Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Scenes of Hualien City, Taiwan

I haven't done a "scenes" post in a while so...

Here are some photos from my recent visit to Hualien City in Taiwan.  It's a smaller city of about 110,000 people including the students who provided an example that there is a significant difference between Taiwan and Mainland China in the availability of online services such as Facebook.

The photos aren't intended to be representative.  Given that Hualien City is a common base for several nature sites popular with tourists, I tried to focus a bit on other aspects of the city.  A few capture daily life, a few capture some scenes that struck me as remarkable in some way, and a few show some of the retail & marketing that can be found there. 

One of the busier street intersections

van with large face of a happy baby with a chefs hat
Definitely the best van I saw in Hualien.

A street famous for its food

Just a regular street

Apparently Nike believes "Just Do It" does not need translating into Chinese.

I haven't seen a Blockbuster in Shanghai (easy to think of reasons why).

small lingerie store named Wal Mart with pink sign
Wal Mart went for the pink look.

Birkenstock stores appear to be common in Taiwan.

The Hollaback Girl hair salon - I believe walk-ins are welcome.

street sign in Hualien City providing direction and distance to Promised Land
Just what I was looking for

Not what the sign was indicating but this is good enough.

Some Hualien high school students who are excited to go shopping.  If they look familiar, they should.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

ObaMa Cakes in Taitung, Taiwan

In an earlier post I commented on the signs about Falun Dafa in Taitung, Taiwan.  I saw something else of note in Taitung that allows me to continue the recent food theme here.

In Taiwan I haven't seen anything similar to BlackBerry's use of Barack Obama's image in Southwest China, but I did see this:

ObaMa cake store

I stumbled upon the ObaMa Cake store as I was riding a bicycle around the city.  While the name may seem strikingly familiar, I should point out that the Chinese version of ObaMa's name, 欧巴螞,  is different from the Chinese version of Barack Obama's name in Taiwan, 歐巴馬.  They are pronounced exactly the same, though (interesting-to-me side note: Mainland China's version of Barack Obama's name, 奥巴马, has a first character that differs in both its written form and pronunciation from the first character in Taiwan's version).

Especially since I was a bit hungry, I decided I couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit the store.

This sign near the entrance highlighted two of their showcase items:

sign with images of a black layered cake and a white cake roll

Inside the store there was a number of customers purchasing various items:

inside of ObaMa Cake store

Notice the elegant chandelier and the ant logo.  According to an article (in Chinese) on TTNews the store is trying to create a minimalist and elegant environment with its decor and the ant logo represents diligence and sincerity.

They had an extensive selection of baked goods.  The items in this section mostly had meat, vegetables, and/or cheese included:

selection of Obama Cake baked goods

They also had many sweeter items and I found something that appealed to me because it had black sesame:

Later, I discovered that ObaMa Cake is clearly concerned about their web presence.  ObaMa has its own web site at where if you really want to show your support you're guided towards the ObaMa fan page on Facebook.  They also have a number of videos on YouTube, such as this one which begins at almost the exact same location from where I first noticed ObaMa Cake:

More English friendly information can be found on the Taitung County Government web site.  It shares some important facts such as:
Obama has broken the customary taste and stiffness of traditional bread since opening its first store in Taitung in 2010.
And enthusiastically adds:
When one tastes our products that fulfill hunger, one may get a sense of our attentiveness!
I can attest that the item I bought certainly fulfilled my hunger (it was rather large) and was very good.  In fact, I'm disappointed that I won't be able to visit the ObaMa Cake store again because it appears that's the only one.

So, if you're ever in Taitung I recommend checking it out after you've had a chance to sample some more traditional Taiwanese delicacies.

Where else would you have a chance to eat food cooked by ObaMa?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Is the Restaurant Still There?: A Contrast of Taipei and Shanghai

The first time I visited Taipei was in 2002, and I spent more than two months there.  Since then, I've returned to Taipei several times.

