The Old Blog Archive, 2005-2009

Archive for the 'bon-vivant' Category

Can Tourism Buy Us Some Little Sense of Belongingness?

Lately the biggest change in my house (where I live with my mom and bro) was that we canceled the cable and subscribed to a local ISP’s media-on-demand service. We now pay a fraction of the monthly fee. We have less channels, no 24-hour local news, but we get the extra. We now have things like DW-TV (Germany), TV5 (France), BBC World, Bloomberg, Arirang TV (South Korean, in English) and Aljazeera. The media-on-demand service isn’t top-notch, but it’s like what I think Taiwan should always have had 5-7 years ago. Anyway they fit into my taste, and I happen to be able to watch the German and French channels.

The other day I was watching TV5, and I noticed the program, a science and technology one, was made by CBC, the Canadian (quasi?) equivalent of BBC. It talked about transportation technology and the cityscape of Montreal came on screen.

Plan du métro

I visited Montreal a few months ago and was in love with the city. But my affairs with cities are not confined to that North American gem. Such is the up side if you plan traveling yourself.

One thing I find, this being very subjective, about the cities I love is that they have this or that quality that I want to call it home–if I can overcome the hurdles of not just being a visitor.

That’s probably som sense that plain tourism can’t emit–the type of tourism, of joing a tour, that we are familiar with. The appeal of a place can come ironicaly from some travails you undergo on the road.

I’m not sure how those cities do it. They don’t seem to try very hard on being a places people want to call home–or if they try, collectively, they aren’t trying too hard that we see the trace.

On this I reflect on what we do in Taiwan, especially when the government and the tourism industry are calling for more visitors and more revenues generated from tourism. Now I measure the success (or not) of such endeavor by if someone recalls a good trip when s/he sees streetscape in any Taiwanese city and starts to want to call the place home, among the many choices and city affairs the person has in life.

Back from Tokyo

Just took a half-vacation, half-work break in Tokyo last week (well, you can’t really call a half-work break a break, but so it went…).

My fifth time there, and I felt even more at home than last summer when I was on a business trip. I could feel my Japanese improving and that I was able to do more in Japanese this time. The only two occasions I had to resort to English had both to do with technical stuff, like input method development and programming langauge issues. That was when I felt most awkward and powerless. And I forgot to (and didn’t have time to) buy Takahashi’s book this time.

... 浪費在...

So other than the work part (the typhoon in Taiwan made some trouble), it was a very enjoyable trip.

When you visit a foreign city and it’s no longer the first or second time, it’s the little things that count. Like this time I was finally able to have brunch at the Tsukiji Fish Market–fresh toro-uni don was totally refreshing, and would certainly make me unable to visit ordinary kaiten sushi bars for a while!

The new Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi was equally amazing in its architecture and interior. Inside it was hustle and bustle, just like any other shopping venue. But at the exterior, especially in the garden, it was very quite. I couldn’t imagine this kind of places in Taiwan (or in any other Chinese-speaking regions) offer the same silence–or other, I couldn’t imagine if they ever stop making sound during weekend. Tokyo was really a crowded city, and Midtown was really popular during the weekend. But such soundlessness negated the crowd effect.

Surprisingly, this was the first time I realized, and felt tired of, the fact that Tokyo was such a crowded city. Taking the Yamanote Line during the peak hours (which means most of the day) could be physically exhausting. And I stopped wondering why the pedestrian crossings in Akihabara and Shibuya are so wide and long–because they have to be so. I shunned visits to Shinjuku as much as I could this time.

Fortunately, we were staying at a great weekly mansion (ウィークリー.マンション; a type of accommodation in Japan that has no room service, is on a relatively longer lease, and is a great bargain) in a very quiet area in Tokyo. I couldn’t believe it’s still within the reach of Yamanote Line, yet is on such a slow pace. One reason I suspect though is that the area has many cemeteries. But Japanese cemeteries are like Western ones in that they are peaceful and are never visually intimidating.

With the Sony empire in decline, game consoles going global, and best MP3 players coming from Apple, Japan has lost its appeal to me as a beacon of leading consumer electronics. I still remembered the first time a family friend brought me to the Yodobashi Camera store, and boy it was heaven. Shopping is also more or less a Starbucks thing–you run into same stuff in any big city.

Interestingly, exactly because those can be bought is now available everywhere (and if you don’t think so, you must be too inexperienced with the international shipping options), that those couldn’t be bought and brought back with you become more valuable. I like travelling in Japan because its culture is not loud–loud in aesthetic, sensual, architectural and audio-visual terms. Simply taking a walk in the city–pick a quiter neighborhood with old bookstores, izakayas and wagasi shops sitting around–is a pleasure. And knowing more about the language enriches every new trip.

I’ll definitely refrain from working next time.

What Is Boast, and What Isn’t

Two quick thoughts:

There is a certain kind of boast, or personality thereof, that emphasizes “how good I have (or the thing has) become because of my choice of tools“. Like, “the photo is great because of the camera I bought“, “the code has become faster, the lines fewer, the scalability better, because of the language that I mastered“. The fact is there is no good tool or bad tool, only tool that fits the situation and tool that doesn’t. Masterpiece can be taken with a point-and-shoot camera (think of Nobuyushi Araki), and talking about how many megapixels there are is platitude.

