Barrelled Thoughts #21

Sunday, September 20, 2009

“Your doctor may give you swing flu this fall.

The CDC says health-care workers should be among the first in line to receive the swine-flue (H1N1) vaccine, which the government hopes will be available by mid-October. But will your doctors, nurses, and other medical providers roll up their sleeves? Only 45 percent of health-care workers get a seasonal flu shot every year, citing the same reasons for opting out that patients do: I’m healthy and don’t need it; I’m worried about side effects; I’m afraid of needles. M.D.s and R.N.s are better covered than other staffers, like lab techs and home health aides. But everyone needs to improve. The CDC has been campaigning to raise immunization rates among white-coat set for years. Already, seasonal flu kills 36,000 Americans annually. When swine flu starts surging, ask your provider: Did you get your shot?” — Claudia Kalb – Newsweek, August 24 & 31, 2009.

In all the years I’ve been on this earth, I have never used as much disinfectant as I have in the past 30 days.

Swine flu had been around since the first quarter of 2009, but not until a month after the official outbreak in Mexico did Taiwan receive its first case. An Australian physician, if I remember correctly. Everyone was talking about preventing this and preventing that; making it sound as if swine flu was running water and we could just turn off the valve to stop it. Taiwan, and many other countries, knew that it was impossible to prevent the arrival and eventual epidemic of H1N1; so why all the commotion?

When Adolf Hitler stepped off an airplane in Germany in 1939 and said, “There will be no war in Germany,” Germans cheered, and Americans laughed. Because Americans knew the truth.

Can you imagine if Taiwan’s CDC said, “We’re letting swine flu into the country because there’s nothing we can do about it anyways”? No matter how true that statement is, it would still spark massive unrest! That’s like Hitler openly admitting that he, his greed, and his twisted totalitarian logic, was solely to blame for the outbreak of World War II! Impossible. It was the Jews, it was the Americans and their capitalism, it was the French blah blah blah, I mean, come now, he even dragged the Pols into it.

The CDC’s negligence with regards to the spread of H1N1 in Taiwan is completely understandable. What were they supposed to do? Just admit there was nothing they could do and get bombarded by the public? Hell no. They did what anyone would’ve done; they promised the public that they were doing everything they could do, monitoring temperatures of incoming airline passengers and quarantining those who show the slightest signs of a fever. They did all of this knowing all too well that fever only shows as a symptom of swine flu a good two or three days after initial infection. But they couldn’t just tell the public, “Oh, sorry. There’s nothing we can do about incoming swine flu infection because it can not be detected at its early stages.” If they said that, they would arrive at ‘there’s nothing we can do’ and there would already have been shoes thrown at them.

So what they did instead was to tell everyone that they were implementing these measures, and that if anyone got H1N1, the government was would not to be held responsible. Very smart if you ask me. They had to passively let the people of Taiwan know that they couldn’t keep using the government as a fall-back policy, and that they need to fend for themselves. It’s a good way of getting everyone moving, because in the constant surge of globalisation, there’s nothing that can stop oink flu. It’s going everywhere, and it’s going to infect everyone sooner or later.

Now that H1N1 has broken out full force, schools, offices, malls and other publics areas are self-implementing hygiene policies, urging people to sanitise and wear masks. In my class, I have a scaled down version of the hygiene goddess (if there is such a thing), her name is Katherine and she has a bottle of alcohol disinfectant in her left hand and wet-wipes in her right. I picked up the habit of spraying, from my hands (every few minutes), to anything that touches the floor. Pens, pencils, bottles, worksheets, test papers…Times like these, I’m glad I have someone with OCD in my class.

The government predicts that by mid-October, they will have vaccines ready for use. The only problem? Mid-October is two weeks after H1N1 is supposed to surge.
At least we have better health-care than America. JSF.


Barrelled Thoughts #20

Saturday, September 19, 2009

August 8, which was a good month ago, was supposed to be the mark of autumn in Taiwan. But for those of us who have to bare the scorching heat, we know that the hottest part of summer has just begun.

A friend of mine informed me last night that his country had just officially entered autumn; and he tells me that his country has very distinct four seasons. Kind of like South Africa.
The willows in Edenvale would dye themselves green and the flowers would bloom in spring. The leaves on the old oak tree outside would glitter as the birds atop its branches hatched and started to fly during summer. Everything turns red as autumn approaches. The driveway would be lined with piles of fallen leaves which we had raked up just that morning. Nights got longer and days shorter. It’s that time of year when we would head to our favourite Chinese restaurant and enjoy some steamy soup; and feast on freshly made Peking Duck. Mmmm…
My favourite season, though, in the northern hemisphere, would undoubtedly be winter. My friend, Adam, tells me that eastern European winters are somewhat troublesome because of the below freezing temperatures they experience. Nevertheless, one aspect of winter has always grasped my imagination. It is also, ironically, the main cause of many unfortunate deaths in Europe during winter: snow.

Growing up in South Africa, snow was nothing but mere childhood fantasy. All the movies and all the books showed depictions of beautiful white snow and well-decorated snowmen. Sometimes I would see scenes of Christmas celebrations with snow drizzling down outside the window. What a pleasant sight.
Come Christmas time in South Africa, looking out my window, I would be greeted with lush green fields and the blazing sun shining down, or pairs of butterflies and migrating birds flying overhead. Because, unlike America or Taiwan, Christmas time in South Africa is slap bang in the middle of summer.