When I think back to many of the places in Shanghai that most captured my attention when I first visited there in 2005 I realize that many of them no longer exist.  The huge bird market near West Nanjing Road -- gone.  My favorite place for a an inexpensive back massage -- gone.  The "old Shanghai" Wujiang Lu food street -- gone.  The various places I ate at -- of those I can remember so many are gone.

Experiencing a lot of change over a short period of time has been the norm for me while living in Shanghai the past 5 years.  So, when I visit Taipei I'm amazed by how many of my "old favorites" from 2002 still exist today.

While this is only my own personal experience, I don't think I'd be stepping out on much of limb to suggest that it reflects some truths about the relative amount of recent change in Taipei and Shanghai.  As far as what to take from that, well I think it depends on your perspective.  It calls to mind a campaign I noticed in Taipei several years ago that essentially said (I can't remember the exact words) "Taipei will progress, but we want Taipei to keep on being Taipei".

The following are some photos of my "old favorites" in Taipei as they appear today -- all food & drink related to keep with the theme of my previous post.  Some of these places have excellent food, some may be more typical but are special to me for other reasons.  I share them as a tiny window into Taipei and for posterity.

Where particularly helpful, I've included links to Google Maps Street View.  Otherwise, I've provided other details on the location.  Maybe someday in the future you can try to find some of these places yourself and see if they're still there.  Of course, I recommend trying the food.

My friend introduced me to this street stand famous for its rice, garlic, & sausage "wrap".
(Location on Google Maps Street View)

I found this simple place to eat in the center of the photo on my own.
A set meal of chicken, several side dishes of the day, soup, & rice for about US $2.50
(Location on Google Maps Street View)

My favorite vegetarian buffet -- just load up on whatever looks good and it's priced by weight.
The first time I ate there I didn't even realize I was eating mock meat (the informative signs didn't help since I couldn't speak/read Chinese back then).  When I later became suspicious I quickly lost any doubt.  After closely inspecting the food I looked up and saw a Buddhist monk sitting across from me.
(Location on Google Maps Street View)

Hui Liu -- a fancier (and pricier) vegetarian restaurant with very good tea.
(Location on Google Maps Street View)

This place famous for its mango-ice is often packed.  Not sure it has the same ownership as before, though.
(Location on Google Maps Street View)

My favorite place for spicy dumplings with peanut sauce is at the well-known Shilin Night Market.
(Shilin Night Market is easy to find.  This eatery is in a front corner of the main food building near the Jiantan metro station.)

One of the many cafes in the area near National Taiwan University.
Years ago I found it to be an excellent place to read some Goethe.
(Location on Google Maps Street View)

Sushi takeout at the Yuanshan metro station.  Nothing special, just thought it was interesting that it was still there.

"Bruma" - A very friendly family owns & runs the restaurant.
(Location on Google Maps Street View)

Typically during the lunch period it's full.  They also deliver to nearby places.

I'm a big fan of their sweet & sour fish (I ask for extra spicy).
This meal with soup, drink, and a small dessert is about US $5.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Taiwanese and Italian Food Culture

A variety of dishes set out for religious purposes in Tainan

Been "away from blog" a bit.  To get things revved up again this is a light post to serve as a segue into a few posts about a topic dear to me -- food (for you non-foodies, fear not, other topics such as China's Great Firewall are on the way as well).

I remember years ago when after I returned to the US from a trip to Europe my boss commented that she thought there was nowhere in the world where food was such an integral part of the culture as Italy.  I looked at her for a few seconds and said, "You really should visit Taiwan."  She was surprised by my response, and I'm pretty sure it was the first time she had ever heard someone compare Taiwanese and Italian food culture.  However, based on my experiences in Italy and Taiwan I was convinced there was something that they held in common.

One of my most memorable food culture experiences in Italy occurred when I stayed with a friend's family in Torino over 10 years ago.  His mother prepared a simple but wonderful meal for us and I happily ate everything offered to me.  However, my friend merely pecked at his food.  When I complimented the cook she said in way that made me feel as if I was part of an Italian drama, "I communicate with people through my food.  This is how I talk to people.  You eat my food so I am able to to communicate with you.  It makes me feel good that I can communicate with you."

