Friday, December 31, 2004

That cold Taichung weather

I see that the Weather Channel "magnet" says it's 45 F right now, with winds at 15 mph (that must be in the city--up here on Dadushan, they almost picked me up off the ground). And yes, the wind chill is about 38.

SEA-EAT blog

It's quite possible you've seen this blog already, but if you haven't, The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami weblog provides information about Dec. 26's earthquake and tsunamis, and about related relief efforts and opportunities to help out.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

More and less interesting ways to use a "cheat sheet" during a supposedly memorized dialogue presentation

Had dialogue presentations in class today. (For the blissfully uninformed, this is where students write a dialogue, have me correct the grammar, memorize the corrected version, and present it in hopefully an entertaining fashion for their classmates who are themselves desperately trying to memorize their own dialogues before they have to present or who are relaxing after having presented their dialogues.) Noticed that some students (not all, not even most, I'm happy to say) felt the need to have the dialogue script nearby as they presented. Sometimes they actually used it (which resulted in my lowering their grade, since they were supposed to memorize the dialogue) and some, I think, just felt they needed to feel its aura near them as they presented.

Some students gave the script to someone sitting in the front row, so that person might hiss a key word at them if they forgot. Some students used the scripts as props, pretended they were newspapers or DMs (direct-mail advertising flyers). Some students propped the scripts up on the chalkboard, in full view of everyone (one pair was doing a good job of facing the audience when they spoke--except when they forgot what to day and had to turn around to look at their script). And one student spent a lot of time looking at her forearm--on which, as it turned out, her lines were written. It reminded me of a picture I once saw of the "cheating shirts" that civil examination candidates sometimes used to help them remember the Chinese classics. It also reminded me of the "cheat sheet" that I took to one of my comprehensive exams. We were allowed to bring in a "cheat sheet" so long as it was only one page (double-sided was OK). I managed to get my font size down to 7.5, with margins of 0.2 cm all around.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Christmas dance parties

The Christmas parties and dialogue presentations that are going on downstairs are competing with the Scholars Baroque Ensemble recording of Handel's Messiah that I'm playing in my office. I break out the CD every year around this time to try to get me into some sort of Christmas mood.

Every Christmas things get particularly noisy around here as a party atmosphere sets in. Our school is famous--or notorious--in these parts for a huge Christmas dance party that students hold every year. It's a loud monstrosity that backs up traffic on Taichung Harbor Road as students from all over the area ride their motor scooters to the school's gate and park along the road, covering the sidewalks with scooters. Then there's usually a rock band of some sort and a lot of screaming. I live about 5 or 10 minutes (by car) from the school and some Christmas Eves have heard the yelling and cheering from my house. I've always thought Christmas dance parties were kind of weird, and I've tried to explain my feeling to students in terms like "Would you go to a dance party held on Chinese New Year?" This usually gets responses like, "Oh no. That's a family holiday."

All crankiness aside (and the above is probably just an expression of crankiness that has little to do with the student Christmas party), I'm happy this year because my brother and sister-in-law are coming for Christmas. This will be the first Christmas I've had with my brother in 13 years and the first Christmas ever with my sister-in-law!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The former native speaker's kitchen self-destructs!

We were awakened this morning to a horrendous crashing sound. At first we thought our enemies were finally attacking us directly. (Yes, the former native speaker has enemies...) But no, the culprit turned out to be some worn-out screws that were holding our kitchen cabinet to the wall. What a disaster, though! Here are some pictures:

So we've got some shopping to do this weekend... *sigh*

Quotable quote

My brother, referring to his breakfast in Tainan this morning:
I liked one of the intestines better than the other.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Post-election news roundup

Just in case you weren't watching, the pan-blues (the KMT, New Party, and PFP) retained their majority in the Legislative Yuan yesterday, 114 to the pan-greens' (DPP and TSU) 101. I imagine this will result in continued gridlock in the legislature, as the pan-blues do their best to make Chen (and by extension, the DPP) look incompetent as a president. This, unless the two sides manage to overcome self-interest and actually try to work together.

The Taipei Times has an editorial arguing that the "low" turnout for the election (66%, they say, but the China Post says under 60%)* had to do with people becoming "sick and tired of politics". The editorial also argues that the strategy of allocating votes (basically asking the party faithful to vote for one pan-green candidate instead of another because the former is more likely to lose than the latter) hurt the pan-greens. These claims are in contrast to analysis from sources like the PRC and CNN that have attributed low turnout and the pan-green camp's loss to Chen's pro-independence stance.

*Note as of Dec. 14: Either I've got 老花 eyes or the Taipei Times has changed its turnout figure: it now reads as 59% on the website.

Friday, December 10, 2004

T.G.I. this particular F.

Tomorrow's election day. Today the parades have been following us wherever we go, shooting off firecrackers and generally just snarling traffic. Pre-election day news:

From Free-for-all marks penultimate day before elections (China Post):

One typical family — in Kaohsiung — has three generations each prepared to vote for as many parties.

