January 26, 2006

Ferrets in Taiwan

You've probably asked yourself a million times, "Are ferrets available and legal to own as pets in Taiwan?" The short answer is yes, but you will have a difficult time finding them. According to statistics for the last year, only 273 ferrets went through the quarantine required for imported animals. Another article from October of last year states that the going price in Taipei for ferrets is a whopping NT$25,000, but also states that a pet shop in Kaohsiung was selling a lot of seventy ferrets for NT$15,000 a piece, spayed/neutered and de-scented. Another article gives the going prices as $10,000—$20,000, and states that a high grade ferret used for producing antibodies for humans costs as much as NT$80,000.

The picture, taken at a pet shop in Arizona, shows that the ferrets have neatly eliminated in one corner of their enclosure. This natural inclination makes them easy to housebreak. At the top is a hammock, which serves as a bed. The price at this mall pet store was $150 a ferret.

The pet shop in Kaohsiung that sells (or sold) ferrets is called 金林寵物店. The telephone number is 07-558-9421 and the address is 高雄市左營區博愛二路198號.

Sign at store

Here's a sign from a clothing store in America. The Chinese characters don't mean anything, but I will generously try to give translations to the phrases : "below things middle grow" and "middle things below grow" and "below things below grow." Or, to get creative, read the characters 下品 phonetically as xiapin, or "shopping." Then, the phrase 下品中生 becomes "Life is in shopping." And there is something going on with the large orange circles mirroring the circles being made by the hands. And I'm pretty sure that the hands doing sign language are intended as a pun, because they (and the Chinese) are a form of language displayed on a sign. Or maybe not.

January 24, 2006

Chinese cover songs test market saturation

Music executives in Taiwan and Singapore are testing the limits of market saturation with the simultaneous release of two new covers of a European song that was released in Taiwan just months ago. The original song is called "Dragostea din tei" by Romanian group O-Zone, which translates, according to music video subtitles, as "Love of the linden tree." It is a song whose catchiness and cross-cultural appeal is only matched in recent years by "Macarena." For the song's release in Taiwan, the music video was subtitled with Taiwanese and Mandarin lyrics that are near-homophones for the Romanian lyrics. This created such nonsense lyrics as "suck railroad/fish skin ramen." The video showed cartoon characters performing to match the nonsense lyrics.

The two Chinese versions of the song that were just released in Taiwan are by Jocie Kok (郭美美) of Singapore, and the male duo 2moro from Taiwan. The lyrics for the Jocie Guo version of the song, "Bu Pa Bu Pa" (不怕不怕) are about not being afraid of cockroaches. The lyrics for the 2moro version, '"Shabu Shabu" tell of the joys of eating hot pot (shabu shabu).

Two Chinese versions of the song were originally scheduled to be released one month apart. Elva Hsiao was slated to sing the first Mandarin version of the song. However, after Elva recorded the song, it was decided that the song did not suit her, so the song was transferred to Jocie Guo (Meimei), just in time for the release by Taiwanese identical twins, 2moro. Osborn Kuo (郭彥均) of 2moro tried to put the best face on this unfortunate timing by saying "Different versions, different feelings."

For more on "Dragostea din tei," check out the Wikipedia entry.

January 16, 2006

Chinese Fire Drill

The phrase "Chinese fire drill" usually describes a state of confusion. It is also the name of a game, which you may have seen in the opening sequence of the TV series "Happy Days," in which a car stops at a red light, everyone gets out of the car, runs around the car, and then gets back in the car before the light turns green. I recently took part in a fire drill in Taiwan, which is normally a totally unremarkable event, but it turned out to be different from the average fire drill—it was a fire drill with Chinese characteristics. Although the drill was not chaotic, it was the most uncomfortable drill I have participated in.

Fire regulations vary from country to country. In some countries, elevators are actually used as part of the fire escape plan. That is not true of Taiwan, but there are some unique fire escape items here. The first is the "slow descent machine," or "escape sling," which is a device used to rappel down the side of a building. This device is often placed next to a removable window. The second device is the "thick smoke escape bag," or, more literally, "plastic bag." Contrary to what you were taught as a child, this clear plastic bag is used by sticking your head inside the bag and cutting off your air supply, in the hope of providing a small but smoke-free air supply as you flee a building.

In the recent fire drill, I finally had a chance to test out the plastic bag. First, one opens the bag and waves it through the air, filling it with air. Then, one puts his head inside and holds the opening of the bag closed around the neck. In this way, I began the fire drill, which included unscented smoke of some sort (not dry ice), so the drill was actually fun as it started. Everybody has a plastic bag on his head! We're going through the smoke! After descending two or three floors down the staircase, the fire drill started being less fun. The bag became stuffy, and going down floor after floor, the oxygen content in the bag decreased. After going down about seven floors, it became very uncomfortable. I let a little bit of outside air come in the bag through the neck, but in the interest of Science, I sacrificed a few brain cells and tried to see how well I could breathe in the oxygen-deprived bag. After completing the fire drill, I came to the surprising conclusion that it is difficult to breathe in an oxygen-deprived plastic bag. If these findings are not accepted for publication in a scientific journal, then I will be requesting that Science return my expired brain cells.

For the origin of the phrase "Chinese fire drill," see this portion of the entry from the Random House dictionary:

The first sense [a state of utter confusion] was first used in the military in World War II. Chinese here is not necessarily a racial sentiment. Several expressions in common use in aviation since World War I, such as Chinese landing 'a clumsy landing' and Chinese ace 'an inept pilot', derive from the English phrase one wing low, thought to resemble the Chinese language or a Chinese name. The use of Chinese to mean 'clumsy; inferior' may stem from these phrases, although there were earlier isolated examples which were based on ideas of the inferiority of the Chinese.

The car-prank sense is first attested in print in the early 1970s, but a number of people have reported its use in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, so it is likely that the phrase was current at the time, but simply was not written down that early.

Whatever the origin of the phrase, and whichever meaning is intended, it is now regarded as offensive to Chinese people, and should be avoided.

For a look at one of these amazing plastic bags, see here.
For a cartoon of some creatures wearing these plastic bags (to avoid SARS), see here.
For a picture of someone rappelling a tall building using a fire escape device, see here.

January 01, 2006

Vacation Notice

This is a late notice that I have been on vacation for the last two weeks and will be on vacation for two more weeks before I post again. When I get back, be prepared to find out what a Chinese fire drill is all about, find out my latest impressions of the USA, and find out whether it is possible to buy a ferret in Taiwan.