Sunday, September 30, 2007

Teacher's Day - I Scored Big

Friday was Teacher's Day. It's sort of a holiday here, I guess. We don't get the day off but teachers usually get gifts from some of the students and the school leadership. It's nice to be recognized for your efforts. I was pleasantly surprised by the stuff I received this year. I didn't expect much because I have been at the Dunhua branch for just a few months. Apparently I have made an impact on some of the kids...I scored big!

The "vase" isn't ideal. I am a guy...I don't have spare vases lying around my apartment! The bottle of wine is from Annie; the box of truffles is from Betsy; the rose is from the office secretaries; the chopsticks and spoon/fork thingy are gifts from the school. There were some other things that were eaten before I could get them home. All-in-all, I think I did pretty good.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Zoe - Motorboating Around the Office

Look at that face, she is adorable. Zoe is the little sister of Betsy, one of my students. Zoe visits the office two or three times a week and turns me into a babbling goof every time. She is two years old and as cute as any child I have ever seen. Enjoy these wonderful photos of her...they are fun.

If you have an opportunity to say "hello" to Zoe, she will reply with a crystal clear "hello, how are you?". It's priceless.

What a cutie. She was willing to give me her best "silly face". I was crouching on the floor laughing out loud. It's moments like this that make me regret not having a kid or two of my own.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Burma/Myanmar Update (Day 9)

What everyone has feared is happening...the military junta has opened fire.


It's chaos in the streets. The soldiers have killed up to 8 protesters, mostly monks, according to the latest AP report. The government has authorized the soldiers to raid monasteries and arrest the monks. There are several eye-witness accounts of monks being beaten to death. Looks like the government is no longer going to tolerate ANY disobedience.

Ignoring the directives from Beijing, the crackdown on the peaceful protests is in full-force. Many leading experts in the region have speculated that the only reason that the government has allowed the protests to take place as long as they have is because the Chinese government is weary of the bad press leading up the Olympics. Apparently, that is of no concern to Than Shwe, the leader of the military-run government. Ignoring the warnings of their big brother up north could spell trouble...

The United Nations is now taking action. A few days ago they announced renewed pressure on The State Law and Order Restoration Council, the party of those in control in Rangoon/Yangon. Burma has been the subject of sanctions for decades with little effect. This situation will not be resolved with economic pressure alone, not as long as China continues to prop-up the junta.

This fight is only going to get more intense. Let's hope the will of the monks breaks the proverbial backs of the illegitimate military strongmen.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Moon Festival at Longshan Temple

Tuesday night, Catherine and I made our way to the Longshan Temple. It's one of the more prominent Buddhist temples in Taipei. The place was packed! Catherine escorted me through explaining many of the customs and rites. It's a beautiful place.

I really enjoy visiting the temples. The artwork and aura is intense. Since Monday was a holiday, the temple was especially busy. I did my best to not disturb Catherine as she partook in the rituals. She was an excellent tour guide.

Here are some of the photos from our visit:

(I have finally discovered how to export photos properly. From here on in, they won't open up full-sized when you click on them...not sure why it took me so long to discover how to do this.)

Approaching the main entrance. The place was hopping.

The waterfalls are just inside the entrance in the first photo. I was quite surprised to see them.

Mugging for the camera. I don't allow myself to be on that side of the camera very often, enjoy!

Some interesting etchings surrounding the entrance doors.

Looking back at the gate before we entered the main temple.

What a spread! Visitors bring offerings in order to show one's commitment and encourage generosity and virtue from the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

The main worship area. I had to turn off the flash on the camera because there was so much smoke from the burning of incense and candles.

One of the many worship areas. I love all the colors and intricate design-work.

There are several of these pillars throughout the temple. All of them have unique messages etched in them.

Catherine chatting with another young woman while waiting her turn to approach the shrine.

A fine example of the lovely artwork throughout the temple.

I took this to show the amount of smoke emanating from the temple. I was standing on the sidewalk quite a distance from the main area. It was crazy smoky.