In South Africa, winters are cold. Frozen-bird-ponds-and-layers-of-frost type of cold. But never in Johannesburg had it snowed. Well, never when I was there anyways. When I left SA in 2007, it snowed in Jo’burg for the first time in two decades. I saw some snow-filled pictures of SAHETI, and friends having snowball fights on the field. It really did look like something out of a Harry Potter movie. Ha ha.

My only encounter with snow in South Africa was when I went to Drakensberg with my family, a good six or seven years ago now. It snowed on the mountains while we were driving there, so we had missed the good part. When we got there, the snow was melting and we still had to drive up the mountain to the cottage we had rented for the week. On our way up, we saw patches of snow and puddles of water next to them. Looking at the tiny stream next to the mountain pass, I could notice how the water had frozen dead in its tracks. The little stream of water looked no more than 30cm deep and about a meter wide. “Welcome to Sunny Pass”, the signpost read; and there we were, the highest mountain pass in South Africa.

I still remember on our way up the pass, we ran into a group of tourists trying to get themselves around a bend leading up to the pass. There were about eight or nine cars parked alongside the road. Some 2×4’s and a couple of 4×4’s like we were driving. Mitsubishi Pajero, to be exact. Ah… old times.
A 4v4 carrying a car load of tourists had stopped on the side of the road, too. The driver was carefully installing chains around the enormous 19″ tyres in order to get better grip. The tourists, mean while, were trying to walk up the bend themselves, wanting to board the car again once it had rounded the ice-covered corner. All I remember is a huge burst of laughter from our car and from groups of on-looking tourists. Looking out the window, I could see them walking up the 20 percent-incline hill and losing their footing, tumbling back down one by one.
A while later, while we were still wondering how to round the bend since we didn’t prepare chairs or any form of anti-friction for our tyres, a 2×4 Nissan Bakki’s engine screeched to life from behind us. Next I saw the vehicle speed forward straight towards the icy hair pin turn! My heart pounded hard, “What the fuck is he thinking!?”
Without any tyre gear, the little Nissan accelerated at tremendous speeds — or at least what was considered tremendous seven years ago, and the driver attempted the turn. What I heard next was the terrifying sound of wheels screaming as they completely lose grip on the ice. The car oversteered, then understeered, then oversteered again; and somewhere during all of this chaos, the car stopped moving forward altogether and began sliding down the slope. Instinctively, all the onlookers turned and looked at what awaited the tiny Nissan at the bottom of the slide: a one-hundred-something meter drop to certain death. The Nissan struggled to regain grip, and as if the driver knew the fate that awaited him, he fiercely pulled the emergency break and the car spun to a halt two meters from the edge of the free-fall. We all shrieked in unison watching this unfold in front of us, knowing that there was nothing we could do to prevent it. The driver sat in his seat motionless as we all breathed a sigh of relief. Just then, one of the Afrikaner tourists said, “Ja, if he had fallen down there, it would’ve taken him straight to Durban.” I managed a weak chuckle, but to be honest, I was shit scared, ha ha (Durban, the city which I was born in, is located in sea-bordering province Kwazulu Natal, or KZN for short. The Drakensberg mountain range has a river flowing out towards the east; through Durban, and eventually leading to the Indian Ocean).

You know that feeling you get when you ride a roller-coaster? Imagine that feeling multiplied by about 1000000000000000. That’s how I felt when my dad decided to just get on with the whole thing and sped up the slope and rounded the corner. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it and ended up at the bottom of the canyon. Oh wait…never mind.

I don’t remember what we actually did at Sunny Pass. I just remember that we went there and paid a visit to South Africa’s highest pub! A few thousand meters above sea-level, the pub had a well decorated restaurant, which added to the atmosphere of being on top of one of South Africa’s most famous tourist destinations. A memory I hope to keep with me always.

As the days grow shorter and the nights slightly longer, September slowly ticks away, but the weather stays the same. Every morning the thermometer displays 27 degrees Celsius, which doesn’t seem that bad. But during the day, usually around lunch time, the temperature soars to about 35 or 36 degrees which, without air-con, is absolutely unbearable!

They say when autumn eventually arrives, which is “supposed to be in a week or two,” there will be a severe outbreak of H1N1. The heat we’re experiencing at the moment is just enough to suppress the growth and spread of the pandemic, but come October, when the average temperature drops below 30 degrees Celsius, Taiwan’s going to be in for a real treat. So, logically speaking, the heat is preventing 90 percent of Taiwanese people from infection, but the heat is also killing us off. But the hope is that by the time the virus starts to spread, we will all be properly vaccinated. Fingers crossed.

I love winter. It’s my favourite time of the year, no matter which hemisphere I’m in! I love wearing scarves, and I love walking around windy Taipei in a big coat. I love the idea of a caramel Latte and a copy of TIME, or some Rooibos tea around a table of friends, talking about how fast-paced life is in Taiwan, and how it’s marvelous that we can find time to stop and enjoy life.

I like standing atop Taipei while gazing down at the city life, wrapped up comfortably in my winter clothing. Although, I think this winter could turn out to be slightly different. Apart from the scarf, gloves and coat; possibly a cup of coffee in my left hand and a magazine in my right. My winter might be accompanied by new apparel. Something that might ensure that I actually make it through the winter this year: a medical mask. JSF.

Baie mooi, Suid Afrika!

Barrelled Thoughts #19

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The new year started with a bang. And a big one at that. From the off we were told to prepare ourselves for the biggest year of our lives. What a treacherous time in our lives….sigh
No one can ever prepare us fully for the challenges ahead, only we can, and we’ll have to change, adapt, fit-in, if you will. This year is, so they say, “When we separate the men from the boys.”