This was great!  Obviously I had to eat more so that she could more fully communicate with me.  But I discovered that there was more she wished to verbally communicate when she suddenly turned to her son and in a raised voice said, "But you!!! You don't eat my food! How can I communicate with you?!?"  As my friend buried his face into his hands in embarrassment his mother turned back to me and asked, "My own son won't eat my food!  I can't communicate with my own son!  I can communicate with you, but not my own son?!?  What should I do?"

I pondered for a brief moment about what I should say.  And then I realized how best to communicate my thoughts.

I ate more.

In Taiwan I also met a mother of a friend who seemed to want to "communicate" through food.  I stopped by the friend's home mid-afternoon.  Although I had just had lunch, my friend's mother insisted on immediately preparing a wide array of dishes.  Given Taiwanese culture, refusing any of the food was not a great option because if I did it could cause great offense (and I certainly didn't want to replicate the role of my Italian friend).  Every dish that came out was delicious but I was so full that it was an incredible effort to eat even small amounts.  Anyways, as far as challenges in life go this was a good problem to have.

There's more I could add on Taiwanese food culture to make my point but I'll save it for later posts.  For now I'll just simply say that I have no doubt that both Italy and Taiwan have very rich food cultures.   I'm certainly not claiming that these are the only two places, just suggesting that when you think about food, don't forget the East.

To conclude this post I'll share just a "taste" of my recent food culture explorations around Taiwan.  My experience from sharing food photos is that some people will think, "Why would you take photos of food?" while others will think, "Please, more!".  For me, getting to understand a culture includes immersing yourself into its food.  When I look at my food photos it can help bring back to life both some key aspects of the culture and the "flavor" of wherever I've been.

And then there will be some, especially Taiwanese living abroad, who will almost be in pain due to their desire to eat some of these dishes.  You've all been warned.  Scroll at your own risk.

My friend's dinner in Taipei (she gave me a fish, though)

Selection of items from a vegetarian buffet in Taipei

An icy mushroom-based (Tremella) dessert with a very slimy texture in Taipei

Vegetarian soup with mock chicken in Yuli

Fried rice, snails, and fried oysters in Yuli

Curry dumpling and black soy milk in Taitung

Stinky tofu in Taitung -- sufficiently smelly

Fried oyster rolls, fried shrimp patties, and oysters in black bean sauce in Tainan

Oyster omelet in Tainan

A taro dish, dumplings, and "coffin toast" filled with seafood in Tainan

Seafood soup in Kaohsiung

Shrimp and pork dumplings in Hualien

Healthy fresh drink in Hualien

Partially eaten ice dessert in Hualien

So, which one would you want to try the most?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Outdoor Musical Performances in Tainan, Taiwan

I haven't done a music related post in a long time, so I'll share some of the outdoor musical experiences I've had during the past several days in Tainan, Taiwan.  They help capture some of the diverse styles of music that can be heard across Taiwan.

For example, there was this Chinese opera being staged across from Lady Linshui's Temple ( 臨水夫人廟):

And in another part of town I stumbled upon a large group of 10-12 year olds performing traditional music as seen in this video:

Sometimes, it is the visuals accompanying the music that can be most striking.  The following video of a concert in front of a restaurant on Zunwang Road is an example of such a case:

Maybe even more than musical performances with SpongeBob SquarePants in the background, what has most caught my attention in Taiwan is that Western art music (often referred to as "classical music" -- a term to discuss another day) seems to be more infused into the culture than anywhere I've seen in Mainland China.

For example, in Tainan this past weekend there were several performances outside the historic Chikan Towers (赤崁樓):

Western art music has also impacted Taiwan's culture in a way that has been experienced by many people who live in or have visited Taiwan.  Garbage trucks will loudly play music to announce their approach and often the musical selection comes from a piece of Western art music (or is similar in style).  The trucks play the music so that people know when to bring out their garbage.  The net effect is that garbage doesn't need to be sitting outside on the streets or sidewalks.

