February 22, 2006

Bathroom in Neiwan Restaurant

A friend took this picture in the bathroom of a small restaurant in Neiwan. The sign reads, "This hose is for washing your butt, so do not deposit toilet paper. Please cooperate."

February 17, 2006

The Hsinchu Zoo

With extremely low expectations, I visited the Hsinchu Zoo for the first time last weekend. My coworkers had already told me that the zoo was very small and that the entry fee is only NT$10, a price so low that it sounds like an apology in advance. I had also read the following review:
If you are a true animal lover it is recommended that you don't visit this poorly run establishment as you are going to come away feeling angry and frustrated at the way the animals here are treated. However if you have never been to a zoo before, it will certainly give you the opportunity to see how a zoo shouldn't be run and view animals you might never have seen before.

However, a free entrance into the zoo is included with a full ticket for the annual Hsinchu International Glass Art Festival, which is now in progress, so I gave the zoo a try. Sure enough, some aspects of the zoo were so dismal that I wondered if the zoo had been the subject of a Dongsen news expose. On the other hand, there were some beautiful birds, interesting animals, and a lot of opportunities to get close to them, so I had a good time.

The zoo was established in 1936 and is Taiwan's oldest zoo. It seems to have come from an era when the purpose of a zoo was to allow people to come in close contact with wild animals, even at the expense of the animals' comfort. For example, in the crocodile exhibit, one can come so close to the little crocodiles as to, say, spit some binlang dregs on a crocodile's back, judging from the stain. The zoo was also founded to satisfy our curiosity about these animals, rather than to educate us about ecology. So, the title of the article on one variety of goose reads "Delicious meat quality." In short, the zoo is not trying to recreate the native habitat of the animals, it is a zoo created for its customers--humans.

In the last decade or so, zoos have added petting zoos as a way of allowing visitors to have contact with animals. In the Hsinchu zoo, you are close enough to the animals that brave visitors can pet animals even in the regular exhibits. The ostriches and emus are in an area small enough that they aren't far from visitors. The deer in one part of the zoo are not even fenced off. One docile deer actually stood on the brick path while others crowded around and took pictures with the deer. There was a general lack of supervision at the zoo, so I can't say whether or not that was intended.

Highlights of the zoo were some beautiful colorful birds, a big group of playful rabbits, the primates, tigers, Malaysian bears, and an animal similar to a tapir. In one exhibit, peacocks and other birds strolled around beneath a bridge. Looking lonely but picturesque, the only authorized mammal in the exhibit, a small goat, rested on a ledge on the faux stone wall. Fouling up the view somewhat, were rat trap cages and many huge rats, which could be seen scurrying though the majority of the zoo's exhibits. Another exhibit, which appeared to be a petting zoo, but was not open for people to enter, had dozens of rabbits as well as goats and more. The rabbits hopped over each other and were butted by the goats, making for a fun display. One child tried to throw snacks to the animals, but his throws were too weak. His mother helped by holding him up on the railing so that he could throw farther. The food was also flying in one of the monkey exhibits. The ground of the monkey island was littered with crackers.

Walking through a short corridor between some cages, I was very surprised when a monkey repeatedly threw its body against the Plexiglas walls that surrounded the corridor, as though it were trying to topple me. For me, that was the most disturbing part of the zoo, but I would not blame the Hsinchu Zoo, in particular, for that. In all the zoos I have seen, it seems that there is at least one primate that looks angry, crazy, or in deep depression.

Another slightly bizarre display showed some taxidermy. One of the best-preserved items was a pangolin. It is in the armadillo family, but on close inspection it actually looks very different. The bizarre part of the display was not bizarre in the positive sense (like the two-headed rat or mummified chupacabra taxidermy that can be seen here). It was bizarre how poorly made some of the taxidermy was, especially the lion and leopard, which make stuffed animals seem lifelike.

No report of a zoo would be complete without pictures, so this report is unfortunately incomplete.