I think it’s fair to say that our morale was crippled by the first set of prelims. They came like a force-ten tropical cyclone which was only supposed to be a light afternoon shower. “It’s not going to matter that much! Relax! Just go about these exams the same way you would any other block test or exam.” Yeah, right.
If the anticipation didn’t kill us off, then the exam certainly did. With each exam longer than the last, we were really in for a treat.

During the week we were scheduled to have prelims, most of us were already trying to mentally prepare ourselves for what was coming, but honestly, we all did a pretty shabby job.
About a week before, I spoke to one of the graduates from our school. He told me about the games they played during the prelims, where everyone would race to see who could guess all the answers first and hand in their answer sheet. I’ll be completely honest when I say, that didn’t help with the confidence issue at all, ha ha. Thanks, though, I know we should try and make light of every situation. Sometimes I think a little bit of seriousness and some stress could do you wonders in a high pressure situation.

A few days ago, Katherine was reading an article about stress, and how it may be beneficial toward our lives. I personally think a right amount of stress is required for us to move on in our lives. Without stress, would man have found an alternative to fire? Without stress, would the Portuguese have found a new route around Africa to get the Asia, thus discovering South Africa? Probably not. But like many things in life, too much stress could potentially be life-threatening, ha ha.
Even the peaceful warrior, Nelson Mandela ended his marriage because of stress-related marital issues — which Chris Rock very appropriately describes as, “I can’t take this shit no more!”
Back to the old adage: “Too much of anything ruins everything.”

After the prelim results were announced, our teachers really brought the hammer down on us.
“Let’s go people,” our chinese teacher would say, heaping work onto us almost immediately. Revision, revision, revision: breakfast, lunch and dinner. My Facebook status would read, “John really misses South Africa.” But then again, what use is there in missing the past while I’m trying to pave my future?

The first round of college entrance exams arrives in approximately 138 days. D-day, as I like to call it. This is when the shit hits the fan. Of course, before the exams in January, we still have two sets of prelims and three block tests to deal with. For most of us, we’ll be hoping that we will be prepared by then, but for the rest of the students in my class, it’s just another stage in their lives which they have to overcome until their social lives really begin. Wherever we may be, come July of 2010, I just hope we will all still be with each other at heart, and, of course, as they all say, “High school friends are your friends for life.” I really hope that turns out to be the case with many of them.

It’s so hard to envision life in Taiwan in the future. When I was back in South Africa, every matric’s life was about pub-golf and a tiny 1.6 litre City Golf. But in Taiwan, I find it very hard to tell the difference between a junior-high school student and a high school student. In junior high, you’re preparing for those stressful high school entrance exams, and in high school you’re studying for those stressful college entrance exams, just so you can heap more pressure on yourself in college! Please, Taiwan, enlighten me.

“Oh, I can’t wait to be done with primary school so I can go to junior high!”
“Oh, I can’t wait to be done with junior high so I can go to high school!”
“Oh, I can’t wait to be done with high school so I can to go college!”
“Oh, I can’t wait to be done with college so I can go to grad school!”
“Oh, I can’t wait to be done with grad school so I can get on with life!”

Education does enlighten me, yes. Now I’ve finally realised that I should’ve been born a cow. I love grazing. JSF.


Come on, Bokke! South Africa wins the tri-nations in style!

Moooooooo... How peaceful the life of a cow.

Barrelled Thoughts #18

Friday, September 4, 2009

“…and now there’s a breakout! Look out! Can they catch this man, Habana? He’s done it again!

Habana, from his goal line, a turn-over Australia; and the turbo-charged winger has left a trail of defenders. The Boks back in the lead.”

It’s September again.

I still remember September last year. A somewhat wonderful time it was. A new semester, new faces, new challenges. We’ve all been through the hedges this year, and I’m happy to report that we have come out on top; all guns blazing, in true foreign-student fashion.
It takes a lot of courage to study amongst students from different countries; different cultures, and it takes that extra bit of bravery to bond, unite and to co-exist with these people; and I’m loving every minute of it.

Recently, I’ve been watching rugby quite a lot. As a fanatic football supporter, I can honestly say that very few things top my love for football as a sport and as a passion. But recently, rugby’s been on my mind.

I think the reason why rugby has struck such a chord with me is because I think there are some problems with sport these days – everything is about money. I’m not saying rugby isn’t about the money, but it just doesn’t give me the same sense of enterprise-involvement that football, and many other sports, have these days.
I guess everything started off as a simple hobby and lively pastime, but as time went on, and as more and more people enjoyed watching the sport being played rather than actually playing it, it turned into ‘entertainment’.

Nowadays, a footballer’s job description is no longer to run around a green patch of grass for ninety minutes and try place a ball between two metal posts. A footballer’s job is now, and actually has been since the turn of the 21st century, to entertain the masses. He is a club spokesman and represents many brands.
Actually, football’s transition from a casual pastime to a massive global enterprise came, funnily enough, I believe, because of capitalism. Or in other words: America.