I am planning on making a return visit soon. I want to go there during the day in order to catch some of the stuff that night shots can't pick-up.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Burma/Myanmar Update


According to Reuters, the junta has placed hundreds of troops in the heart of the area where the protests have taken place over the past week. This locale is also where the military junta slaughtered 3000 pro-democracy protesters in 1988. Government vehicles equipped with loudspeakers are cruising the streets warning the citizens about laws that prohibit free-speech and the consequences of breaking the laws. Despite the emergence of the military thugs, the brave Buddhist monks and their supporters are marching on. The next few days are pivotal and bloodshed is almost certain to be a part of the upcoming confrontation.

Keep in mind, Burma is 90% Buddhist. Violence aimed at the monks is surely not going to garner any goodwill from the general populace. There is no group in the country with more support than the spiritual leadership. Violence against the tens of thousands of monks will certainly come back to haunt the military junta.

Another very disturbing development, according to the Reuters report, is Aung San Suu Kyi has apparently been moved from her home to a high-security prison. It looks like the junta kingpins didn't approve of the display of love and respect she received during the monks visit to her the other day. I'm thinking they feel they have to put as much distance between Suu Kyi and the marchers as possible...a sad attempt to abate the uprising.

Stay tuned...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Aung San Suu Kyi

Suu Kyi (pronounced "soo chi") is the daughter of the man who negotiated Burma's independence from the U.K. in 1947. He was assassinated shortly after the negotiations by one of his rivals. Suu Kyi was just two years old at the time. Despite the tragedy, her mother gained prominence in the new government. As a result, Suu Kyi received a top-notch education including university degrees in philosophy, politics and economics. Her family is revered in Burmese society. They have a, sort of, first-family type of respect because of the work of her parents.

She lived abroad until 1988, when her mother became ill. 1988 proved to be a pivotal year in Burma. The ruling socialist party fell apart and the military rose to power quelling the growing desire for a democratic Burma. Suu Kyi formed the National League for Democracy in response to the despotic military junta. The generals in charge saw her as a threat and placed her under house arrest on July 20th, 1989. She has spent most of the time since then imprisoned in her home. The junta's leadership is willing to release her if she will leave Burma and never return, she has refused to comply.

In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Her sons accepted the prize on her behalf. She took the $1.3 million prize money and started a health and education trust for the Burmese people.

This past month has seen the most concerted effort in 20 years to overthrow the military rule. If the resistance prevails, Suu Kyi is sure to be the leader of a free and democratic Burma.

I think British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sums it up best:
"So Suu Kyi's courage is the courage to sacrifice her own happiness and a comfortable life so that, through her struggle, she might win the right of an entire nation to seek happy and comfortable lives. It is the absolute expression of selflessness. Paradoxically, in sacrificing her own liberty, she strengthens its cry and bolsters its claim for the people she represents."

Burma - A Struggle for Freedom

If you have been watching the news these past few weeks, you've seen the footage of the protests in the streets of Rangoon (Yangon). Burma (Myanmar) has been languishing under the control of a despotic military rule for about 45 years. The military regime has, essentially, destroyed what was the once the wealthiest state in southeast Asia. The generals have suppressed all free speech and elections have been abolished and/or a sham. The military leaders have managed to transform a thriving/growing land into a country in crisis. The following is an excerpt from the Freedom House website:

The State Police and Development Council (SPDC) rules by decree; controls all executive, legislative, and judicial powers; suppresses nearly all basic rights; and commits human rights abuses with impunity. Military officers hold most cabinet positions, and active or retired officers hold most top posts in all ministries, as well as key positions in both the administration and the private sector.

The recent actions in Burma are of particular interest to me because Catherine is Burmese. She is here in Taiwan on a student visa. I love Catherine and I am concerned about the welfare of her family and friends. She is my sunshine and I know she is worried about the future of her homeland.

Here is a video from the BBC chronicling the recent protests:

Also, an excellent look into the state of affairs brought to you by AlJazeera:

I fear that the Monks will be sacrificed as a result of the government's need to quell unrest. I think this situation could easily turn into a bloody mess. Perhaps it takes the death of those greatly revered in order to empower the voiceless?

It's time for the world to come to the aid of the Burmese freedom fighters. If those leading the charge have an iota of the qualities that Catherine possesses, it's worth the effort.