A matriarch of the family, a staunch supporter of President Chen Shui-bian, will vote for whoever the Democratic Progressive Party wants her to vote and requires her two children to do as she tells them.

The grown-up children are Kuomintang supporters. They want to follow the opposition party's vote rationing directives and have been clashing with their mother at dinner table every evening over the last week.

Her grandchildren, three of them eligible to vote, want to stay at home on Election Day. They dare not tell their granny of their abstention plan, which, however, has been intimated to their grandpa, who is prepared to vote for the New Party.

From Chen says will back Guggenheim if Hu supports DPP candidates (Taiwan News):

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday urged Taichung City Mayor Jason Hu (­胡志強) to support the city's four pan-green legislative candidates, in exchange for his backing to push through the Guggenheim Museum project in a "green" Legislature.
[Sounds like bribery--or blackmail? to me...]

Can't wait till it's over...

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Reactions to Chen's name-changing proposals

Today's Taipei Times reports (and editorializes) on several reactions to Chen's proposals to change the names of de facto embassies and state-run organizations:

One thing that comes out of all this is that it's much clearer that the name change has more to do with sovereignty than with clarifying easily-confused names. (This, again, isn't a big surprise--I was purposely taking Chen's comments at face value in my previous note, but I don't think that's necessary anymore.) It's also quite clearly being discussed right now because of the legislative elections. I've seen at least one "green" representative say that those who don't approve of the change "don't love Taiwan." We'll see what happens to these ideas once the elections are over...

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Naming Taiwan

(also the title of a paper I'm working on for a conference in April...)

In Chen Shui-bian's 2004 inaugural address (English version), and in at least one interview before that address, Chen explicitly raised the national identity issue--in the former, by the statement "regardless of whether an individual identifies with Taiwan or with the Republic of China, per se, a common destiny has bequeathed upon all of us the same parity and dignity" (不管是認同台灣或者認同中華民國,其實都是相同的歸屬). In the interview, he said:

For the 23 million people of Taiwan, whether our country is called Taiwan or the Republic of China, it doesn't change the fact that we are an independent, sovereign country. We are not a local government of another country.

In both of these statements, Chen raises the national identity issue (R.O.C. or Taiwan?) as a point of equivocation--while it is an issue that has never before been so explicity raised by a sitting R.O.C. president, it is also quickly waved away by the act of equating the two possible names or identities. This is a new version of the balancing act that Taiwan (or is it the R.O.C.?) has performed ever since it lost international recognition as a sovereign state.

Now Chen is proposing to change (or "rectify") the names of state corporations and government agencies so that they use the name "Taiwan" rather than "China." Chen claims that this would be done in order to reduce the confusion that results from the word "China" in the names of those organizations. He also implies that this is not the same thing as a formal name change.

To some extent he's probably right--people in other countries are probably not always aware that "China Airlines" is from Taiwan, or that "China Petroleum" is also a Taiwan(ese) firm. The word "China" or "Chinese" often gets applied to Taiwanese organizations and people more in ignorance of the geographic origins of those organizations or people than in recognition that the "China" or "Chinese" refers to the Republic of China (rather than the People's Republic). (Ask any Taiwanese student in the U.S. who gets labelled a Chinese student whether or not s/he wants that label.)

When it comes to the names of some of Taiwan's de-facto consulates, which usually include the name "Taipei" instead of "China," Chen could run into some trouble. If the main purpose of the change is to avoid confusion, rather than to press for a de facto "Republic of Taiwan," then it's not clear how calling the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (Taiwan's de facto embassy in the U.S.) the "Taiwan Economic and Cultural Representative Office" will make any difference, since the word "China" isn't in the name right now. (I suppose if you want to go along with Vice-President Lu Hsiu-lien's argument that people might think TECRO doesn't represent Taichung or Kaohsiung, you could say a name change would reduce confusion. But I wonder if the confusion is as great as she implies, or if it's just her impression of the situation--as it was with the "UNFAIR" ad campaign.) At this point the name change comes close to an official name change.

When Chen Shui-bian was reelected in March (let's leave aside the controversies regarding the election), he won by a margin of about 30,000 votes, or less than half a percentage point. That's not much of a mandate. (Even Bush got more of a "mandate"--ugh.) Do these proposed name changes reflect the will of the people (the 23 million people of Taiwan that Chen often invokes in his speeches)? Since Chen's proposal is closely tied to the legislative elections that will be held on Saturday perhaps Saturday's results will tell us the answer.

[Update: May 15, 2005: The English quote from Chen that's at the top, about "parity and dignity" is obviously different from the Chinese version. In my paper, "Naming Taiwan," for the conference, I translated the Chinese version as "no matter whether one identifies with Taiwan or with the Republic of China, actually it's the same thing". It's a rough translation, but it's closer to the Chinese than the official translation.]

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Late season typhoon

Taiwan just got hit by typhoon Nanmadol, which is (according to the Taipei Times) the first December typhoon for Taiwan "in recorded history."

A few trees got knocked down around here, but today we have a beautiful clear sky. Other parts of the island weren't so lucky, though.