay at had shut down, so after wandering about for a while I checked into a cheap but clean and friendly hotel for three days. Taitung is a very laid back coastal town, the beach is clean but rips make it unsafe for swimming. There is an airforce base just out of town and military jets often fly low and slow over the town on their approach to the runway. I spent alot of time on the beach and in a coastal forest park with shady paths, birdwatching huts, a butterfly reserve and rowing lake. One evening around dusk while sitting close to the surf upon one of the many great ugly concrete wave breakers placed here and there along the foreshore I saw a waterspout for the first time. A great tornado of black cloud perhaps a kilometre offshore lifting water from the oceans surface. Wow. Leaving Taitung suitably relaxed and less pale skinned than when I arrived I caught a local bus up to the fishing port of Chenggong, the town itself is nothing special but the port with it's large and small fishing boats coming and going was a fine sight. The harbour itself is protected by large concrete walls in the ocean - neccesary protection from the frequent summer typhoons. I was lucky to be there for the auctioning of the days catch. I saw swordfish, yellowfin tuna, barracutta, and perhaps two dozen other sorts of fish which I have no idea the names of, black, blue, silver, orange and even a few stripey ones. It was a real treat. Saw some hard as nails fisher men and women too, harder than nails I reckon. Even the women chew betelnut in these parts. They didn't pay much attention to me though, they were just busy getting on with their tasks. I saw a couple of really cheap looking hotels in Chenggong, but they didn't look too inviting so I continued up the coast by bus to Hualien, the largest city on the east coast. I had the large comfortable bus to myself for half the journey, and was joined by another passenger who bummed a Yuan(NT$) from me for the rest. Oh, there were a dozen or so aboriginal junior high school students who got on at one small town and who got off at various spots in the next, the whole time engaging in lively banter with the driver. The east coast is home to many of Taiwan's aboriginals of which there are nine tribes. There is evidence that suggests they are related to New Zealand Maori. They certainly look the same. The coastal road offers some stunning scenery, and traffic during weekdays is sparse, it reminds me of parts of New Zealand's South Island west coast. Spent a night in a hotel in Hualien, where I visited last year, enjoyed it just as much as last time. Perhaps if and when I return to continue my Chinese studies it could be at the university there...... Taipei's charms seem to have worn off for me. At about eleven thirty I recieved a call to my hotel room asking if I needed a massage. What service! The whole time I was away I spoke nothing but Chinese, which was hugely satisfying. I'm now back in Taipei for my last few days in Taiwan - on friday night I catch a plane to Melbourne, Australia......

Monday, 3 November 2008

A lot happening, but I'm heading off for a few days

There's a lot happening at the mo', here in Taiwan, in the world, in the life of Xu Xu. Taiwan is hosting a high level official from mainland China for important talks, for the first time since the end of the Chinese civil war sixty years ago. This is a fantastic development and a (not "an")historic event. Unfortunately the pro independence Democratic Progressive Party is opposed to the talks and is behind most of the protests being organised. The DPP's view is that China is the communist enemy and should not be engaged in dialogue. My personal view is that Taiwan should be recognised as an independent country, and when I first came to Taiwan I supported the pro independence DPP. I now have very little faith in them, their former president, Chen Shui Bian is a corrupt crook, a thief and embezzler, many of their members of parliament are prone to violent outbursts and extremely stupid statements, as are many of the partys' supporters. There are a great many thugs among their members and supporters. I believe daialoge with the Chinese can only be helpful to the current situation. The Chinese representative is under heavy police guard, to protect him from irrational DPP protestors. It's very sad for me, a supporter of Taiwan independence, to see this.

There is an election in the United States of America tomorrow, the result of which will have ramifications around the globe. There is also an upcoming election in my home country of New Zealand, which the rest of the world probably couldn't give a damn about.

As for Xu Xu, he has perhaps spent more than enough time in the megopolis of Taipei. His Chinese language studies have finished, he went to an evangelical mass conversion and a buddhist retreat in the space of a couple of days, and seems to have started referring to himself in this blog in the third person. It's still another couple of weeks before I head to the isolation of the Australian orchard for another season of fruit and flies, and later in feburary a world of backpackers who will come to struggle with the same. I'm escaping the city tomorrow morning, heading for the east coast backwater of Taitung for a few days. I'll be away from the internet and away from as much Taiwan and world news as I can manage until about the tenth.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Taipei Franklin Graham Festival