Often the music will be electronic but in Tainan I came across a garbage truck with music that didn't sound like it came from a simple synthesizer.  Capturing a scene that to me feels somewhat like a piece of performance art, here is a video:

Where else can one be serenaded as one takes out the garbage?

There is of course more to Taiwan's musical scene then just the above and this doesn't touch on many of the more popular styles.  However, those weren't featured in any live outdoor performances I came across in Tainan.

And no garbage trucks were playing them.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Opportunistic Explorations With a Dog in Yuli

Not only do I enjoy exploring but I also enjoy finding new ways to explore that may open me up to things I may have not otherwise discovered.  For an example, I'll share an experience of mine from last week in the small town of Yuli in Southeast Taiwan.

While I waited for my laundry to dry outside this convenience store:

convenience store with laundry machines outside in Yuli, Taiwan

I walked to this nearby park which had a kiddie play area similar to the one I saw in Qibao, Shanghai:

small park in Yuli, Taiwan

As seen in the photo, there was a dog roaming around in the park.  The dog seemed friendly although it wouldn't let me near enough to pet it.  At some point, I sensed that the dog was interested in hanging out.  The dog ran ahead as I began to walk away so I decided I'd follow it:

dog walking down road with palm trees on the side

And follow it:

dog walking down road in Yuli, Taiwan

And follow it:

dog walking down road next to rice paddy field in Yuli, Taiwan

And follow it:

dog walking on grass near some apparently abandoned building in Yuli, Taiwan

And follow it:

dog walking next to rice paddy field near a church in Yuli, Taiwan

The dog brought me to some places in the more rural side of Yuli that I likely wouldn't have seen otherwise.  I was particularly intrigued by finding a church in this area (there was also a Buddhist temple nearby).

This is of course a light example and I don't typically follow dogs around towns, but it highlights some aspects of how I explore the world around me.  For some types of discovery, there are advantages in being semi-random and opportunistic.  It can be amazing what you'll find, even when you're in an area you think you know.

Finally, the dog was kind enough to even escort me back to pick up my laundry (minus some breaks the dog took to jump into rice fields filled with water).  Outside the store I also came across this cat:

However, the cat didn't appear to be interested in taking me on any further explorations at the time...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Where Can You Say "Falun Dafa Is Good"?

While in Taitung, Taiwan a couple of days ago I saw this sign:

sign in English and Chinese saying Falun Dafa is good

There was at least one other similar sign elsewhere in Taitung.

Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, is a "spiritual discipline" that has roots in China and was once viewed positively by the Chinese government.  However, as noted in Wikipedia: the mid- to late-1990s, the Communist Party and public security organs increasingly viewed Falun Gong as a potential threat on account of its size, independence from the state, and spiritual teachings. By 1999, some estimates placed the number of Falun Gong adherents at over 70 million, exceeding the total membership of the Chinese Communist Party.[8]

In July 1999, Communist Party of China (CPC) leadership initiated a ban on Falun Gong and began a nationwide crackdown and multifaceted propaganda campaign intended to eradicate the practice. In October 1999 it declared Falun Gong a "heretical organization."[1][9][10] Human rights groups report that Falun Gong practitioners in China are subject to a wide range of human rights abuses; hundreds of thousands are believe to have been imprisoned extra-judicially, and practitioners in detention are subject to forced labor, psychiatric abuse, severe torture, and other coercive methods of thought reform at the hands of Chinese authorities.[11][12][13][14] In the years since the suppression campaign began, Falun Gong adherents have emerged as a prominent voice in the Chinese dissident community, advocating for greater human rights and an end to Communist Party rule.

The signs brought to mind something I saw while in Seattle, USA for a business trip two winters ago:

banners on hillside saying Falun Dafa Stop Genocide in China

On this small grassy mound near the popular Pike Place Market in Seattle were people presenting information about the struggles of Falun Dafa in China.  The most visible banners say, "Falun Dafa -- Stop Genocide in China".