I will be keeping a close eye on the situation and will continue to post about the developments.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Bumbling Idiot is at it Again...

Bush is stumbling and bumbling and Olbermann is right on, again. His examination of the blurring of the line between the military and the civilian leadership is enlightening and scary. This commentary should send a chill down your spine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Typhoon Wipha

36 feet high waves, 190 miles per hour/300 kmph wind gusts and 17 inches of rain in 24 hours...not fun! Yesterday Taiwan experienced a pretty hefty storm. Not the worst I've seen, but still nasty.

The roof of my apartment building was put to the test and it failed in one respect. A crack in the ceiling in the hallway between apartments emerged and water streamed down the wall. Unfortunately, it was right above the electrical box that houses the adsl hub for the entire floor. At about 8 o'clock last night, the 9th floor lost internet connection. You would think the world came to an end by the reaction of everyone I called Jerry, the landlord, and he promptly braved the elements and came over to take a look. We did everything we could to fix it and failed miserably. Jerry called the adsl folks first thing this morning and they arrived to fix it within an hour or so, excellent response time! Phew! Life without internet is like being stranded on a desert

Everything seems to be back to normal and life goes on. Living on the Pacific Rim is never dull when it comes to the climate.

The unscheduled day off work is NEVER a bad

Monday, September 17, 2007

Not a Lump of Coal

WOW WOW WOW!!! This is amazing. I was standing up and cheering in my apartment while watching Paul Potts, the eventual winner of the competition, performs a bone-chilling rendition of Nessun Dorma, by Puccini. It is an aria from the opera Turandot. Let's hope this man realizes great success.

These clips are from the British TV show Britain's Got Talent. It's the American Idol of the U.K.

This is remarkable:

And his final, winning performance:

I am not and have never been a fan of these "talent" shows because the standard fare is not my type of music. It's refreshing to see something other than a Paula Abdul wannabe win.

Street Festival

Saturday afternoon, I was on my way back from my usual visit to Florida bakery when I noticed traffic barriers on Da An Rd. I presumed that there was some sort of accident and the police wanted the street clear of traffic. As I got closer to the MRT station, I discovered why the traffic had been diverted. Jhongxiao East Rd, a major road in the city, was the scene of a festival. I have no idea what everyone was celebrating but there was lots to see...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Teacher Mike

My friend, Carrie, has a good post about some recent drama that took place at our school. Check out her view on the topic here: My Several Worlds.

Mike came to work at the school about 6 months ago. He seemed like a nice enough guy. My desk was on one side of Mike and Carrie's was on the other. I would like to add a few thoughts onto Carrie's analysis.

Initially, the only reservation I had was his age, he is in his mid-forties. This really isn't a big deal to me because I too am quite a bit older than the typical teacher here. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and hoped for the best.

Shortly after he began teaching, some alarming signs began to materialize. I am in my late 30's but continue to have the energy of a twenty-something and an ability to relate to the students, Mike lacked both of these traits. He just seemed a bit slow-on-the-draw and that is not an option when teaching kids. He wasn't able to let loose and be silly.

Confidence and flexibility are the keys to success in the classroom. I knew after a week or so that Mike didn't possess either of these characteristics. He was just too rigid. It was like watching Al Gore in the Presidential debates...a wee bit painful.

Also, he didn't take kindly to other teachers/administrators critiquing his performance. This is a BIG problem because oversight is paramount in the schools here. I was taken aback by this when I first started teaching here but soon began to appreciate it. It has helped me to iron out a lot of the kinks in my approach. My impression was that Mike took offense to someone telling him a better way to teach a lesson. He didn't get that it was constructive criticism that will enable him to succeed down the road.

Sadly, Mike's issues weren't confined to the classroom.

On more than one occasion, he exhibited some unsettling paranoid delusions. He was convinced that the other teachers were stealing his books when he wasn't at his desk. I told him several times that the books don't belong to him, they are the school's, and are used by all. Regardless, he rambled on about thievery. At one point, he lost his passport. He proceeded to tell me about the giant criminal network throughout Taiwan centered on stealing passports. For two days he grumbled about being victimized and no one is safe here. I calmly told him that he needs to turn his apartment upside-down before alerting the authorities. He came to work the next day and thanked me for the tip. I experienced many of the same paranoid tendencies when dealing with my grandmother. It can be exhausting.