At about this time of year Jenny and I as well as our other arts and crafts market friends are making preparations for a government sponsored circus festival, which has been running these past couple of years, held at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei. We were all quite puzzled at the decision not to hold the event this year, as it has proven to be very successful in the past. I was walking through the CKS Hall area today, and found that a huge festival is indeed taking place, starting tonight. However it is no circus festival, it is the Taipei Franklin Graham Festival. I had no idea who this Franklin Graham is or why there should be a festival in his name, but it turns out that Franklin Graham is the son of evangelist Billy Graham, and he is on a crusade around the world continuing his fathers work. Franklin Graham has called Islam "a very evil and wicked religion." And on september 14 2001 on CNN he stated "And I think we're going to have to use every -- and I hate to say it, hellish weapon in our inventory, if need be, to defeat these [terrorists]. But let's use the weapons we have, the weapons of mass destruction if need be and destroy the enemy."
This guy seems to me to be some kind of intolerant religious fundementalist nutjob, but I could be wrong. It seems strange that the Taipei government would give such exposure to this kind of crackpot, but perhaps it's on the grounds of religious freedom of expression. I might wander down there tonight to see what it's all about. I wonder if he will be asking people for money.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Xu Xu's big day in Zhuhai

The grand day began in Macau, that outpost of Portugal which still retains so much fine european architecture, the plaster and paintwork constantly under attack from the humid air and rising damp, where a good coffee and a decent slice of bread can be found in the same establishment, that gambling haven now drawing in more bucks and bigger developments than Las Vegas, like The Venetian with it's indoor canals complete with puffy clouded blue skies painted on and european featured employees singing and punting camera toting tourists up and around the bend, while less game punters look on with amazement, content to browse the super luxury brand stores catering to the mega rich or casino lucky or desparate... yes it began here on a local crowded bus, which was unneccesary really, I could have gone to any big casino and boarded a free shuttle bus to the frontier (or to another casino, the ferry or helipad to Hong Kong) but ol' Xu Xu wanted local an' he got it. The frontier pays lip service to the days gone by, there is the old border gate on the Macau side, which is now just a monument, this border (pictured from the Chinese side) is an airport-esque development which during opening hours has a constant stream of mostly mainland chinese coming and going, you might want to allow an hour to get through..... the city on the other side is Zhuhai, gateway to China, and also a "special economic zone". All this meant to me was that I could get a special three day visa to enter Zuhai at the border, without the hassle of getting a normal Chinese visa. Just needed to find the office in the immigration building, fill a form, hand over either HK$150 or RMB$160 (Macau Pataca not accepted) and wait five minutes. Sorry Americans and British, you're looking at about HK$1000 for the same visa. While waiting in line to have passports examined we are entertained by a video featuring Jackie Chan and an Australian family with the message that buying counterfeit goods is a really bad idea and could get you into whole lot of trouble.
Once through (actually before) the plate of hot chillies I ate the night before while half cut caught up with me, so I made for the conveniences. I had heard from many sources about the state of toilets in China so thought I had better use the government's best in the immigration building. It wasn't a good sign of things to come. There was one western sit down type (although I do also like the asian squat), but the seat had been stolen and the last time I had seen such filth was in a small Moroccan town. At least there was a door. No paper though so I decided to wait. Right on the Chinese side is a two storied underground shopping mall. This place is big. As soon as you go down the escatator you will find a miriad of stores selling cigarettes, liquor, food, clothing, bags and watches, the last three at least for the most part being FAKES. If you are in the market for some counterfeit Rolexes, Omegas, iPhones, Louis Vuitton, Prada, you name it, then this is a good place to start. You need to have honed your haggling skills, and quality varies from poor to pretty good, but it's a fun place to spend a couple of hours, the shopkeepers will be constantly calling out to you, some will speak english, many won't.
Perhaps now I will write a few words concerning public behaviour. Living in Taiwan I have become accustomed to a certain amount of spitting, pushing, and general rudeness. Perhaps my standards are too high, but there is no nice way to say this. Many Chinese men are purely disgusting in the way they behave in public. Spitting, swearing, discarding rubbish, pushing, I don't want to generalise, but even if it's only 30% of the population it's more than enough people who show less respect for others than your average street dog or cockroach. There can be an amusing side to this, when in Macau I happened to be walking past a bus stop when a large group of Chinese workers had finished work for the day on a maaasive casino development, and were getting on the bus. The scrum was amazing, I've never before seen people climbing over each other to get on a bus! One bloke would get on, then grab the arm of his mate still three people back, and try to pull him over the top of the others! It actually meant that the bus filled up very slowly, as it was difficult for any one person to get his whole body through the door!
Leaving the underground mall I went for a walk around the local streets. Perhaps I picked the wrong street, as less than an hour later after buying a cache of toilet paper and finding another grotty toilet in a department store I discovered a zip open in the back of my bag and my camera gone. A few days later that pisses me off more than it did at the time, the loss of the pictures more than the stolen camera.
I struck an arc up a narrow alley which took me past a local brothel, the girls lined up outside for my perusal. Macau has it's share of these too, when I'm with Jenny I don't attract any attention but when alone it's a different story. In Macau however the girls merely called out to me, here in Zhuhai I was grabbed by the wrist and prevented from walking any further! It was quite amusing and after a few seconds the girl let me go. Prostitution is open, obvious, and big business both in Zhuhai and Macau. Even in the Venetian casino in Macau, the biggest in the world, I was approached by a girl asking if I wanted a massage.
That afternoon I stopped for a beer in the pedestrian street which is lined with kiosks which double as bars and cafes. The friendly serving girl was from Hunan province and she told me about her time in Zhuhai, about the sort of people who go there, the prostitution scene, the counterfeit goods (a couple of years ago there was a spate of fake beer). She didn't have a passport and had never been to Macau or Beijing or anywhere outside China. She had also had her purse stolen on the same street where my camera was taken, and said it was a notorious strip for pickpockets.
While having my beer I saw a local cop encouraging a homeless man to leave the pedestrian street by kicking him in the arse when wouldn't walk fast enough, a local prostitute finish her carton of drink and just throw it down on the street, not drop it, but but give it a good chuck in a busy street as soon as the straw came out of her mouth.
At around eight in the evening I made my way back over to the Macau side of the border, wondering if they would have any interest in whether or not anybody had stocked up on counterfeit goods. They were not interested, although I never saw any such products for sale in Macau.
Despite having my camera nicked, I actually had a fun day in Zhuhai, and would go back given the opportunity......