On numerous occasions I've informally shown my photos from the US to friends in China.  If the above photo from Seattle comes up it can sometimes cause a stir.  I recall one time in particular when a friend was shocked that some people in the US would support Falun Dafa and even suggest that China is conducting genocide.  I didn't know much about Falun Dafa so together we read the Wikipedia entry on it and further searched the Internet (using my VPN to avoid any potential censorship due to China's Great Firewall).  Much of what she believed was consistent with the efforts of the Chinese media described in the Wikipedia entry on Falun Dafa under the section "Media Campaign".  For example:

According to China scholars Daniel Wright and Joseph Fewsmith, for several months after Falun Gong was outlawed, China Central Television's evening news contained little but anti-Falun Gong rhetoric charging that it cheats its followers, separates families, damages health, and hurts social stability. The government operation was "a study in all-out demonization," they write.[146] Falun Gong was compared to "a rat crossing the street that everyone shouts out to squash" by Beijing Daily;[147] other officials said it would be a "long-term, complex and serious" struggle to "eradicate" Falun Gong.[148]
On the eve of Chinese New Year on 23 January 2001, five people attempted to set themselves ablaze on Tiananmen Square. The official Chinese press agency, Xinhua News Agency, and other state media asserted that the self-immolators were practitioners while the Falun Dafa Information Center disputed this,[150] on the grounds that the movement's teachings explicitly forbid suicide and killing,[151] and further alleged that the event was a cruel but clever piece of stunt-work.[152] The incident received international news coverage, and video footage of the burnings were broadcast later inside China by China Central Television (CCTV). Images of a 12 year old girl, Liu Siying, burning and interviews with the other participants in which they stated their belief that self-immolation would lead them to paradise were shown.[150][153] Falun Gong-related commentators pointed out that the main participants' account of the incident and other aspects of the participants' behavior were inconsistent with the teachings of Falun Dafa.[154] Washington Post journalist Phillip Pan wrote that the two self-immolators who died were not actually Falun Gong practitioners.[155] Time reported that prior to the self-immolation incident, many Chinese had felt that Falun Gong posed no real threat, and that the state's crackdown had gone too far. After the event, however, the mainland Chinese media campaign against Falun Gong gained significant traction.[156] As public sympathy for Falun Gong declined, the government began sanctioning "systematic use of violence" against the group.[157] According to Falun Gong websites, the number of Falun Gong adherents tortured to death rose from 245 in 2000 to 419 in 2001.[158]

After reading several sources on the Internet that day, I don't think she was convinced that Falun Dafa was necessarily "good" and that a genocide had occurred, but she was now deeply suspicious of much of what she had previously learned about Falun Dafa and how the Chinese government responded.
The full Wikipedia post on Falun Dafa can be found here.  It is detailed and provides numerous references.  I suspect that many, whether in Mainland China, Taiwan, the US, or elsewhere would find much in the entry that would be new to them.  What people take away from it could be very different, though.

For now, I simply want to say that like the students' use of Facebook in Hualien, Taiwan discussed in the previous post, the signs in Taitung contrast with what is possible in Mainland China.  I doubt such signs would be permitted to stand long in Mainland China.  I certainly haven't seen any.

Signs supporting Falun Dafa may seem like a very distant issue from access to Facebook.  However, you don't need to make a sign to share the opinion "Falun Dafa is Good" with many people.

You could do it with Facebook as well.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Facebook Contrasts: Students in Taiwan and Mainland China

Hualien City is a smaller city on the eastern coast of Taiwan with some wonderful natural scenery nearby.  One afternoon a few days ago I stopped by a store in Hualien well-known for its shaved-ice desserts.  While I was there, several local senior high school students who were also enjoying the desserts asked if they could sit with me and chat.  They were likely interested in speaking to a foreigner and practicing their English.

It provided an opportunity to learn a little about them and see how they compared to the many youth I've spoken with and researched in Mainland China.  Of course, there is a wide range of youth in Mainland China and I am not sure whether the students I spoke to in Hualien were representative of either their city or of Taiwan.  Still, there was an aspect of the conversation that clearly differed from any I have had in Mainland China.

After chatting for maybe 10-20 minutes they asked something that most youth in Mainland China never ask.

They asked me if I had a Facebook account so that we could be "friends".