There were quite a few other concerns with Mike's performance. I think it's safe to say that Mike needed to move on.

When I transferred to another branch of the school a few months back, I knew that it was just a matter of time before all of the above would come to a head. After a heated exchange this past week, Mike quit. I think he may have been a half-step ahead of management regarding the end of his service. Again, check out Carrie's site for the gory details regarding his last days at the school.

I am pleased that this mess appears to have ended. I don't have any ill-will towards Mike. I hope he gets some help in dealing with his anger/paranoia.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bill Mahar and his New Rules

The following is from Real Time, a show hosted by Bill Mahar. Mahar is great. The writing is top-notch and always right on. This clip is from the August 24th episode.

The bits about Croc shoes, Chinese toys and Wal-Mart are solid.

"Let's have a war and cut taxes...what could go wrong?"
"I like his stand on the issues, but can he dunk?"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The School of Shock

Photograph by Larry Sultan for Mother Jones.

I recently listened to an Air America interview with Jennifer Gonnerman, the author of School of Shock, an expose' about a truly bizarre school located in Massachusetts, USA. Please check out her article on the Mother Jones website.

It's a "special needs school" that sees fit to discipline the kids by using electric shocks when they deviate from the plan. The above photograph is one of the students sporting the device that delivers the current. They also use other forms of behavior modification, but the electric shock device is the prominent technique at the facility.

Here is an excerpt from the piece:

(Rob was 13 years old at the time)

Rob was at the Rotenberg Center for about three and a half years. From the start, he cursed, hollered, fought with employees. Eventually the staff obtained permission from his mother and a Massachusetts probate court to use electric shock. Rob was forced to wear a backpack containing five two-pound, battery-operated devices, each connected to an electrode attached to his skin. "I felt humiliated," he says. "You have a bunch of wires coming out of your shirt and pants." Rob remained hooked up to the apparatus 24 hours a day. He wore it while jogging on the treadmill and playing basketball, though it wasn't easy to sink a jump shot with a 10-pound backpack on. When he showered, a staff member would remove his electrodes, all except the one on his arm, which he had to hold outside the shower to keep it dry. At night, Rob slept with the backpack next to him, under the gaze of a surveillance camera.

I simply cannot imagine going to this extreme to get control of a kid. This is medieval! They are kids with learning/behavioral issues, not subjects of a bizarre experiment. Such nastiness will only foment existing problems. Josef Mengele must be grinning in his grave seeing this place flourishing.

The investigation is another example of the excellent work of the great journalists at Mother Jones. If you would like to read the full article, click here: School of Shock.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Paintball in Neihu

Sunday afternoon, I got a chance to play G.I. Joe. Kiara, one of the secretaries in my office, put together a paintball outing to celebrate her birthday. About 20 folks showed up at the park in Neihu and had a fun time. We played war in the early afternoon and enjoyed a picnic later in the day. I had a blast. It was a great opportunity to get out and do something so incredibly different than my day-to-day life. Running around firing a high-powered weapon does wonders for one's ego. Ya can't help but laugh, even after you get shot with one of the little gelatinous hurts, but the adrenaline overrides the pain. I don't know the name of the place but it's just a 10 minute taxi ride from the Shilin MRT station. Everyone had a fun time. Check out the pictures below for the story of the day.

The source of pain. I was hit in the finger, knee, head and most painfully, the butt. There's no crying in war! Ya gotta shake it off and continue to search and destroy!

Getting pumped up for war. My image will never be used in a "Be All That You Can Be" We were a rag-tag team with a thirst for blood!

The first stage of the competition. That's me posing with Kiara prior to the start. The rest of the team is positioned to defend our ground from behind the wall. Catherine took these shots from behind the protective fence/curtain. The shots aren't the clearest, but I think she did pretty well.

The first stage of the competition took place in a fenced-in area with mock buildings. Our job was to defend a small barrel from the blue team. We had to keep them from knocking over the barrel for 10 minutes...we failed. Here I am trying to come to grips with the failed mission. I am not a good loser...