February 16, 2006

To all the real MCs

Dear Real MCs,

I don't know if you guys know me, but I'm MC l33t. (As you probably know, that's pronounced "MC leet." I wouldn't want my name to get messed up in any of your shout-outs! lol!) I'd like to begin by giving props where props are due. (Props.) I wanted to let you guys know how I feel about some of the negative feelings that I've been getting from you real MCs. I'm gonna be honest about this--I'm a fake MC. I was going to be a real MC, but life has been kind of hectic lately, and I've got so many things going right now. Anyway, enough about me. lol Well, the other fake MCs and I have been getting a lot of shout-outs from you guys lately, which is definitely cool, but the thing that bothers me is that they are all so negative. I mean, fake or real, we're all MCs, right? Just because I don't really have the time to be a real MC doesn't mean that I'm a suckah or a wankstah. And, maybe I do front every once in a while, but can you guys cut me some slack? My friend Jim says my beatbox is getting better, and I've got some really cool lyrics that I'm working on, and I'm working on my confidence. Are we cool? (I mean "cool" as in "ok.") Thanks for hearing my feelings. Oh, and I want to give a shout-out to my fellow fake MC, Edison Chen!

MC l33t
Piece out

February 08, 2006

Office Archetypes

Working in an office can be a disorienting experience for new graduates. But for seasoned office types, it can be a soul-throttling experience. And for senior employees, the office can, of course, be an asphyxiating mental wasteland. However, by understanding one's fellow workers, one's misery finds greater company. This is a guide to common types of workers that may be encountered by the newly employed office worker.

Intimate Stranger Steve

Steve sits nearby and regularly takes personal calls in his cubicle. You listen to Steve talk on the phone as if listening to a radio talk show. Although you've only spoken a few words to him, you know more about Intimate Stranger Steve and his personal life than you do about many of your friends.

Baby Bernie

Bernice, who goes by Bernie, is a recent college graduate. She is generally a good worker, but she has the unfortunate habit of talking like a baby. And sitting on the floor. And pouting with her lower lip out. And trying to get people to play tag around the cubicles. And fake crying.

Troubleshooter Ted

Ted is a nerdy but friendly guy who sometimes has problems relating to other people. He is eager to show others his imaginative brilliance, but rarely gets the opportunity due to the routine and solitary nature of his tech job. The one chance that Ted gets to shine is when enthusiastically pointing out all the potential problems that a fellow worker's proposal would entail. Troubleshooter Ted is most alive when showing you the error of your ways.

Bright-Burning Bonnie

Bonnie is a vivacious extrovert. Her gutsy displays of personality frighten and enchant her coworkers. How can this free soul exist in the zombifying office environment? Alas, Bright-Burning Bonnie is a shooting star only passing by. She is gone within two months, off to find work more suited to her.

Child Care Carl

Carl isn't always able to get a sitter or child care, so he brings his four-year-old child to work. Carl's kid crawls around on the floor and hangs out under the desk. When the child is naughty, Child Care Carl scolds his child and threatens a spanking, causing nearby office workers to inadvertently burst out laughing.

Emailer Emmy

Emmy stuffs your inbox with forwarded emails. Every day you receive virus warnings, pictures of puppies, and essays about what a good friend you are. You have considered blocking her email, but you are afraid that you might miss an important message. You complain to your friends about Emailer Emmy's volume of emails, but you secretly enjoy getting them.

Day Trader Dale

Dale is very busy. You have learned never to bother Dale before 10 am. After you get to know Dale better, you find that the reason he is so busy is that he spends his mornings trading stocks. Day Trader Dale seems manic-depressive, but his emotions are actually quite reasonable because they are the result of his profiting or losing thousands of dollars in a single day.

Sports Gambler Gary

Gary is a close relative of Dale. However, instead of spending his time researching profit to earnings ratios, Gary prefers betting in the field that he is more familiar with, sports. Gary is just as devoted to his field as Dale, but while Dale considers his day trading to be investing, Sports Gambler Gary just bets on sports to "make it interesting."