As Reagan’s America and Thatcher’s Great Britain created the biggest stalemate the world had ever seen against Stalin’s communistic and anti-capitalist Russia, small pockets of global-market enterprises sprouted up in every country’s backyard. Most noticeably were America’s NBA, MLB, NFL, NASCAR, and in the recent decade, MLS.
The National Basketball Association and one man in particular were single-handedly responsible for 30 percent of Nike’s sales in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Even to this day, more than a decade after his retirement from professional basketball, Michael Jordan’s Air Nike show-wear line is still selling like the clappers, with new designs coming out every few years or so. America, NBA, Nike, and Michael Jordan all hopped on he capitalist bandwagon and made money off not only Americans, but off the entire cosmos alike. Michael Jordan is so famous, in fact, that if NASA really did send pictorial slide-shows into space for martians to see, I’m almost 120 percent sure that they would have no choice but to include that famous ‘Air’ picture of Jordan’s dunk.
This man’s presence is appreciated in many other areas of the world as well, and not only in the field of basketball. In England, for example, David Beckham, Los Angeles Galaxy football player (now retired) and international sex symbol, grew up watching Jordan on the television, and does not make his admiration for Jordan a secret either.
After Beckham left Manchester United and his famous ‘Number 7’ shirt behind to travel to Spain for a spell at Real Madrid, he chose the number 23 shirt, in admiration for his idol, Michael Jordan, who also wore the same number. When Beckham ended his playing days with Real Madrid and headed for LA Galaxy, he still chose to don the number 23 shirt. Even during his season long load spell in Italy at AC Milan, David Beckham, over and over again, insisted on being given that specific shirt number. Although that number was already taken by another player, hence his playing with the number 32. Ha ha ha.

Don’t get me wrong, David Beckham has had his fair share of influence on the world. His stylish mohawk at the 2002 Korea-Japan FIFA World Cup made his hairstyle and his English number 7 shirt extremely famous. But football aside, David and Victoria Beckham are still earning God knows how much money on the side just by attending posh functions and representing various brands. Victoria Beckham has her own clothing-line too, by the way. There is no limit to fame. Once you’re there, you’re there for life.

David and Victoria, coming out of their prime. He as the famous Manchester United number 7 and she as Posh Spice, even though not half as famous as they were before, are still influencing fashion trends and the occasional perfume or cologne sale. Plus, Victoria still looks hot, even after three kids. Go, Vicky! Ha ha.

America’s other sports and hobbies also joined in on the act. As NBA keeps getting bigger and bigger, NASCAR and NFL have already made their way to the world stage in the pass decades. NFL’s Superbowl is a prime example of just how far American Football has progressed from not only being a national sport, but also an icon for American stamina and muscle.

MLB and MLS have always been big in the States. Taiwanese people follow Major League Baseball extremely closely because of a Taiwanese baseball player currently plays there.
The spotlight on Major League Soccer was made even brighter by the arrival of David Beckham to LA Galaxy. He currently plays alongside world class stars of the national team, such as Landon Donovan.
The money factor comes into play when talking about sponsers. Both the MLS and the MLB have major capital investment, either by television channels or big time corporations.

Thierry Henry, former Arsenal and Barcelona forward, applies his trade at New York Red Bulls, which is sponsored by…well, Red Bull.

England also followed in America’s fleeting footsteps, capitalising on the economic growth and making themselves a part of the transition from a saving-based to a spending-based market trend.

Football has been around in England for centuries. But not until Barclays Bank took over the English League 1, did it truly prosper as a fast-growing, money making machine: the Barclays Premier League.
When Barclays Bank took over the League in 2004, football in England change for good. Heavy capital investment poured into the EPL, attracting rich investors,world-class players, famous managers, you name it. The most noteworthy of them all, of course, is Chelsea FC’s Roman Abramovich. Who, in 2003, took over Chelsea FC and began pouring money into every department. Players, coaches, training, stadium renovations, etc. As of 2008, Roman Abramovich had spent £600 million on players alone; with all his money coming from his investment in Russia’s oil industry. Holy shit, I want to do that! Drown myself in one dollars bills or something.
Chelsea’s abundant resources attracted players, managers and fans, and for a few seasons, they seemed to be doing pretty well. Everyone was in on the hype. It was a new-look Chelsea; it was a new-look English Premier League, and everyone was loving it. I have to admit, even I, an avid Arsenal supporter, found myself rooting for Chelsea at times. Not because I like Chelsea as a football team, I mean, I absolutely hated them, even more than I hate Manchester United; but I absolutely loved the idea of Chelsea in the 2003/2004 season. A foreign investor means you can win the Premier League? Hell, we should try that!

(Chelsea Football Club came second only to Arsenal Football Club in the 2003/2004 season, with Arsenal going unbeaten the entire season. The season after that, Chelsea won the EPL back-to-back, but in the three years after that, Manchester United won the league three years in a row.)

Chelsea is just one small example of what capital investment can do to a sport, a league, a team, fans, players, and opponents alike. In the past few years, Manchester Untied have taken on an American foreign investor, Malcolm Blazer. Manchester City have also been taken over by Dr. Sulaiman Al Fahim, head of Arabian business group Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment. Both these teams are now spending wisely and creating major shifts in the Premier League.

The rest of Europe is also slowly being taken over by sponsored investment. Such as Heineken’s major sponsorship of the UEFA Champion’s League. Football is a money making machine.

South Africa has been playing the annual Tri-Nations recently, and doing pretty well. My sense of patriotism is upwelling again as they trump Australia and New Zealand to a well-deserved win. Watching replays of the matches, I sang the national anthem with the players and I just wish I could have been there myself, cheering on the Boks, cheering on South Africa. Perhaps next year I can be in South Africa to witness the second biggest sports event in the world. Wait for me, mense! I’m coming.