Friday, 24 October 2008

Back from Macau

I've just come back from a week in Macau (and a day across the border in China). I had a great time there, given the choice of visiting Hong Kong or Macau I would take Macau every time. While many of the Portugese residents left around the time of the handover to China, parts of the town still have a very european feel about them, and the old Chinese streets still have a very "old China" feel. And then there are the massive Casinos, drawing tens of thousands of mainland Chinese every day into Macau to gamble. I don't intend to write about the history of Macau, there is a junk load of information in the net. I was going to put up a couple in interesting photographs, but when I was across the Chinese border in Zhuhai, I had been there less than an hour and a pickpocket stole my camera. I can buy a new camera (in fact I surprised myself at my lack of emotional response to the discovery of the loss) but I lost a shit load of un backed up photos. That is still annoying me, as every day I remember different photos I had stored on an almost full 2GB memory card. Anyway, I'll write more about the trip in the next couple of days.

Monday, 13 October 2008

More on Romanisation of Chinese Characters

Romanisation of Chinese characters in Taiwan is a bit complicated. The "world standard" if there is one is hanyu pinyin, which the government here (KMT) has just declared the official system. The previous govt. (DPP) under Chen Shui Bian was fiercely nationalist and anti mainland China (considered them the communist enemy) and didn't wan't to use the system used by mainland China so stupidly decided to make up their own system called tongyong pinyin. The system itself has both advantages and disadvantages over hanyu pinyin, but as hanyu has become standard in non Chinese speaking countries it put Taiwan at a disadvantage as documents produced in Taiwan using tongyong could only be understood with some difficulty and confusion. There are still alot of companies and schools using older systems as well, such as wade-giles , yale, chinese postal map, MPS II , and others. Complicating things in Taiwan is the fact that city and county governments might be either KMT or DPP, so despite the national government declaring Hanyu the official system, it's up to local government to erect public signage, and individual companies can employ any system they choose, probably depending on what they have historically used or their political leanings. Also, updating romanised signage is not a high priority here, there are not large numbers of foreigners in Taiwan. Students wishing to study the Chinese language in Taiwan for the most part need to learn a phonetic system called bopomofo which takes about a week to learn (that is to say you will be given a week to learn it) and is far superior to any of the romanisation systems. It also can be placed right next to the chinese character so pronunciation of an unknown character can be immediately known without refering to a different text or dictionary. It is also a convenient input method for computers and text messages.
Wikipedia has an excellent article on Romaniation of Chinese in Taiwan HERE.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Getting the most out of your scooter

Taken today in 中壢 city, which depending which sign you happen to be reading is romanised as Jongli, Jhongli, Zhongli or Chungli.......

romanisation of the Chinese language has always been a bit of a problem - sometimes if you are lucky you can see the same street name spelt differently on the same intersection!