There is a certain kind of travelogue that I stopped reading since long ago. I seem to have lost interest in what is happening in a city now and am only interested in the history of a city over a certain period of time. Any travelogue that tries too hard to fit in too may now-happenings loses my readership for good. My criteria for good travel literature now: curiosity, slowness, acceptance of fateful encounters (or the lack thereof), and the most important quality, silence.

Reconfiguring Life

Since father’s passed away we have been shedding things in the house. The guest room that never was is finally cleared up. We decided to give away the Mac Plus and will throw away the “made in Taiwan” Apple II and an early 1980s Vector CP/M computer shortly. They have been stored in some paper cartons for the past 10-15 years and have never been powered up again. I don’t even want to take pictures of them before they are out.

My parents, like many of their generation, used to frown at throwing away things. Father was particularly like that. Being a proud Hakka, he valued thrift much. And having served in the water processing and environmental engineering sector (he had overseen construction projects like water supply for chipmakers, incinerator for medical wastes, and so on), he always told us to “think of the impact to the environment” whenever we were going to throw away something. And he was an avid recycler–we’ve got a few appliances around that was rescued by him from the streetcorner. He repaired them and made them back to life.

In recent years, however, that has acutally become a problem. The house we have been living for almost a decade is certain bigger than the last one, which was too small for a house of five, but that doesn’t mean the capacity is unlimited. And again, like many of their generation, he sometimes stocked things out of impulse. When affluent baby-boomers now live in the age of hypermalls and cheap groceries (their prices being the cheapest in real terms in the entire human history), that impulse can bring funny consequences to a house. Many of my friends also shared the complaint that their parents buy too much, throw away too little, and their houses are full of clutters.

And we the Taiwanese, unlike our Japanese neighbors, are really, really bad at organizaing and utilizing space.

So for the past few months, since my family reached an agreement on what to keep (mostly photos and a limited number of personal belongings), we have been throwing away things. It was lot of work, and it is amazing that we are still throwing away things today.

For me, the past few months have been difficult. Emotionally we have to come to terms with the loss. But finding time to de-clutter the house, in addition to my already very hectic work schedule–it’s always hectic when you now have your own business, teaming up with partners, and playing multiple roles at the same time–is also such an ordeal. I have to devote a day or two every week. Lots of decisions and re-thinkings are involved in the process.

Still, we must do it and have to think what we really need in the next 2-3 years. There will be lot of things happening around. Like little brother is going to college in ’08, and I’ll certainly travel more. If we don’t de-clutter and don’t reconfigure the space, we’ll be literally stuck in a spatial impassé. Not that we lose our mobility literally, but that’s a very subtle psychological thing, and the fact that the space you live in reflects your mental state. Life must carry on with some reconfiguration.

My father’s recycling virtue has its sad side. His refurbished appliances have brought us some problems, and now we have lost a mechanical genius that could take care of them. I might be the one that have some of his skills in repairing things, but fixing software bugs already takes away most of my energy, and I don’t really want to spend yet another minute when I’m at home to rewire the speakers that stop working, or re-install Windows XP on those old PC boxes (horror!) that are noisy and in effect not really energy-efficient.

We have thought about selling them on auction sites. But taking photos of them is another time-consuming work. Many of them just don’t have brands. The “made in Taiwan” Apple II wasn’t of really much value. And giving them away to people? There are way too many things to give away, and it’s not easy to find the right people–or just finding people who are willing to take them is hard enough. We do have donated a used Acer desktop PC set to a middle school, which in turn gives it to a student who needs a PC at home.

In the end we have no choice but to throw many things away. Gladly we live near a household that does recylcing for Tzu Chi Foundation, one of the largest charity organizations in Taiwan. They categorize and arrange things and re-distribute them to people in need.

The one thing that my sister and I had been telling father is: we actually have more than enough in the house. The same can be said of many of my generation’s house. Overstocking things create clutter, and clutter ends up in waste. The sad thing is that not all waste have high residue market value, and clearing them out is another time-consuming, economically inefficient thing. So refurbishing or repackaging those stuff is just out of the question (they’re not economically rewarding at all–and I doubt the probability of changing hands successfully), throwing them away seems to be the only viable solution if we are to de-clutter.

So today I came to this “advice to parents” on my Twitter: if you really value the virtue of thrift, don’t be a pack rat.

Focusing, or Drifting Away

I have written more on programming and software-related stuff since last October than I ever did. My lifelong problem and anxiety (so far) has always been that I wasn’t on/into anything particular for a long time. So three months is amazing. Will have to see where all this leads to.

High Way Service Areas

Some high way service areas in Taiwan have free wireless access now. They have already been 24/7 with convenient stores and gas stations, and now they have free wireless access.