My friend, Mike says he wants to go to South Africa, too, next year, from England. Perhaps we will see each other there! He says he’s planning a trip to Asia first with one of his mates, and he might stop by Taiwan. It would be wonderful to be able to take my mates around town and show them what developed Asia looks like. Maybe there will be time for some pub golf. JSF.

Barrelled Thoughts #16

Friday, August 21. 2009

“Be happy, for at least you have someone to quarrel with.”

I haven’t written a memo in a while. I’ve been caught up with the rushing end of summer school. Things are boiling up as we prepare for the final day, and the forth-coming ‘Registration Day’ for all the new-coming overseas students.

A few days ago, I found out that a friend of mine had been having some bitterness with her family, and I told her a phrase I’d heard before: “You should be happy, at least you have someone to fight with.” I told her about how some people don’t realise that having someone there is something to be happy about, and not to be used as a scapegoat for their problems – whether rational or not.

“You don’t miss your water until the well runs dry,” they say.

A few days ago, I bought my first bottle of cologne in Taiwan: a transparent blue, 100ml bottle of Versace Pour Homme. “Versace – for men,” as Katherine puts it.
Alex, Anna and Katherine went with me to Taipei City to pick a bottle that I liked, and a fragrance that they thought would suit me. CK, Huge Boss, BVLGARI, Armani…there were tonnes of different colognes to choose from. In the end, all our noses had just about maxed out their abilities, but we eventually came up with a winner. The second I caught a whiff of that Pour Homme scent, I knew I would like it. “I like it!” said Katherine, “Me, too!” shouted Anna. I was all ready to make a final decision when Alex said, “Dude! You’re a man! Buy CK<! Buy CK Summer! Buy CK Euphoria<!”

Two reasons why I didn't like Calvin Klein – Euphoria:
1. It was too sweet.
2. Alex had already bought a bottle of CK Euphoria.

Surely he doesn't expect me to buy the same thing?!

"It's good!" he would say; but as good as it may be, I just didn't want to buy that one, it wasn't my cup of tea.

After we picked out the Versace, we went to McDonald's because Alex was, once again, hungry. We sat and spoke about what Alex likes to call, "Life, man."

Although the trip to Taipei's purpose was to buy me a bottle of cologne, I found it quite entertaining in the sense that I haven't gone 'shopping' in a good year or so, and it was fantastic going out with the guys again, to walk, to chat, to bond.

We seem to always have a lot of things to talk about, and most of the time we talk for hours on end. Sadly though, we eventually have to head home. We promised each we'd do this again, maybe for a bottle of Hugo Boss next time, ha ha.

Friday was registration day when all the new students come in, and quite a few of us signed up to help out. Me, Alex, Anna, Katherine, Beatrice, Fifi, Ranique, Kelly and Michael, just to name a few. The day started with us in our respective posts. I was at stage one with Fifi, meeting and greeting all the parents and students, and then directing them off to stage two, where Katherine and Kelly were busy bees helping to fill out registration forms. Stage three was manned by Anna and Beatrice, who were in charge of examining the incoming forms. They gave a stamp and an OK for the students to carry on through to stages four, five, six and seven. Ranique, Michael and Alex were wobbling around the center of the library, helping whoever they could. After about 20 minutes though, Alex was nowhere to be seen until we noticed him next to a blonde-haired babe from Papua New Guinea. Alex you sly dog, I thought. He was so sly, in fact, that she had offered him her number and got his in return. Ha ha ha, go Alex!

We all did our part: I pushed the first set of papers and got the people moving on. All the while I made event announcements in English from time to time, “Ladies and gentlemen, the third and final round of language tests is about to commence. If you have signed up, please make your way to the third floor of the library. Thank you.” At stage two; Katherine basically got a glimpse of all the pretty girls and hot guys. I don’t think she was too impressed though. Shame, poor girl. Ha ha.

We were expecting an excess of 120 people. Although only about 95 came, we were still racing to finish before our deadline of 12:30 p.m. We eventually got everyone through one to seven and finished at 12:15 p.m. Celebrations are at hand!

After a morning of new faces, I was exhausted. But Alex, Katherine and I still planned on going to Taipei 101.
Ranique informed me that she wanted to tag along too, and so did Jenny. The more the merrier! So eventually it was me, Alex, Katherine, Ranique, Aldrich, Jenny, and “Rambo”, and we all met up at 101.

When we arrived at about 3:30 p.m., I was starving. So Katherine and I decided to get Subway. Alex said that Subway was, and I quote, “Not food”, so he bought a Japanese dish. He hated it. We finished up lunch, and started chatting. Aldrich bought the best pretzels in the world and we blabbered off for about two hours.

Later on, Jenny decided she wanted to go shop-lifting. Uh, I mean, shopping. And so she dragged Katherine and Ranique with her and off they went. The few of us staying behind knew damn well that we wouldn’t be seeing them again for quite a while. As we sat there chilling, Alex starting giving his life speech again, about how he lives with a Scorpio who stings him whenever he so much as forgets to make his bed. I sort of felt sorry for him, but knowing Alex, he’ll get over it soon enough. Don’t worry, Alex. You’ll be fine, boet.

Aldrich suggested we go and walk around, so we walked around 101, passing all the expensive brands and flashy watch stores. He showed us a custom design home audio store, which had a set of speakers for NT$370,000. Fuck me. He walked us into a cellphone shop that sold a hand crafted gold phone for NT$1,999,000. Oh my, God. You must be on drugs to buy something like that.
The motto for that store should’ve been, “Sell one phone, retire for life!”