Trying to rally the troops. Losing the next round was not an option!

Planning our attack. This is when it got serious. We were now in the "woodsball" portion of the challenge. This is where I feel most comfortable. It requires more sneakiness and the ability to traverse rough terrain. I have always been good at that kind of thing so I was pretty pumped up. The objective was to storm up the hill and take out (shoot) the member of the blue team with a yellow arm band. All the while defending our yellow arm-banded player from the blue team's attackers.

As you can see, the area is chock full of obstacles and places to duck and cover between shots.

I am glad to report that red team was victorious in the jungle. I managed to hit the poor sucker three times before he surrendered. In order to win, you have to score a head-shot. I hit the guy in the body a few times and my comrades brought him down. He was a whimpering mess by the time the dust had I had infiltrated pretty deeply into blue territory as a result of my Rambo-like charge up the hill. My blue team support was effective with their precise cover-fire. (Please allow me to bask in my testosterone-driven efforts!

Weary soldiers returning from the battle.

OK, this guy is never gonna strike fear into the hearts of the enemy. Even dorky guys need to feel like a hero once in a while.

The armory. They had a dizzying array of weaponry on hand.

Not sure what the heck this sign says, just thought it was interesting.

After the war. The barbecue was tasty. Catherine had a nice chance to meet many of my co-workers. She has always been a little nervous about them because I am the only guy working there. Just me and about 15 women...sorta like a dream I have had about 5000 times!

The guys cooking up the seemingly endless supply of meat. Many of the girls brought along their boyfriends. These two were hovering around the grill for hours.

My cutie pie talking with the girls. The weather was perfect and made for an excellent cook-out.

A little stream cut through the property and made for an excellent spot to take pictures.

From the stream banks. It was nice to enjoy the peace and quiet. We sat around and chatted while taking the occasional dip in the stream.

Here is a shot from inside one of the manufactured arenas. You can see evidence from past battles in the foreground. Check out the names of the kiosks. Sogo, 7-11 and Taipei 101 are all prominent landmarks in Taiwan.

The property is in a beautiful area as you can see in the background. Just a few minutes outside the city, but it felt like a million miles away from the madness.

This is the site of my fall from grace. After the "woodsball" portion of the competition, there was just four of us with enough ammo to keep playing. We decided to have a two-on-two battle in the above arena. I knew going into it that it was going to be rough because it's a small space and I had a target on my back due to my performance in the woods. All hell broke loose as the action started. I got a little too aggressive and found myself trapped far too deep in the other teams territory. They had me pinned down and I took several shots to the body, including the stinger on the butt...I don't believe I have ever whimpered in quite that fashion After several barrel rolls on the ground, I sprung to my feet firing my gun furiously. Much to my dismay, I was firing at my teammate! I hit him square. The last thing I remember was hearing his cry for Before I could get my bearings again, the match was over. We were resoundingly defeated by the other guys. After my shockingly poor judgment on the battlefield, I was in dire need of some sympathy and kisses from Catherine!

What a great afternoon. We had a ton of fun. I am going to find out the name and the exact location of the place and post it on here for those of you interested in trying it out. It was some seriously crazy fun.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Rugby World Cup 2007

This weekend the World Cup starts...I am psyched! This is the largest exhibition of my favorite sport. Rugby is not for the faint at heart, it's rough. I have always been a big sports fan and I have no doubt the toughest guys on the planet are rugby players. This should be a fun tourney. My favorite team, the All Blacks, are the favorite to win the competition. The boys from New Zealand are gonna be tough to beat.

The next several weekends I will be at The Brass Monkey, a local pub that shows all of the rugby matches on a giant screen TV. My buddies Graeme and Andrew will surely partake in a lot of the action with me. Both of them are from South Africa, the biggest rival to my could be interesting. A few months back, Graeme gave me a South African rugby jersey. I suppose I will have to wear it, as painful as that may

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

With God On Their Side

You know you are in trouble when the National Coalition of Nuns calls for your head. Those gals have got a direct line to Even if you're not Catholic, like me, ya gotta be a little afraid of the hooded ladies of faith.