Saturday, 11 October 2008

There is madness in the town square

Sign advertising a pool hall near my house, Shilin, Taipei

The U.S. government last week decided to sell Taiwan $US6.5 billion in military hardware,
including advanced interceptor missiles, Apache attack helicopters and submarine-launched missiles. China is furious and had threatened to cut military cooperation with the U.S. China regards the Taiwan issue as a domestic affair, and considers arms sales to the "renegade province" as a deep insult to all Chinese people. Taiwan has been pushing the U.S. for a huge arms purchase for some years, and for the U.S. this is great timing to push through the deal. The Bush regime is on the way out, and any new government can easily distance itself from the decision without reversing it. Also, it will give Taiwanese 18 to 20 year old boys some new toys to play with, as Taiwan still has a policy of compulsary military conscription. It also goes a small way to counter the more than 1000 ballistic missiles that China has pointing at Taiwan. Perhaps it will also help to support the crippled U.S. economy for an hour or so. It's interesting to note that the U.S. dollar has remained strong during the past few days of market carnage, while other world currencies have taken a hammering, despite the fact that the federal reserve has had the printing presses working overtime producing dollars out of thin air. This is in China's interests as most of China's foreign reserves are in U.S. dollars, $ 1,808,828,000,000 as at June 2008. This gives China the power to destroy the U.S. economy by flooding the foreign exchange market with U.S. dollars, but they don't want to do this as it would most likely destroy their own economy as well. They had an opportunity to shore up the U.S. markets when they began crashing a couple of weeks ago, but now that there is panic and madness in the town square it is too late for that now, it's "every man for himself", to quote the prime minister of Iceland, whose country is at risk of bankruptcy. Icelands currency has become all but worthless, and it's three largest banks have been nationalised to save them from bankruptcy. Hundreds of thousands of English investors as well as English town councils have billions of pounds invested in Icelandic banks, due to agressive promotion there of high interest accounts. They are now unable to withdraw their money, causing quite some diplomatic tension between Iceland and Britain. Perhaps the Chinese will wait until all is lost in the U.S. and Europe then come in with their stash o' greenbacks and buy up what's left. Up to now they have been buying large shares in western companies at top prices, now they can scoop up some real bargains, but only as long as the U.S. dollar remains strong.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Why I had to Move House / Renting in Taiwan / English Teachers

Renting a place short term can be a hassle in Taiwan. That is if you want live alone or share with some locals. Finding a room in a shared apartment with a bunch of foreigners who are most likely north american english teachers is easy, just look at the advertisements on the ex-pat websites. Personally I don't like living with other foreigners here, aside from the fact that you will always be speaking english with them when you should be speaking chinese, english teachers living in Taiwan can be a weird bunch, and for the most part are only here for a couple of years at most, not so interested in local culture and customs, very interested in what's going on "back home", complaining about Taiwan, making money, partying, talking about themselves etc. Often their only qualification as an english teacher is that they are a native speaker. In their home country they wouldn't teach english, they only do it here because it's a kind of "default" job. These are different to the long termers who have decided to make Taiwan home, who tend to be far more interesting, can speak Chinese, and have made a profession out of English teaching, but if you're looking to rent a place you are more likely to encounter the former group. Renting your own place poses a couple of problems. Most landlords will only want to sign a 12 month lease, which isn't much good if you don't plan to stay that long. Real Estate companies can help you locate an apartment, but usually charge half or a full months rent as their fee. There are also two types of landlord. Real landlord (房東) and second landlord (二房東). You need to ask the person you are dealing with which one they are, if you don't know. In Taiwan it is very common for a person to rent a house or apartment, then sublet the house or apartment or individual rooms in order to make a profit or live rent free themselves. My classmates in Taipei were surprised to hear that this was relatively rare in New Zealand as most landlords want to know what kind of people they have living in their property, they were also surprised to hear that alot of landlords and rental agencies want to see references from previous landlords or agencies.
Renting from second landlords can be convenient and problematic. Convenient in that it will be easier to negotiate a short term deal. Problematic in that tenancy laws become blurry, also in that you will probably never meet the real landlord or even know his or her name, so if the house has a serious problem that you feel needs fixing and the second landlord is unwilling to bother the real landlord over it, there is little you can do.
The reason I had to move house was the lease (which here is a standard red booklet which both parties have copies of and which details the terms of the lease) that I had signed with the second landlord for three months was broken by her when she decided to emigrate to the United States of America a month earlier than planned. While it was she that broke the lease, I wasn't sure what recompence I was due, so had a couple of people look over the lease, which is all in Chinese. Apparently every clause was there to protect the landlords rights, and nothing was stated regarding the tenants rights. There are laws protecting tenants however, so to cut it short she refunded me a months rent. I was still without a place to stay. It was looking like I'd be back on Chicago Stu's sofa, when one of the waiters at my local drinking hole, Orange Cafe, said I could stay at his place, as he was spending all his time at his girlfriends house. Great. So I'm now staying there. It's not the sort of place I would rent by choice. It's what's known as a "suite". I've looked at such places before and rejected them immediatley. Basically the front door opens onto a corridor with a number of doors. In this place there are seven rooms (at least here they all have windows). They are all sublet seperately, and as is usual in Taiwan, the tenants don't know each other nor do they have any interest in knowing who the other tenants are. There is no common area. People just come home and go into their little room. There is the most basic kitchen facility, and a shared bathroom. This kind of living arrangement is common in Taiwan. To me it is a miserable existence but it will suffice for the three weeks or so I have left in my semester.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Typhoon Jangmi moves on