We eventually got the top and went to the Page One book store. We headed back down after about 20 minutes and arrived back at our original meeting place in the food court after about an hour, with the girls still nowhere to be seen.

Eventually the girls came back and we headed home. It was another fantastic night out with the guys and gals. The multi-national gatherings we do always intrigue me, and I definitely want to do it again.
Time for home. Time for rest. Until we meet again! JSF.

Cape Town's scent of the moment: Versace Pour Homme.

Barrelled Thoughts #14

Thursday, August 13, 2009

“Economic losses were estimated at $274 million.

The storm dumped up to 83 inches of rain on some parts of the island, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

By Thursday morning the government had counted 108 deaths, 62 people missing and 45 injured. It also drafted a list of items needed from the international community: helicopters, gravel trucks, disinfectants and chlorine tablets.”

“I’m afraid of turning on the television to watch the news.” — Taiwan’s everyday leisure activity has become Taiwan’s everyday nightmare.

It’s been five days since typhoon Morakot ferociously swept past southern Taiwan. Looking at the topographic view, the murky rivers left in Morakot’s wake look like scars on the face of the island once called ‘Formosa’ by Portuguese sailers, Beautiful island.

Taiwan’s biggest rivers were made even bigger when mudslides widened them. A recorded river 50m wide was a gaping 800m wide after the typhoon had left. Torrential rainfall tore open river mouths and caused landslides that covered entire villages in a matter of seconds. Taiwan’s muddy agricultural mountains only fueled the raging waters with more mud and more debris.

On-going rescue missions seem to be encountering more and more difficulty because of the convectional rainfall these couple of days. It seems like they’re not going to be getting a break any time soon; the CWB tells us that this kind of heavy rainfall could persist for a week or more. One of the faculty members from our history department made a small example of the rainfall Taipei has been receiving over the past few days. Yesterday and today, Taipei recorded 30cm of rain water in just one hour, with the rain continuing for about three hours a day. Needless to say, some parts of Taipei were severely flooded. In some cases, the flood water reached waist height. A few of us even caught a cold as we trekked home through the pounding rain yesterday afternoon. We were reminded though, that this was nothing compared to the 270cm rainfall recorded over the three days that Morakot was hovering over Taiwan. Over those three days, southern Taiwan received more precipitation than Indonesia receives in an entire year. Small wonder the rushing water cleared roads, bridges, houses and villages with little strain.

Taiwan’s landform doesn’t help to ease flooding either. With mountain ranges as high as 3,800m, but a width of only a few hundred kilometers, the waters rushing down are strong enough to compare to those of a tsunami. Our history teacher also tells us, that if the typhoon had affected Taipei, which is an overpopulated basin, with that much rainfall, we would most certainly have drowned. Taipei doesn’t have the ability to evacuate, it’s too densely populated and is home to too many people whose lives depend on this tiny city. Most of them, I’m sure, would rather be washed away with their life’s work than watch their life’s work wash away before them. Our geography teacher got all red-eyed and was on the verge of crying when she spoke about the situation in the south. Maybe it’s the mother in her, or maybe it’s that she understand this is a situation nobody should have to go through. And being learned in geography, she understands the true gravity of what has occurred. Whatever it was, she was very sensitive when talking about typhoon Morakot’s destruction. The quote above is not from her, so I can tell that many people, not only her, are deeply concerned about the well-being of the people still trapped in the wreckage, as well as the well-being of this nation.

I never watch T.V. in Taiwan, but these few nights I’ve been turning on the television to watch the six o’clock news. The scenes are horrific. For those of you witnessing everything unfold in other parts of the world, what you see is probably only an edited glimpse of the true devastation that we behold. I could just get all my updates from BBC or CNN, but I’ve found a fundamental difference between foreign reports and local reports: subtlety. Or the lack of, in Taiwan’s case. On foreign news, I see scenes of rescue helicopters and rushing waters. On local news, I see DIY camera footage, taken by people who were trapped beneath landslides for days; recording every hour, every minute, every second. I see people howling as the doors to an ambulance open to reveal their deceased relatives and friends. I see people shouting, screaming, hurling abuse at the government for a rescue operation poorly executed. I see reporters, unable to repress their fear and shock at the destruction the typhoon has left behind. In local news, I see the reality. The striking reality of what was, what is and what could have been. All the talk about better preparation and more competence in the government’s rescue operations, and I think to myself, you know, now is probably not the best time to be blaming one another. We’re in a national crisis, so hold hands, and pull each other out of it. Come on! But like most times, easier said than done. One can not sit emotionless when looking at what we face, but living in an area not affect by the typhoon, I’ve realised that it is very hard to conjure up the courage to say that I wouldn’t react in the exact same way.

Fear and apprehension grip this nation as we head into a year-long battle to revive ourselves. The 108 recorded deaths rises exponentially by the hour. The missing and injured numbers are just a figure for the sake of charting. The true estimate is, in fact, in the thousands.

Nothing could have prepared us for what happened last week. Not CNN, not the CWB, not the government. We all know that natural disasters are the most unpredictable forces on our planet, but maybe this was one car crash that couldn’t have been prevented by using non-slick tyres. Who knew that typhoon Morakot would be made stronger by another low-pressure storm system and emerging South Westerlies? And who could’ve known that El Niño would decided to join the party right at the very end.

Barack Obama’s leadership skills are being tested as he thinks up a new healthcare plan for the United States. He calls it ObamaCare; Ma Ying-jeou’s leadership skills are being tested as he faces the worst case scenario of any downfall. We call it Typhoon Morakot. A true test of character awaits, as Taiwan, along with the help of outer resources, such as the Red Cross, battle the rising tide. Best of luck, Mr. President.

