Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Andrew Leonard's blog

I hope to put up a real blog entry soon, and a whole new blog soon after that. For now however, I am reading up and working on aforementioned new blog. However, in the meantime, read this

It was comforting to find out that someone I respect (at least so far I find this Andrew Leonard very smart and interesting), did the teacher in Taiwan thing. Furthermore at about the same age and for more time. I also agree with the article and how Taiwan has grown.

That said, I do think that the WTO can eventually be a tool for increased trade, rather than a deterrent. Although I agree with him, right now the WTO is likely doing more harm than good, I feel over time its role will assist the world more and more.

I also recommend the blog in general, very interesting stuff (despite the stupid advertisement).

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Star, foreigner, and McyD's

There is an ad being overplayed on Taiwanese television for Big Macs. It starts with one of the entirely replaceable male Taiwanese "stars" about to enjoy a hearty bite of his hamburger goodness. I have actually seen this particular star live at a New Year's Eve concert (western New Year's Eve).
I have noticed that Taiwan does a lot of the stuff Americans do, but does it even bigger and better. America illogically worships and peruses a random group of "stars" for a fairly narrow band of perceived talent. Taiwan stalks to obsession there stars, openly and aggressively, yet does not seem to know why. The most read news paper here is probably the Apple Daily, a trash rag filled with violence and star stalking. The paparazzi in America seems to be a faceless unstoppable force. But here, the paparazzi is blatantly major media outlets. It would be like if USA Today focused on horrific traffic accidents, complicated suicides, and dirty things done by American idols.
This specific star (who's name I don't know, and don't necessarily care to find out), is arguably one of the best examples. He is a baby face with over choreographed dance moves, virtually no singing talent (even his The Music Man style "talk-singing" is not especially good), and laughable acting (though I should not his eyes get mighty big for that Big Mac). Yet, at the New Year's Eve party, everyone seemed to be glad he was there, doing his thing. No one seemed to especially like him. No one had his album or seemed to have real feelings about him, but they all seemed to take his fame for granted. The papers publish every breakup and new relationship, and everyone reads it, but reads it while saying they don't care.
Anyway, here is the commercial if you only notice the long cuts (rather than trying to activly track the short cuts). Baby face man-boy is taking an exaggerated bite out of his whooper of a Big Mac. His bag is sitting on the edge of the railing next to him, but falls off. A business man sees the liter fall in front of him and pauses for a second (his thoughts: "should I stop, and pick it up or allow the dwindling social capital of my society continue to plummet?"). A little school girl then suddenly goes into a soccer defensive position (business man's thoughts: "screw it, I will try to pop the bag into that little girl's head!"), so he boots the bag across a busy Taipei pedestrian area. And then the fun breaks out! Everyone is knocking it around, and soccer is a goin' wild.
Having originally not given a shit that he had littered on the people that somehow made his blank face in "hip hop" clothing a star, superstar runs down the stairs to join the fun! In the end, he boots the bag, through the grasp of a "goalie," and into the closing doors of a bus. Its made clear that this is a goal, all celebrate, and they surround the hole of a man to tell him how much they love him and his Big Mac stuffed face.
This is to remind people that McDonald's is paying a lot of money to make the World Cup remind them that McDonald's is paying the World Cup a lot of money. Also, there is Snoopy...and buttons...and buttons with Snoopy. These nationalistic buttons, other than being a rip off of the 7-11 Hello Kitty national flower pins, each symbolize McDonald's bloody reign over the world's most oppressed arteries.
So that is the commercial, and I have seen it many, many times. They have the station showing NBA games locked down, so let me emphasize, I have seen it many, many times. I have seen it three times since starting this blog in fact (not too odd, as I am now watching the same commercial I saw literally a minute and a half ago).
Before I started writing this, I saw the long version, and watched it with a bit more care. To be honest, this care was simply because I like how the schoolgirl drops into defensive position (the best actor in the bit, she looks truly prepared) and I wanted to see if she fielded the "ball." It was not her in fact, it was some woman, who then kicks it, to another guy, who kicks it again, its in the air, and then its headed by a white bike helme...This is where my mind went screech.
I collect mental instances of foreigners on Taiwanese television. For a country that loves Western culture, the appearances are shockingly rare. The few exceptions tend to be commercials in fact. Today I saw a commercial where a tea compared its refreshing goodness to a hot Taiwanese girl going through a car wash in a top down VW bug convertible, filled with blond Germanesque young people, while they are ogled by 台各 workers (think the Taiwanese equivalent of trailer trash). Other than that, TV foreigners are mostly limited to teaching English (only one of which regularly speaks Chinese), a few music videos with black dancers, and a few appearances on the Japanese channel.
So where we left was the bag hitting a white helmet. To any familiar with this island, they already know where this is going. The bag was headed by a Mormon missionary on his bike. They really nailed it too, white shirts, white safety helmets, black pants, and partnered by a nearly identical Mormon buddy. The image was strikingly correct, I saw it and thought, "that is what foreigners look like." I actually assume they were filming in some place in Taipei and grabbed a couple of missionaries right off of the street.
One thing that struck me is that the people in this spontaneous soccer game were all "stereotypical." There was the stereotypical school girl, the stereotypical business man, and so on. The missionaries were the stereotypical foreigners. I have heard such sentiments before, I have heard friend say that they thought most foreigners were missionaries. Some have assumed I knew local missionaries (which actually is the case sometimes).
I don't mind the missionaries here. They are the only white people I have ran into here without expecting at least the possibility of the laowai death stare. They are kind, and they don't seem to put on an elitist attitude compared to many of the other foreigners who speak Chinese, or even compared to missionaries in other countries. That said, them being my representative made me oddly feel a little stereotype.
What strikes me is that it is not unfair. They probably grabbed some real foreigners and made the commercial. But I can't help but laugh that a western company, advertising their love of a tournament being played in the west, with an alliance to a western cartoon dog, represents the west with the ultimate foreigner symbol in Taiwan, funny looking guys in white shirts wearing white bike helmets.