Gullible Gary

Judging by Gary's looks, you suspect that he just graduated from high school, but he actually just graduated from college. He is a chipper fellow who believes anything he is told. You amuse yourself by seeing if Gullible Gary will believe the most ridiculous things, but feel ashamed because pulling one over on him is too easy. Although Gary's work is boring, he is not disheartened because he believes what his manager told him in the job interview--that the job will become interesting as he learns more. You don't want to disillusion Gary, so you act cheerful and content when you are around Gary.

Web Surfer Will

Whenever you walk past Will's cubicle, he is always surfing the net. Your curiosity aroused, you speak to Will, gently probing to find out what his responsibilities are. Will tells you his department and explains what his department does, but after talking for five minutes, you still can't figure out what Web Surfer Will's actual work is.

Uncooperative Karen

Karen bristles at the accusation that she is uncooperative. No, she's quite willing to cooperate! If only other people would not push their work onto her, and instead tailor their requests to meet her short list of requirements. By following Uncooperative Karen's requests, you will find that you have done the work for her, leaving her to only sign her name.

Overloaded Larry

Larry acknowledges that your plan has merit, but he, like Uncooperative Karen, is unwilling to do his part. Larry never says that he is too busy or does not have time, he tells you that your request, which would take an hour, would "increase his loading." Overloaded Larry's loading must not be increased.

Engineering Manager Ed

Ed is a great engineer and a nice guy. In view of his value and long service to the company, Ed is now a manager. The only problem is that Engineering Manager Ed knows as little about managing as he cares about it. (Hint: Very little.)

Inherited Owner Owen

When the original owner of the system left the company, Owen became the owner of the system. Owen hates the system and is always looking for an opportunity to shovel it off to another employee. When asked how the system works, Owen will feign ignorance and admit that he probably is not suited to be in charge of the system, hinting or even begging that you take it from him.

Bored Brian

Brian seems like a nice guy in the morning, but as he sits down in his office chair, he soon wears an expression of pained boredom. The mask of misery comes off at lunchtime, but then goes right back on. By the time he gets off work, Bored Brian flees as if out of a dungeon.

Wise Manager William

William is a very intelligent manager. He could give you a simple answer to your questions, but then you wouldn't learn anything. Instead, William will lecture you for thirty minutes, offering numerous pearls of wisdom along the way. After talking to Wise Manager William, you may not learn the answer to your question, but you will have increased your knowledge of management techniques.

Just-in-time Ted

Ted avoids learning about anything not directly involved with his work. He claims that he prefers just-in-time learning--he will learn things when they are needed, and not a minute sooner. Ted wonders why he is never given any new responsibilities, forgetting the fact that he only knows how to do one thing.

Martyr Marty

Marty does not particularly like his job, but enjoys the gratitude that his long hours at work bring. He works overtime in the office every day, and he rarely has a moment's rest all day. Marty never reports his overtime hours for overtime pay. When asked why, he replies that he is just doing his duty. Martyr Marty is actually hoping that his overtime hours will accumulate as a debt that can only be repaid by a promotion. Marty's manager feels so indebted to Marty, that Marty's hope will eventually become reality.

Martyr Mary

Mary and Marty abet each other in their martyrdom, always seeking to outdo the other. Mary's favorite method of showing how dedicated she is to her job is to skip lunch. "Sorry guys, I can't make it to lunch with you because I've got too much to do." Like Marty, her martyrdom is not all show. Mary remains very busy by never asking for help and by never saying no to a request.

Valuable Worker Valerie

Valerie, like Marty, wants to prove that she is a valuable worker. However, she just doesn't have as much work to do as Marty. Valerie works thirty minutes to an hour of overtime every day. Knowing what Valerie's work responsibilities are, you are curious about how she can be so busy, so you ask her what she is working on as she works overtime. She mumbles about "just finishing some stuff up." You assume that she is only pretending to work.