My thoughts go out to those who are still left in the rubble of Morakot’s passing. The silver-lining is there; be it however bleak, it is there, for as long as you’re willing to reach it.

‘Godspeed, rescuers. Godspeed, survivors. Godspeed, Taiwan.’ JSF.

Typhoon Morakot came and went in a heartbeat - Taking everything with it.

Barrelled Thoughts #13

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

“Being punctual doesn’t just mean being on time. Being punctual means you care.”

Today, our Chinese teachers was talking about the typhoon and some of the disaster left in its wake. She spoke explicitly about the government’s incompetence in terms of dealing with large scale situations like this, and basically, at the end of her rant, we all thought she should be president. Obviously she modestly laughed off our rally cries for her to enter into politics.

“Hell no, I ain’t throwing myself into that chicken fight.”

While she was venting her frustration, Anna and I recorded her. She later threatened (jokingly) to sue me if I ever decided to forward the recording to the media. I believe Taiwan, like many other countries, has a policy against faculty members discussing politics in class.

Here’s a taste of the 30 minute rant we had front row seats for (translation below):

『所以意思就是說,都沒有理他們報案的那個案件。然後他就覺得奇怪,怎麼會這個樣子? 後來(馬英九)到了,那個兒子就很激動得跑去跟馬英九說:「我投票投你耶! 我們全家人都選你耶! 你怎麼這麼久才來?!」

『我覺得他的心情我們都可以體會。當然,他今天來不來跟你的爸爸獲不獲救是不相干的啦。可是他已經沒有理智,我覺得我可以體會。那你知道馬英九說什麼嗎? 馬英九就說:
『你不覺得這樣子,會讓那個災民的心裡聽起來像說,那你的意思是怎麼樣? 就是說,叫我不要再叫了,叫我不要再吵了,你已經來了?
他應該要知道那個災民不是那個意思。那你今天去,你這個下鄉的,你要表現你的親和力。你應該就怎樣? 就抱住那個人啊! 對不對? 因為他感覺就是可以做他兒子那個年紀嘛,就抱著他就說:
「OK, 我知道了,我們會盡力的,我們會幫忙的。」

『Claire for president! (歡呼)』

『不是啦,我的意思是說,我覺得今天馬英九可以做什麼,我覺得他其實,說真的,他如果可以趕快表現出他的獲利,就是我覺得,你去每一個地方看,我自己覺得很浪費時間。你不需要到那裡去看,你也會知道到底那些地方現在的狀況是怎麼樣。新聞媒體這麼多,每24小時一直不停的在播這些畫面,然後你也可以直接用電話遙控嘛,或是怎麼樣,請當地回報災情。那你就趕快把那個數字統計出來啊,然後呢,哪個地方嚴重,趕快先撥金費、撥人力去救災嘛。你自己去那裏走…你知道,我通常都覺得總統不知道在想什麼,這些高官。你到那個地方去,那個地方還要撥出人力來安排你的行程,還要撥出人力來帶妳去看,還要撥出人力來保護你的安全。我實在是覺得這種事情,你可以等你做完了很多大的計劃,你開始把命令傳下去了,然後每個地方開始動起來了,你在下去看到底有沒有落實,按照你的這些計畫去做。我覺得你那個時候再去看,OK. 那你現在去看,我…唉…我不知,我自己覺得很浪費時間,又沒有意義。然後你又沒有顧到那種 ‘我跟你們在一起’ 的那種感覺。也沒有啊。然後不是每一個都被罵嗎? 行政院長也被罵說,他到災區去巡視,本來說要跟那些災民住在一起,結果他自己又去住另外一個地方。唉,那你不覺得這根本就是…唉…一點幫助都沒有。哼,好啦,我當總統(歡呼)。』

『馬英九當市長的時候也不是有事情的時候都會親自跑去嗎?』I asked.

『我覺得當市長跟當總統不一樣。市長就管那個小地方,那你當然要去。就像里長一樣,你的里發生什麼事,里長當然要自己趕快去看啊,去解決。那事長也是。可是總統,我覺得有先後緩急啦。他當然也一定要去看,但是我並不覺得那是現在要做的事情。真的。我覺得現在就很像無頭馬車,就是到底現在我們的國家,就是現在這個政府,對於這個災件有沒有任何的計畫、應變措施? 我不知道,因為沒有人提出來該怎麼做,然後我看到的是什麼? 政府在罵氣象局。責怪氣象局的預報不準,就是說氣象局所抱的本來沒有這個嚴重,結果實際上很嚴重,下了很多的雨。這個是你現在該講的事情嗎? 而且氣象,說真的,誰也都知道,要怎麼預測啊? 是一件很難的事情,當然,而且氣象局也說啦,他們那個時候也公布他們所謂的 ‘土石流’ 滅村的這些地方,也都認為這些地方雨量真的會很驚人,所以叫他們遷村。就是要他們離開那個地方,太危險了。可是問題就是,氣象局說:
可能高雄縣、台南縣、台南市、嘉義縣、市什麼的。那問題就是地方政府怎麼去執行? 而且那地方政府,如果他今天說:
「我們馬上要遷村,」如果我不同意能怎麼辦? 如果我們全村都說「我們不要」呢? 「我們都要待在這裡。」
那像這樣到時候該怎麼辦? 我覺得政府對於這種事情的一直發生從頭到尾沒有任何法律規定說這種情況該怎麼做。就是一直每次不斷發生、發生、發生,就這樣。然後每次發生了之後就在吵,吵完之後呢? 又沒有了,因為反正水災過了,然後大家不是災區的人就繼續過我們的生活。對,好,寫信給馬英九好了。(鼓掌) 我想他也不會聽。』
Someone said something about the president that made her go again, while Anna said to me, 『她真的很不喜歡馬英九耶。』

Claire continued: 『對啊,你知道台灣有一句話: 「換了一個位子就換了一個腦袋。」

Anna adds, 『他有投馬英九嗎?』 Ha ha ha ha!