PS - the photo is a McDonald's in a hospital, enjoy!
PPS - I am in a mission publishing this, long story, will tell you later.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Sunday after noon 功夫

I have not spent a Sunday afternoon shooting guns in Texas, but I have spent a Sunday afternoon doing martial arts in Taiwan [editors note: "in China" would make that sentence much cooler, but its hard to justify. The cultural connection between China and Taiwan is deep, but it just feels silly to call this place China since we don't live in the PRC's wet-dreams...hmmm...that sound is this blog getting blocked away from 1.3 billion people...]
I was invited to kung fu class to hang out with some of my master's pupils for most of today. First thing noticeable, they are all hilariously similar. My master is a big dork, albeit a lethal dork, but his dork qualities are apparent. You can see a photo of him on this entry. He is very shy, so he did not exactly smile for the camera. He has a big goofy smile; he loves to do beautiful, deadly, and incredibly fast things and then beam a huge smile, like a dweeby scientist might beam after showing off a chemistry trick to a class of elementary students. His real students follow in similar vain. The two main pupils and master alike wear black pants up to the belly button, and rock white wife beaters for shirts (sorry if wife-beater is not PC, I am a red state native and not sure of the real word).
The actually activities were great. This class focused more on actually fighting then previous ones. We did very tiring drills. For example kicking a pad or kneeing a pad over and over. A minute and a half of which can be shockingly tiring if you are giving it your all. Our master would always point out that when he was young, he had to do far more of these then that (for instance kicking the pad for thirty minutes!).
It was also a cool thing to see a new side of master Ruan (I believe that is his name, it may be Luan, sadly I am not sure). I have always seen him with new students, or older students. In both cases, he is far more kind than he is to his young but trained students. He made fun of, although in his very kind hearted way, his two pupils training in his absence ("you are only doing this for a minute? Didn't I make you do this for five minutes before").
We then busted out the wooden katana. We took the katana and broke blocks until we broke the katana. It was the first time where I could really feel that how I apply force has changed (you can really feel that the more you relax, the more power you produce). I am proud to say I sliced some blocks real good. We also did sparring for the first time. It was interesting for me, because it showed me what I really need to improve. Of course all in attendance were so beyond my level it was not really a competition, but I did learn a lot. Also, we got out the old fake gun, and master Ruan taught ways to get a gun out of someone's hand.
The day was really fun. I made friends with the talkative pupil, who was very engaging and generally cool. The other pupil mostly smiled and said maybe three sentences the entire day. Next time I meet up with them, one of them should teach me the meaning of white, and let me tell you, its about time I got this white thing down.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Chinese Drama Boxing

Last night I had a long conversation with a friend whose life was plagued with drama. The high-school style drama of silly and pointless fights. Her ex-boyfriend, living back home is clearly too reactive and over-emotional. They fought constantly. Now she is about to go home, and worried about how to approach him.

I have learned Tai Chi from two people here in Taiwan. First, my kung fu master, who emphasizes the martial uses of Tai Chi. He uses it as a building block for more forceful forms of kung fu and marital arts. My second teacher is my friend Allison, who has taught me a far less martial form of Tai Chi.
打太極拳 means to do Tai Chi, but in Taiwan, it has the metaphorical meaning of shifting responsibilities onto someone else. To stretch the metaphor, but change the object, I am learning a Tai Chi style of shifting away drama and attacking the issues I really should care about.
I realized that Allison taught me something that is sadly very difficult for me, avoiding drama. First, this is not to say my life has been filled with drama. However, I think for someone who is as passionate about development as I am, I have wasted far too much time and effort on conversations and people that only end in miscommunication and mistreatment. Most of these conversations did not help anything more than time or avoidance would. If someone says something insulting, you are not swallowing your pride by ignoring it, you are simply not connecting your pride to your vanity.
I do see room for self-evaluation towards criticism, but most drama is from very small things. If you are maintaining an assortment of good friendships with an assortment of good people, then one person who constantly faults you is probably the problem.
My desire to be liked and respected has driven me for a long time. It arguably created my desire to be a politician, yet, in a politician, this same desire automatically makes me not want to vote for them. In retrospect, I am confident that my distaste for this behavior comes from its vanity.
I think my short(er), blond, American teacher taught me to push away the need to live in a black and white world of right or wrong in terms of pride and respect. It has allowed me to push away the elements of myself and others that create unnecessary fighting. I want to save that force for my metaphorical pen and my literal keyboard.

Last thing, I have a lot of trouble reading my past entries. I plan on starting a serious blog about China and law sometime in the next year. I constantly debate whether or not I should put it under the same profile as this blog (thus linking them together). I have always had a habit of hiding away my past in shame. Yet, I think I will keep the blogs together.
Sadly, I am going to take another lesson from Dallas Mavericks' owner Marc Cuban. I respect the man for what he has done. I like the man for his basketball team (the Mavericks should be considered one of the best packaged teams in American professional sports, and he should be considered the source of that). One thing I have noticed, his entries are painfully human. He writes things far to similar to things that I have written, looked back at, and shaken my head at. Although, he has already fought his biggest battles, and I have not even picked up a weapon, I respect that he shows his humanity and his, well, dorkiness. I hope I can carry that same confidence.