It’s hard to write about transits probably because that’s what they are. Travel literature is more about places like cities, towns, countrysides, or about sceneary, people in history, art objects, or events. Transportation means or transits are part of the travel, but they are more like the backdrop. It’s harder to imagine a trip solely consisting of airport or train station hopping (not that there ain’t people who do that, it’s just more fringe). We go viaJFK to NYC. If we go to JFK, it’s because we’re heading elsewhere. There was once I put my instant messenger nickname as “SFO-NRT mm/dd1-dd2″ and a friend of mine asked if I was doing an airport-hopping trip. He took things too literally.

Transits can be what the Japanese call “ma,” or in-betweenness. Transits are not associated with memory and are not worth being written or noted exactly because that’s what they’re for. A trip overflown with self-boasting photos or captured memory (how apropos that phrase is) is like being on an all-you-can-eat spree, resulting in too much. Transits are there to give people a breathing space, a nothingness in-between the two stops, the two meaningful meanings (or the meanings-that-I-intend-it-to-be). They are there to be tasteless.

Still, I like the fact they have free wireless access here. Being connected on the road is a different thing. One is at the same time cut off from the beingness of stops themselves but still gets the access. Scribbling or doddling in such ambience is like working in a newly-remade partition. And anyway it’s a memoryless area. Things simply feel, to bear their own very properties, transient.

Reading Others’ Bio

From Michael Hughes‘s (his Sovernirs set is featured on Flickr Blog):

My first wife left me in 1981, which although painful, led to two very positive developments; I decided to become a

full-time photographer and my weekly migraines disappeared for ever. In 1982 I accidentally went to Berlin met a group

of politically active but thankfully not Trotzkyist, squatters, fell in love and began to build a life there (here).

1983 moved permanently to Berlin. Became involved with the FDGÖ, a politically based media collective,

producing stickers, postcards and latterly a video performance installation based on Samuel Beckett, which toured Germany

and was invited to the “Dokumentarfilmtage” in Leipzig, then DDR in1985. A portrait project which I called “True Stories”,

Black and white photos are combined with a text which synthesises the history or aspirations of the subject,

complementing or contradicting the perceived impression of the photo. The project continued over the next few years,

resulting in an exhibition in Berlin in 1986, and was shown, as part of the European Cultural Capital in Glasgow in 1987.

The Berlin Wall came down while I was working for Stern, I was suffering from a cold and went home,

something for which I was never forgiven.

This one from PPK’s site:

Originally I was educated in ancient history (Greeks and Romans) and as a teacher. I couldn’t find work, though, and although I busied myself for two years with research into ancient Germanic sagas, especially the Thidrekssaga, I wanted to get a real job to earn some real money.

Therefore I switched to the Internet at the tail end of 1997, when I started on a (very bad) course that would make me “Internet Advisor”, whatever that may be. I took the opportunity to delve deeper into the practical issues that confronted anyone who wants to create web sites.

Cherry Coke

Heard Coca Cola continues to make and sell it because Warren Buffet, one of the company’s major shareholders, always drinks it.

This is the first time I find investors can do good things to my life. That doesn’t mean I found they did bad things to me. It’s just what they do had nothing to do with me.

It’s very very hard to have cherry coke in Taiwan. It was on the shelf when I was a middle school student. Then Coca Cola stopped selling it in Taiwan. Years later they have vanilla coke. But even vanilla coke is hard to find lately. And vanilla coke ain’t no substitute for cherry coke.

Now that I think about it, the next version of OpenVanilla should be called OpenCherry. Seriously. I love vanilla coke and vanille ice cream (just don’t force me to say I love another vanilla thing, that’s too preverse). But vanilla ain’t even standing on the same level that cherry is.

Going Back Home … Kind of

In six hours I’ll be on the plane back to Taipei. The word “back” is actually not accurate. I was doing my military service one day, and the next day I’d be on the way back to Taipei. No, not back, I had thought then, but simply going to and staying at my parents’. To state and acknowledge such wasn’t the most comfortable experience I had had: that I had, at that time, no “home” of my own.

I won’t say where I’m staying now in Beijing is my home either. It’s a place and a shelter for sure. But I’d rather emphasize that it’s “my apartment in Beijing.” Not my home. Home for me is still way ahead. Don’t know what will be coming yet, but will never give up.

The most important thing in Taipei is to apply for a US visa. I had bad luck when I was in Beijing. The US Ambassy refused my application on the grounds that “the applicant could not prove that he has established a firm standing in Beijing” (or something like that). Hope this time it goes well. In addition to that I still have loads of tasks at hand, but I’ll focus on the coming WWDC and prepare for the code snippets that will be shown to the Apple people there, and there are blogs and wiki’s to update, friends to meet, things to buy or to replace, among other things.

But all in all it’s a sign that I’ll be on the move again. This time a long trip. Godspeed, and may the trip bear its fruit.

That’s What I Am…

boē lián-tńg

Boē lián-tńg, or, “not fluent” in Taiwanese Holo, often written as “不輪轉”, is what I often say to admit my embarrassment of never being able to master that language (…”yet”).

Picture courtesy of Pektiong, the person behind OV’s POJ input method.

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