Two killed and many injured. I managed to move house in the middle of it. It's an unusually active typhoon season, another two tropical depressions have formed out to sea. It's still too early to predict where they will head with any real accuracy, but there is the possibility of another Typhoon hitting Taiwan this weekend.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Typhoon Jangmi

I don't want to sound like a stuck record, but a typhoon is on a collision course with Taiwan, this time named Jangmi, meaning "rose" in Korean, at this moment a category 4 storm, and right now looking like slamming right into the guts of the island sometime today. Great timing, as this afternoon I have to move house. It will be the most powerful storm to hit Taiwan so far this year. Power poles and trees have already been toppled along the east coast. It's very windy and rainy in here in Taipei, and I've seen trucks loaded with sandbags going past my house. This baby has a well defined eye, and winds between 191 and 227 kph, so looks like it will cause some serious damage, not to say loss of life.

More Propaganda

China's state news agency published a despatch from the country's three latest astronauts describing their first night in space before they had even left Earth.

The Xinhua agency, which has sometimes been accused of carrying state propaganda, took down the story and blamed it on a "technical error".

The article described the Shenzhou VII spacecraft orbiting the Earth and outlined a conversation between the astronauts.

Friday, 26 September 2008

More on contaminated milk

On September 24, 2008, the UK supermarket chain Tesco pulled all White Rabbit Creamy Candy from their shelves "as a precaution" in response to the melamine-contamination reports. The the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety issued an advisory on the product after it tested positive for melamine in their laboratories, with more than six times the legal limit for the chemical, around 180 ppm. Australia has issued a recall of the sweets, commonly sold at Asian food stores. New Zealand had their product tested and although it did contain melamine, as there had been no harm done yet they were unable to recall the product. This sounds crazy at first blush, but then two reporters who did the maths, using test results, noted that "a 60kg adult would have to eat more than 47 White Rabbit sweets every day over a lifetime to exceed the tolerable threshold" for melamine. Up until now omly infants have been falling sick, no doubt due to the fact that their entire diet has consisted of these contaminated milk products.
However, it should not be forgotten that this was delibarate contamination of a food product using a poison substance, to give a false protein result in watered down milk. Unfortunately the Chinese system of govenment deals with such matters in a predictable manner. Several low level officials are sacked from their positions and publicly denounced, while the communist party leadership is portrayed as wise and comforting, claiming that they will put everything right, saying that those responsible will be punished severely, while taking not one ounce of responsibility themselves.

2008 baby milk scandal

Taiwan has suspended imports of all mainland Chinese milk products and vegetable-based proteins. Health Minister Lin Fang-yu also urged Taiwanese on Monday not to consume locally made puddings, instant coffee and ice cream containing Chinese-made protein additives. At least seven Taiwanese companies have imported contaminated proteins from China. They say the proteins are made from corn or other vegetables but may be mixed with tainted milk products to improve their flavor.
The Department of Health has so far failed four Taiwanese companies' products due to melamine contamination. There is a great deal of public concern here over this issue. The government is offering free kidney checks at public hospitals.
Strangely, the government here has raised the permissable level of melamine in food products from 0 ppm (parts per million) to 2.5 ppm. Thus some products which were initially ordered withdrawn are now back on sale. This has caused some anger among the public.
In China there is now a booming market for wet nurses.
The use of baby formula in China has been very high, due in part to aggressive marketing by milk powder companies, which has led to a widespread but false belief that formula is more nutritious than breastmilk.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Latest bid for Taiwan's United Nations participation rejected