Religion Briefs Coalition of nuns calls for impeaching Bush and Cheney
Saturday, September 1, 2007

A progressive group of U.S. nuns has called on Congress to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney because of their roles in the war in Iraq.

“The National Coalition of American Nuns is impelled by conscience to call you to act promptly to impeach President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for ... high crimes and misdemeanors,” the group wrote in a letter written on behalf of its board members.

The letter says that impeachment is warranted for their “deceiving the public under the false pretense that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction” and “destroying” the reputation of the United States and the good will of other nations.

“The time for impeachment is now — before the example of George W. Bush’s regime is set in stone,” they wrote. “Future generations will thank you for preserving the freedom of our nation and its relation to the entire human community.”

The coalition was founded in 1969 for individual nuns dedicated to issues of social justice and human rights.

The letter was approved during a mid-August meeting of the board, held in Chicago. During that same meeting, the board unanimously adopted statements opposing all war and affirming peacemaking efforts. “Rather than continuing support of a just-war theory, a more compassionate church would oppose all war and teach peacemaking skills for all levels of government and interpersonal conflict resolution,” the statement reads.

The board also adopted statements pledging to work to “moderate the impact we make on planet Earth,” and supporting nuclear disarmament and relief efforts for the poor in Africa.

Back Aches

These past few weeks have been topsy-turvy. Last Wednesday, I was getting ready to leave for work when I lifted my backpack and heard a snap. Something let go in my back. I can't figure it out...the bag wasn't heavy and I picked it up just as I have a million times before. Regardless, it hurt. The rest of that evening was tough, work was a challenge. The crazy pain didn't start until I woke up the next morning.

Thursday morning I could barely lift my head. I decided to head over to my local doctor. Thankfully, doctors here are plentiful and getting to see one is never a problem. There happens to be an office in the building next to mine. I went in and within about 5 minutes a nurse had given me an ice pack and the doctor was asking me all the pertinent questions. Every doctor I have encountered here has a functional level of English, thankfully. The receptionist took my health card, wrote down my info, and charged me a whopping NT$100 for my visit...folks, that is about $3 American...

A few minutes later, I was escorted to an exam table. The doctor began by having me lift my arms to see my range of movement. He stated that he sees this type of injury a lot. He put cream on my back and told me that many back injuries are a result of infections. In order to fight the infection, he was going to try some cupping on my back. It's used to draw out the toxic stuff that may be causing the pain. The following picture is my friend Carrie getting the same procedure.

If you'd like to learn more about "cupping" and lots of other neat stuff, check out Carrie's site at My Several Worlds.
Photograph by Joanna Rees. She is an ex-pat living here in Taipei and quite the shutterbug. Check out her site at Joanna Rees Photography.

I'm not sure if the procedure worked, but I am willing to try anything, back/neck pain is the worst. Along with the cups, the doc did some pressure point work. After the pressure work, I felt a bit better.

While I was trying to relax I glanced out the crack in the door and noticed a woman across the hall having acupuncture applied to areas on her face...this is when all hell broke lose...NEEDLES!! The room began to spin. Wow, I am a total basket case. I told the doctor that I needed to lay down and some water to drink would be nice. Cold sweat beads were forming on my forehead. He left the room and came back with some water and an interesting little chewy thing that was supposed to help me did. After allowing me to lay down for a few minutes, the good doctor got back to work. He told me not to lift anything heavy for a few days and applied a bunch of stinky smelling patches to my back. I could take off the patches in about 6 hours.

I took off work Thursday and tried to relax. That evening I took off the patches and felt a little better but I don't think that any of the procedures would have a lasting effect. It's been a week since the visit and I still have quite a bit of discomfort.

Many of you may be thinking that the above procedures are odd. Yes, the doctor I went to is a traditional Chinese doctor that specializes in alternative methods of care. This is not the only form of medical care here, just one of the options. I was curious to see what kind of alternative treatments were out there. "Normal" doctors are also plentiful and it costs me just NT$200 per visit (about $6 American). I think I might head over and see the guy that I went to when I worked in Shulin, he is great.