July 11, 2008

Guerrilla gardening in Taiwan

I recently saw some interesting pictures showing gardening in limited spaces in Japan. Taiwan also has a fair amount of guerrilla gardening going on. The most common method is to place potted plants in front of one's residence. This is only "guerrilla" because they are placed on the sidewalk and sometimes the street. A second, sneakier method of guerrilla gardening is to pry bricks from out of the sidewalk and to plant plants in those spaces. These pictures show that method. It may sound selfish to make the sidewalk unwalkable, but sidewalks in residential areas here are already unwalkable. There is rarely of a stretch of more than ten yards of unobstructed sidewalk. These photos come from two buildings in the neighborhood.

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July 10, 2008

Weekend of lychee labor

It's lychee season, and the wholesale prices are so low that there isn't much profit in harvesting them. The wholesale prices were NT$12 per jin last week, but then dropped to NT$9 per jin on Saturday. If 1 jin is 600 grams, then that comes out to about US 23 cents per pound. At that price, my parents-in-law decided it wasn't worth it to employ day workers to harvest them. The day workers make about NT$1500 per day, which means that they need to pick about 125 pounds of lychees to break even.

It might not be worth it to hire laborers, but family members are free labor. So I spent the whole day picking lychees. To be more precise, someone else cut the fruit-bearing branches from the lychee trees and then I stripped and organized the lychee branches. Unlike other fruit, lychees are sold with the branch (or twig) still attached. To harvest the lychees, you have to strip the leaves from the twigs and cut or break the twigs to a fairly uniform size. You also should pick away the bruised-looking lychees, even though the fruit isn't usually affected by these brown blemishes seen on the outside. Small or unripe fruit should also be removed and twigs that extend beyond fruit should be trimmed or removed. The twigs need to be bundled together, but the bundles are not tied up for wholesale sale. When they are sold retail, they are often tied into small bundles.

Loose or blemished lychees can be sold at a much lower price, about $5 per jin. I've heard that these are used for making juice or canned fruit.

Lychees deteriorate in quality very quickly, so you need to keep the fruit in the shade and soaked with water after it has been cut from the tree.

If this article has got you itching to pick some lychees, there are some orchards in Taiwan where you can do just that. You pay $30-$50 to enter the orchard. While there you can have all the lychees you can eat. If you want to take some home, it costs about $25 per jin.

Picture from here.

July 09, 2008

Cartilage kebab at KFC

KFC in Taiwan has just introduced a new product. Judging from picture, it appears to be a chicken kebab with some fruit, perhaps starfruit, between the pieces of chicken. But closer examination shows that it is actually cartilage. The idea is that people will be attracted by this cartilage, causing them to want to purchase it. The consumer will then consume the cartilage, chewing it and savoring the subtle taste of cartilage.

Apparently, this is a food found in Japanese izakaya, which are places for drinking alcohol and eating.

In the above picture, two pieces of cartilage can be seen flying through the air in the vicinity of the kebab. It is most likely that they are flying because they are extremely tasty, not because they were discarded.


Japanese classes in Chinese

I started taking Japanese classes recently. Before taking the classes, I knew I would inevitably be the only native speaker of English in the class, but I figured that wouldn't cause any problems. If anything, I thought, it might be more efficient taking a class with people who already can read and write Chinese characters. Like them, I wouldn't need a lot of explanation to recognize and understand Chinese characters used in Japanese.

I overlooked a major drawback of taking the Japanese class in Chinese: romanization is not used. The first chapter of the book uses both Japanese alphabets, hiragana and katakana, without any romanization. This means that doing the exercises during class is a painfully slow and tedious act of decoding symbols. It's a pain for the teacher too, who wants us to hurry up and learn to read.

There are a few possible reasons for not using romanization. One valid reason is that Chinese speakers might not be familiar enough with the Latin alphabet for romanization to be an aid in learning Japanese. But actually I think it would be helpful to all of my classmates and the real reason romanization is not used is because of a bias against using "English" to represent an Asian language. (Chinese phonetic symbols have a few more disadvantages compared to romanization, but they could also be helpful.)

The result of not using romanization is that most of class time so far (four or five 2.5 hour classes) has been spent learning to read and write. Any beginning class taught in this style becomes a Japanese alphabet class rather than a Japanese conversation class. In the long term, it won't make any difference, but in the short term it's a drag.

By the way, the teacher of the class is Japanese. His Chinese is very good and 95% of the class is in Chinese.


July 03, 2008

College entrance exam results released

Taiwan's college entrance exam results were published today. The test was yesterday and you can already download the results now, which is great. Of all the standardized tests I took in school, I never saw any of the results. The newspapers today have a lot of articles about the exams, and they published a sample of the questions. It shows the importance and the interest of the general public in the exams. It's not something only important to students. Teachers have already voiced their objection with a few of the questions. I have a minor objection too.

There are two translation questions. The students must translate from Chinese into English. The correct translation for the first sentence is "The global food crisis has created/caused serious/critical social problems in many regions around the world." This sentence is ok.

The correct translation of the second sentence is "Experts warn that we should no longer take low-price(d) food for granted." I think they should have picked a more meaningful sentence. In what sense do we take low-priced food for granted? Low is relative, so it's not clear what comparison is being made when we say that food is low-priced. Does it mean low-priced compared to the cost in a hypothetical free-market economy? No, that can't be right because that's not likely to change. Low-priced compared to the future? No, that can't be right because we should take if for granted that food will always be cheap now compared to the future. Low-priced compared to other common needs such as housing and transportation?

For comparison the Chinese sentence is 專家警告我們不應該再將食物價格低廉視為理所當然. I find it equally poor.

If we accept that food is low-priced, the sentence is telling us that we should not consider that the low price is a matter of course. How then should be consider it? An aberrance? Unnatural? Natural now, but quickly becoming unnatural? Do the words "no longer" point us in the right direction? We formerly should take low prices for granted, but now we shouldn't because the prices will go up? After prices go up, should we take high prices for granted?

The meaning behind the sentence seems to be "Prices of food may go up greatly." The English and Chinese sentences are the kind of newspaper language that seeks to get you interested in something, but isn't very meaningful when you look at it closely.