“(Referring to the government’s slow response to pleas of help from villagers) So what I’m trying to say is nobody paid any attention to the emergency calls. Then he thought how this could be possible. Afterward he [President Ma] arrives. The son runs up to President Ma and says, ‘But I voted for you! My whole family voted for you! Why did you come so late?!’

“I think we all understand what he was feeling. Of course his [President Ma] arrival has nothing to do with whether or not his [the boy] father gets rescued, but his being somewhat emotionally compromised I can understand. And do you know what Ma said? He said: ‘Well, I came didn’t I?’ His response, it just makes people think…”

“Inexplicable,” K interjects.

“Don’t you think that to the victims it sounds like he’s saying, ‘Stop shouting, stop yelling, here I am’? He should have understood what the victim of this natural disaster meant. And so here you are today, you’ve gone to inspect the damage in the village, you need to show your affinity. So what should you do? Just hug him! Right? The boy could easily be his son, so just hug him and say, ‘OK, I know. We will do everything in our power. We will help.’
Instead he just says, ‘Well, I came didn’t I?’
What is that even supposed to mean?”

“Claire (Ms. Lee) for president! [Loud cheers]”

“No, no, I’m just trying to say that what I think President Ma can do is, honestly, show that he understands priorities. I think if he goes to every single place, then it’s a waste of time. He doesn’t have to go everywhere. What he should do is check the situation of each affected area, then decide. There’s so much information on the news, playing the happenings 24-hours a day. And what’s more, you can call people remotely, or have the local authorities report back to you. And then you just take these statistics and form a report about which area is more severely affected. You provide financial aid, and you send emergency services right over. Today you’re going to inspect the place yourself…you know, sometimes I don’t know what the president is thinking, these bureaucrats. Visiting this area means that you’ll need additional manpower to organise your schedule, then you have to have someone show you around, then you need more people for security. I honestly think with situations like these, you really have to finish the big strategic planning first. You send your orders down the line, and after all the areas have initiated their rescue plans, you can go check if the plans have been enforced according to the initial strategy. I think it’s fine to go check then, but going there now…I…sigh, I don’t know. I personally think it’s a big waste of time. And it’s pointless. And on top of that, you haven’t been sending out that ‘we’re in this together’ feeling. So after all this everyone gets criticised. Administrators are also being criticised. One said he was going to the affected region to live and help the victims, and then he ended up living some place else. Sigh, so it’s completely pointless for you to go there. OK, fine. I’ll be president [loud cheers]”

“But didn’t Ma go visit areas affected by naturally disasters when he was major too?” I asked.

“I think being major and being president isn’t the same. Majors take care of smaller areas, so of course you should go. Just like the heads of neighbourhoods. If something happens in your neighbourhood, of course you’re supposed to go check it out and sort out the problem. But as president, I think one should really judge according to severity. Of course he should go, but I don’t believe this is something he should be doing right this moment. Really. I think right now our country is a bit like a headless chicken. Does our government even have contingency plans and measures? I don’t know, because to date nobody has suggested anything solid. And what do I see? The government blaming the Central Weather Bureau (CWB) for inaccurate information, saying the initial predictions were not that serious, whereas the resulting typhoon was much worse. There was a lot of rain, but is this really what you should be doing now? And besides, we all know weather reports are never completely accurate. It’s a very difficult thing to do.
By the way, the CWB said that when they announced the projected ‘mudslide-affected’ regions, they already predicted that there would be a surprisingly large amount of rainfall. So they suggested that those villages relocate. That is, to leave the area because it’s too dangerous. But here’s the problem: the weather bureau says, ‘We’ve already informed the government.’ OK, so it could be the municipal governments in Kaohsiung, Tainan County, Tainan City, Chia-Yi County and City, etc. So what do the authorities do? If they say, ‘Right, you have to relocate,’ what if they meet resistance? What if today the village doesn’t want to move? What if they say they just want to stay where they are? What do we do about situations like this?
From start to finish, I’ve always felt that the government hasn’t had proper laws put in place for this. Every time these situations just keep happening, happening and happening. And after every occurrence there’s an argument. And what then? Nothing, because the flood will have passed, and then those of us living in areas outside of the affected zones will just continue living our lives. Right, I’m going to write a letter to President Ma (huge around of applause). But he won’t listen anyway.”

Someone said something about the president that made her go again, while Anna said to me, “She really doesn’t like President Ma.”

Ms. Lee continued, “Yeah, you know in Taiwan we have a saying: ‘when you change a position you change a brain’. Even those who aren’t in high-ranking positions should still be able to think of these things, with their level of intelligence. OK, that’s all.”

Anna adds, “Do you think she voted for him?” Ha ha ha ha!

Anna turned off the recording on my cellphone and that was the end of that. What a day. Proper politics in the classroom from a proper educator. JSF.

Often educators will reject the claims that politics are interjected with bias into the classroom. There is only one way to solve this: Facts, cold hard, facts.