The United Nations subcommittee has again ruled it would not let the General Assembly consider Taiwan's request for permission to join U.N. activities. The subcommittee meets before the actual general assembly gathers, and decides what will be discussed. While 160 other items were listed for discussion, the communist dictatorship in China objected to any discussion of the Taiwan issue. It's another blow for Taiwan and it's the 15th year running that it's annual applications to join the UN have failed. This year the application was not even to gain membership, but merely to have meaningful participation in UN agencies, such as the World Health Organisation and UNICEF. While these agencies do some wonderful work, the general assembly itself is a joke. As long as the five permanent members of the security council have veto power, those five countries have ALL the power. And whatever highly contentious issue is up for discussion, you can bet that either China, the United States or Russia will use their veto based on their own selfish interests. The running dog Ban Ki-Moon has also made a number of very unhelpul comments regarding Taiwan in the past two years, and seems to be quite willing to kowtow to China's imperialist wishes. On july 27 2007 he said "the position of the United Nations is that Taiwan is part of China." and "The position of the United Nations is that the People's Republic of China represents the whole of China as the sole and legitimate representative government of China,"

Monday, 15 September 2008

Sinlaku moves on

Typhoon Sinlaku has moved away from Taiwan and has weakened into a tropical depression. Four people were confirmed killed and seven are still missing. My roof has stopped leaking. The trees in my area have taken a pounding, but life has quickly returned to normal here in Taipei.

Sunday, 14 September 2008


Sinlaku is here, the water is pouring through the ceiling now, three buckets and a wet bed tell the story. The torrential rain hasn't let up for some 20 hours, and there is widespread flooding and landslides. As I write the typhoon is making landfall, the winds are strong but not extreme yet, at least where I am, in northern Taipei.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Typhoon Sinlaku almost upon us

The eye is only 100km from the coast, the torrential rain is constant now and gusty winds are picking up. There have already been reports of landslides. Rail and air transport has ceased. Our kitchen downstairs is flooded and there is water running down the walls and dripping from the ceiling in my bedroom.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Typhoon Sinlaku

Typhoon Sinlaku, meaning "goddess" in Micronesian, has become a slow (7kph) moving super typhoon on a path toward northern Taiwan. It is due to either make landfall or pass very close by the north of the island late saturday night/early sunday morning. It is forcast to strengthen and expand in size, although it already has sustained winds of 184kph. It will certainly put a dampener on the traditional mid-autumn or moon festival which is this coming sunday. There has already been alot of torrential rain during the past two days. The Taiwan Central Weather Bureau defines torrential rain as more than 200mm in a 24 hour period. Jenny and I will be attending a wedding banquet tomorrow evening. These tend to be lavish affairs planned months in advance and are unable to be postponed so tomorrow may be somewhat of an adventure.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Update - new computer - landlord problem - visa issue

Hello Xu Xu has finally taken the advantage of being in Taiwan to buy a notebook, which is to say laptop, that is to say computer. Up until now all has been done at internet cafes or at my Chinese language school. This means I find myself with a "you beaut" machine that seems to be able to do much more than I am presently able to comprehend. I am sure I will figure many things out presently, and I am sure that this machine will become old and obselete before it reveals all of it's secrets to me. Nevertheless I am now able to distract myself from my Chinese classes for what seems like minutes but which turns out to be hours. I have a question, what sort of free stuff do people recommend I download from the net to make my computer more useful? I've heard people talking about mozilla, should I get me some o that? Wouldn't mind a couple of classic arcade games like Galaga and the like. I don't want to clog the beastie up with a load o crap but I have a heap o gig to play with, and I reckon that's gonna keep me happy for a while.......

On another note, my landlord has shafted me on our rental agreement, I have a signed document saying I can live here until the end of October, but I have been told that I must leave at the end of September. This is of course a great inconvenience to me as my semester doesn't end until mid October. I will be out on my ear with another 3 odd weeks of sleeping place to find. I wasn't planning on heading back up to Hell Valley but my good friend Chicago Stu has offered to save my bacon..... pending further developments.
Oh yes ....Taiwanese beauocracy dictates that as my last day of class is on October 17, I must therefore leave Taiwan on October 17, no they won't give me an extra day or two to settle my affairs! As I don't plan to head to Australia until November 15 it means a trip off the island, I'm thinking maybe Macau this time around, after a few days there I can re-enter Taiwan for up to 30 days visa free....