In most places I've been in Mainland China if I were speaking to local youth they may ask if I use QQ or Sina Weibo, but almost never do they ask about Facebook.  That isn't surprising since Facebook is blocked in Mainland China.

However, in Taiwan there is no Great Firewall blocking sites such as Facebook on the Internet.  The Taiwanese students told me they use Facebook regularly and that it is particularly useful for keeping connected with their friends from junior high school.  Unlike junior high school, their senior high schools have specialized areas of study, so now many of their friends go to different schools.

There were other indications that Facebook is a regular part of their lives -- in some ways similar to people in other parts of the world.  For example, after having someone take a photo of us with one of their mobile phones they excitedly spoke about later posting the photo on their Facebook accounts.  And at one moment several of them energetically said (zàn) to voice their approval of something.  (zàn) is the equivalent on Facebook in Taiwan for "Like".  They were consciously using it in the same manner they would use it online on Facebook.

Their use of Facebook is striking in comparison to most youth in Mainland China.  Like the waitress in Chengdu I wrote about in an earlier post, I believe there are many in China who would question why it is that these students in Hualien, Taiwan:

Five students in Hualien posing for a photo in a dessert store

are free to use online services such as Facebook without restriction while these students in Zigong, Sichuan province:

Five students in Zigong posing for a photo in a McDonalds

are not only blocked from using Facebook but also services such as YouTube, Twitter, and more.

I suspect that many of these students would agree with the waitress in Chengdu when she said, "That's not fair!"

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Potential Perils of Visualization

James Fallows recently shared a video providing a visualization of the flow of money connected to Kiva, as Fallows describes "an organization that matches lenders, mainly in rich countries, with microfinance organizations and entrepreneurs and students mainly in poor countries".  The video is a great example of how a good visualization can effectively communicate information and be invaluable in "selling" ideas.  I recommend taking a look at the post and video here.

Fallows also suggests that the visualization can be reminiscent of "war-game counterparts involving a different sort of intercontinental ballistic device".  While I agree that this visualization can conjure up images of mass destruction, I think we should keep things in perspective.  After all, at least the visualization itself wasn't destructive.

What do I mean by this?  Ask Kermit the Frog.  As you can see in the video below, he has seen firsthand the potential perils of visualization gone awry.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Facebook, Taiwan, and a Waitress's Comments on Censorship in China

Several months ago while at a cafe in Chengdu, Sichuan, I spoke with one of the waitresses and asked her a number of questions about her use of the Internet.  Eventually, the conversation touched on the issue of online censorship in China.  In summary, she expressed that she didn't like it in terms how it directly impacted her online experience, but she felt that it was for the best so that China could maintain stability during its current stage of development.

I've heard similar comments from many others across China.  There's much I could say about this viewpoint, but for now I'll just share what followed in this particular case since I believe it highlights some deeper issues and I hope it can stimulate further discussion.

After her comments defending censorship, I simply asked the waitress to take a look at the screen of my laptop, and I pulled up a browser window with Facebook on it.  After looking at the screen for a few moments she asked me how I could be using Facebook -- she knew it was blocked in China.  I briefly explained how I used a VPN to get through China's Great Firewall.

I then pointed out some posts a friend had written on Facebook entirely in Traditional Chinese (Language note: Some Chinese characters exist in both a Simplified Chinese form and a Traditional Chinese form.  In mainland China and Singapore typically Simplified Chinese characters are used when available.  In other places such as Hong Kong or Taiwan typically only Traditional Chinese characters are used).  I asked the waitress what she thought of the posts.  She said she felt that my friend had a "special" way of expressing herself since she used Traditional Chinese.  I suspected the waitress's impression was based on the assumption my friend lived in mainland China, so I then told her that my friend lives in Taiwan.  The waitress nodded and understood that it would be typical for my friend to use Traditional Chinese.

I waited.

After looking at the screen for a bit longer the waitress suddenly cocked her head, looked at me, and with a puzzled expression asked, "They can use Facebook in Taiwan?"  I explained that Facebook wasn't blocked in Taiwan and anyone there was free to use it.