Accented Ali

Ali appears to be a competent worker, but his thick accent often leads to uncomfortable situations. Could you repeat that one more time, Ali? I'm sorry, what was that? ...Err, got it. Heh, heh.

Mentor Mark

Mark is a great friend to new employees. He tells them about all the wonderful information that he is willing to impart to the new employee. Mark is an expert in every subject, whether it be health, sports, cars, or computers. Mark is eager to share his expertise with you, provided that you acknowledge his mastery of all subjects. You will get along well with Mentor Mark if you play the role of the adoring trainee. Otherwise, Mark will lose interest in you as soon as the next new employee comes along.

Gourmet Gabby

You don't know anything about Gabby except that she brings lunches to work that make you drool, arraying her four-course lunches on the desk of her cubicle. When waiting for Gabby to finish using the microwave, you attempt to hide your shamefully inadequate lunch of a hot-pocket and yogurt.

February 06, 2006

Taiwanese hand puppet drama hits Cartoon Network

On February 4, the first English adaptation of a Taiwanese hand puppet television series appeared on the Cartoon Network. The series is titled "Wulin Warriors - Legend of the Seven Stars" and began with the pilot episode, "The Saga Begins." This project has been in the works for four years, but with the series finally appearing on television, this news was on heavy rotation on Taiwanese TV over the weekend.

For the English adaptation, music and voices have been re-dubbed, and the series has been re-edited. The series has been adapted to make the plot less complex and to avoid cultural aspects that may be too unfamiliar for young viewers, who are the target audience for the English version of the series. This contrasts with the audience of the series in Taiwan, which seems to be primarily adults and young adults.

This gives English-speaking viewers a chance to appraise the hand puppet form of drama, which is traditionally very inaccessible to non-Taiwanese. The greatest obstacle to enjoying these series is language. Hand puppet dramas are usually performed in Taiwanese, and very rarely in Mandarin. In addition to language, there are other impediments to enjoying these puppet shows. The plots are complex and the episodes are of a serial nature, so it is difficult to understand if one only watches one episode.

The last factor impeding cross-cultural appreciation is that these are puppet shows for adults, which is a foreign concept. The Taiwanese have been able to get their heads around this concept, and there must be an interesting story as to how that happened, but for Westerners, taking puppets seriously takes some effort. My first reaction to seeing hand puppet dramas on TV was, "Don't their mouths even move? Wouldn't this be a lot cooler if they used stop-motion animation or marionettes?" Later, I found out that adults, and often older adults were the biggest fans of this series, which was mind blowing. One sign I saw for a video store advertises porn VCDs and hand puppet drama VCDs. Although I assume the audiences for theses two genres of video are different, it is clear that the store is not selling to children. There are clubs at colleges devoted to hand puppets. Fans can buy hand puppets and re-enact the series and create their own dramas. It still boggles my mind that there are stores that exist solely by selling these puppets and accessories; but take a look at the prices on Yahoo! Auctions, and it becomes a little easier to understand. In US dollars, prices for puppets are in the hundreds, even in the thousand range. Like fans of Japanese cartoons, puppet drama fans also make costumes and dress as their favorite characters at fan conventions.

Although the English adaptation provides a window on Taiwanese culture, there is the possibility that the adaptation was bungled and the English version is not representative of the Taiwanese original. But on the other hand, it could be the next Power Rangers in America. I'll be waiting to check it out next time I'm near the Cartoon Network.
An article from March of last year, "Ultra Popular Taiwanese Puppet Show on Cartoon Network," includes a brief introduction to hand puppets. It also refutes the popular notion for why the series was cancelled in the 70s. The article states, "The series ended up being banned for several years, officially because it 'caused students to skip classes and farmers to abandon their fields.' ... More complex political reasons involving the Mandarin-promotion policy of the Taiwanese government are often believed to be the actual root cause of the show's cancellation. "

Taipei Times article
Taiwan News article
Pili official webpage in English