Friday, 29 August 2008

Air Raid Drill 2008

Yesterday was air raid day in northern Taiwan. At two thirty pm air raid sirens sounded an attack wail in Taipei and north Taiwan, and for thirty minutes until the all clear was sounded, everybody (except the police and military) had to remain or go indoors, people driving had to pull over and sit in their cars, people on scooters had to pull into alleyways. It was eeirie to see deserted streets and freeways, and to not hear the rumble of the city, but within I would say about four seconds of the all clear being sounded, scooters were roaring again, horns were blasting and all was well in Taipei once more.....

Monday, 25 August 2008

This years United Nations application.

It's that time of year again, Taiwan has applied every year since 1993 to join the United Nations, and each year the application is opposed by China. Details on last years bid and some background can be seen here on a post from last september, but briefly, last years bid was unique in that Taiwan applied to join under the name "Taiwan", previous bids were under Taiwans official name "Republic of China". This year the island is trying something different again, asking the UN to consider the fundamental rights of the 23 million people of Taiwan to "Participate Meaningfully in the Activities of the U.N. Specialized Agencies", and is not a specific request for full UN membership. This is a far more moderate approach, and is partly due to the new KMT government coming to power, replacing the staunchly pro independence DPP party, whose former president of Taiwan and his family are under investigation for alledgedly sending some $US20 million of into private offshore bank accounts, as well as other alledged "wrong doings". Ex President Chen has already admitted falsifying past campaign expenses and sending campaign contributions into offshore bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, although he says that his wife sent the money without his knowledge.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

A birthday in class

One of my classmates here at Tamkang University is having her birthday today. Unlike in the west, here if it's your birthday you buy the cake and pay for all the celebrations yourself. So here I am with my classmates just before we tuck into a tasty cappuchino flavoured cake. The girl in front with the purple top giving the big V(as is the habit here when having your photo taken), is YenDee, an Indonesian Chinese, and it's her celebrating her twentieth birthday today. On her right is our teacher, whom we address as Lao Shi, which is "teacher" in mandarin.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Taiwan Beer Festival

On saturday I went to the Taiwan Beer festival, which was a celebration of Taiwan Beer, a product of the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation, formerly known as the Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau. It had a monopoly on tobacco and alcohol products in Taiwan until the country joined the World Trade Organisation in 2002. It is still the most popular beer on the island, with the Chinese Qingdao in second place followed by a mixed bag of mostly Japanese and American beers. The festival was held at the old Jianguo Brewery in Taipei city, which was built in 1919 during the Japanese occupation. One wall of the factory is made from old beer kegs.

There were market stalls, games, music, and lots of Taiwan beer flowing. I planned to just have a couple of quiet ones and head off. I purhcased a cup of the Taiwan Draft beer, a freshly brewed unpasturised beer which is difficult to find outside Taipei, bought a couple of traditional chinese sausages with a few cloves of garlic thrown in the bag for good measure, and sat down with some locals. Within two minutes I had four new friends who kept filling my cup and toasting me, refusing to allow me to buy any beer. Two guys worked at a girly bar in Taipei, and another fellow was a stock trader, there with his prison guard fiancee.

This went on for some time, but finally we parted and I wandered about some more with a new perspective on things. I even had a go at the maze constructed entirely from beer crates.

All in all it was a great afternoon out.

Friday, 8 August 2008

At Street Level

And this is what it looks like from the outside. At the very centre of the shot of the house is my balcony, and you are right Captain Oddsocks it's be a grand spot for a few pots, in fact that could be this afternoons mission. Have just has a test in class which I think went well. This years teacher is very good but she piles on the homework and is fond of giving tests.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

The new abode

My bedroom for the next three months or so, as I said, after looking at some real dumps, I stumbled onto this big, breezy place in Qilian district, with air-con and a private balcony, which sets me back $NT 6500 per month + utilities. It's two minutes walk from the Qilian MRT (mass rapid transport) station which gives me access to many of the dark alleyways and green parks of Taipei.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Back in Taiwan