Her face quickly shifted to an indignant expression, and she emphatically said, "That's not fair!  Why can they use it and we can't?!?"

In later discussion she expressed that she was frustrated that she couldn't use a service such as Facebook.  I think it's particularly striking how her expressed acceptance of censorship significantly changed in a short period of time without any confrontational debate or explicit argument.  Instead of justifying the censorship she was beginning to strongly and openly question it.  Especially given the informal nature of this interaction, whether this indicated a deep change of opinion or an opening up of ideas already held is difficult to confidently determine.  Regardless, what she expressed, both verbally and emotionally, had shifted dramatically over the course of the discussion.

In part, I believe what occurred was that the waitress had previously been able to rationalize why it was OK she didn't have the same freedoms as someone in a place such as the US by noting the differences between the countries and cultures.  However, people in Taiwan can be considered "Chinese people" -- from the perspective of the waitress this was true both in terms of ancestry and of country.  Seeing that what was closed off to her and others in mainland China was freely available to anyone in Taiwan made it more difficult for her to maintain her earlier justification of censorship.  I also suspect the comparison to Taiwan impacted her sense of pride and caused a more visceral reaction.

I never did try to provide the waitress an answer to her question about why people in Taiwan can use Facebook but people in mainland China can not.  It was a question I could have easily asked her myself without even bothering with my laptop or Facebook.

But it makes all the difference that she asked it herself.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Not in Kansas Anymore

Due to some travel and Internet issues I haven't had a chance to post lately.  For a clue of where I am, see here:

ad for Sony Internet TV in Taipei Metro station

If you look closely at the ad for Sony Internet TV you'll see logos for Skype, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.  The latter 3 were all blocked in China last time I checked so is Sony promoting blocked web sites like K-Touch?

Not at all.  Some readers may have picked up on some clues in the photo (such as the signs and use of Traditional Chinese characters) that the above scene is from inside a metro station in Taipei, Taiwan.  No Great Firewall in Taiwan!  I'm full of joy to be able to access such sites without having to slink behind a VPN (although I still use it at times for other reasons such as privacy/security over Wi-Fi).

For at least the next week or so, I'll be traveling around Taiwan.  I first visited here over 9 years ago and it's fascinating to see a) what has and has not changed during that period of time and b) how it compares to... um... "Mainland China".

In upcoming posts I'll share some thoughts on those topics and some conversations I've had in Mainland China regarding Taiwan.  The topic of Taiwan there can be hotly emotional in ways that can be very unexpected for those who aren't familiar with such issues in China.  I'll see if I can write about it without causing a firestorm.

Admittedly, my enjoyment of Taiwan and catching up with a number of friends here might interfere with my posting.  But at least I know the Great Firewall won't be getting in my way.

And in case you're wondering, no, I didn't follow Google Maps' advice for getting to Taipei from Shanghai (if you missed out on this fun, use the directions tool on Google Maps, enter "Shanghai" for starting point and "Taipei" as the destination point, and look at step 33 or so explaining how to manage a large stretch of water along the way).  The direct flight from Shanghai to Taipei worked out just fine for me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Only Some Things are Shared

Here is a view I enjoyed on an early evening this past weekend from near the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center:

It's hard not to be impressed by the architectural wonders and ponder what they imply about China's economic strength.  However, scenes such as this one are worlds away from the lives of most people in China, and they can be symbols of the relatively extreme concentration of China's new wealth.  For many in China, the photos I previously shared of Shanghai's Xiaonanmen are far closer to their daily lives.

The above photo can also be a symbol for how the costs and benefits of China's development can be spread very differently.  Even if one isn't reaping much profit from China's economic growth, you still breathe the pollution from its factories, power plants, and vehicles.  I can't say for sure whether the haze is a result of clouds or pollution but Shanghai certainly has more than enough of the latter -- possibly an unavoidable price for China's rapid economic development.

Two questions to ponder:  Which would be easier to change -- the amount of pollution or the imbalance of wealth?  Which would most people in China prefer to be changed?