Yes I am back for another blast of megolopis madness, and it only took five minutes for a couple of things to remind me where I was. Firstly, going through customs in Taipei was as effortless as it possibly could be, with nobody in the airport uttering a single word to me. While waiting to collect by bag I was reminded of the Taiwanese peoples love for expensive branded accessories, new hights being reached with one dapper fellow sporting a Louis Vuitton bum bag (that is to say fanny pack)! The bus which delivered me into the guts of the city was sporting a huge effigy of Hello Kitty, I should have known it wouldn't take long for her to track me down. I have been fortunate in finding some agreeable accommodation, living in Qilian area with a couple of Taiwanese people. This was after looking at a couple of real dives, one "studio" apartment which was completely windowless (and NT$9000 per month, extra for aircon use)! Today I began my Chinese language classes. My classmates are a mixed bag as usual, with three Indonesian Chinese, 2 French Chinese, a Belizian and a Mongolian.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Projecting again

My time in New Zealand has allowed my to indulge in a hobby of mine, mucking around with old 16mm prjectors and films. My trusty old Elmo projector finally gave up the ghost so I got hold of an Eiki to run a few old reels through at a couple of friends houses. I'd love to take one of these babys to Taiwan with me but they are heavy old beasts and shipping costs more than they are worth. When I do find one in Taiwan the asking price is inevitably stupidly high. In most countries they are rare but quite cheap as there is no demand for them. In Taiwan they are rare but people think that makes them expensive, especially if a foreigner wants to buy one! The films are still around if you look hard enough, but time takes it's toll on some, some old colour films have faded so that red is the only colour remaining, but it's still great fun finding old newsreels, documentaries and educational films from the 40's to the early 80's.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Toilet Instructions

Thanks to for this wee jem. If the writing's too small, click on the picture and it might get bigger.....found in a public toilet in Sichuan Province, China

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Xu Xu in New Zealand

I've just realised that my last post was my 100th. I've also been out of internet access of late so here's a wee update of where and what. I'm in Christchurch New Zealand, where it's bitterly cold at the moment. I'm working for a mate on a building site, where I've learnt about joists, purlins, dwangs, and the importance of a warm hat. Fortunately I still have my trusty Czech Zmiovka.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Monument to the eight hour day labour movement in Ballarat, Australia

We spent a couple of days in the historic gold mining town of Ballarat in Victoria, Australia. Picking is finished, Jen has returned to Taipei and I fly to Christchurch on monday........

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

All but over

The fruit picking season here is reaching it's damp conclusion. The leaves are falling - some trees are already fully denuded and the pruners have begun their work on them. Jen and I are the only pickers left on the farm, and we can finish what few bins of Sundowner apples are left in around four days. At least we could if it would stop raining, which it has been doing off and on for the past four days. These apples must be completely dry before they can be picked, otherwise they will bruise. The rain is wonderful for everyone here though, the ground has been dry and dusty far too long for any farmers liking, now winter grain crops can be planted and farmers can happily complain about all the weeds which will now germinate and need to be sprayed. Jen flies back to Taiwan at the end of the month, and I'll head to New Zealand for a few weeks before making the journey to Taiwan myself for another stint at the markets and Chinese language school........

Friday, 2 May 2008

China's Goverment and it's people

It's important to differentiate between the chinese government and chinese people, who on the whole are much the same as everybody else save that the chinese "learn by rote" education system has made many of them ignorant and have strong opinions about things which they don't have all the "facts" about, much like americans. They are also loud and love money like americans... but on the whole once you get to know them are really nice, except the ones who think that because you are not a local that it is their duty to try to rip you off, and I'm not just talking about foreigners but also about people from other parts of china!Pollution, it's bad, really bad in China, but the chinese seem to have two main excuses for it 1, lets pollute, get rich and develop technology to fix it later, and 2, the industrialised world has been polluting for 200 years, china does it for 20 and ithe industrialised world gets all indignant while at the same time buying all the stuff that we need to pollute the air to make! I see their point. Human rights - they stink in China, but most Chinese don't know about it because the government censors the internet. They are pretty good at it, so why can't our governments do something about child pornography on the net???Anyway, simply, Chinese people mostly good but a little brainwashed into believing government propaganda, Chinese government mostly a dictatorship good at what it does, still honing it's skills...... Chinese people in Eastern cities subdued by luxury goods and the dream of fantastic wealth (more Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Swiss watches sold in east asia than the rest of world combined), Chinese people in western chinese cities subdued by poverty and propaganda.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

The Willy Willy

Driving back to Shepparton from a trip to Dookie with Alex the German yesterday we saw this willy willy, or dust devil, that is to say a mini tornado, swirling across a burnt off paddock. About ten seconds after I took this photo it was gone.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Ruby Pinks

It's the real tail end of things now, this is a new planting of Ruby Pink apples and this is the first year that they've been harvested. At lunchtime there isn't alot of shade here!