Tuesday, January 22, 2008

will he go or will he stay?


Taiwan's information ministers rarely stay out of the headlines.
Shieh Jhy-wey is no exception.
He's one of the three "controversial" figures at the centre of a row over the DPP's defeat in the recent parliamentary elections.
First he said he would step down, now he is reportedly saying he will stay on.
I don't want to be political on this blog, but Minister Shieh has been one of the most entertaining and creative ministers we've had in that post (and there have been many in the time i've lived in Taiwan).
He may be accused of many things...but never dull.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Recycling the old

When I lived in London - and even when I travelled on holiday - one favourite pastime at weekends was to visit street markets - especially "flea markets", selling vintage clothing, furniture, objets d'art...and yes, junk. You never knew what gem you might discover...even if you didnt buy anything, it was endlessly fascinating; a real journey back in time...

Living in Taiwan (and South Korea before) those places rarely exist...People's attitudes to old or second hand goods are a little different..they prefer to buy brand new; or maybe there's also a religious/cultural rejection of having things that were owned by people who have passed away.

In South Korea, people's attitudes did start to change when a local non profit charity organisation started to open shops specialising in 2nd hand clothing and household goods..which were immaculately cleaned and repaired before they were displayed for sale . The first opened in a neighbourhood I was living in.

It was called the Beautiful Store. A few years back, they also started running a flea market. They were trying to introduce the culture of recycling.

[You can read more about the idea on this link...

So I was intrigued to spot something that looked like a flea market in Taipei when I was on my way to do an interview last week.

After my work was finished, I walked back to try to find the place..its on the corner of Bade Lu and Jianguo...an aladdins cave of unwanted goods..from clothing, to old electrical stuff, kitchen gear and some furniture.

I found out it was run by the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation...

One volunteer let me take a peep upstairs ..which is normally only open for schoolgroups for educational purposes; lots of Japanese-era items and other old paraphernalia from old fashioned telephones and cameras to suitcases.

It was pretty cool. No, i didnt buy anything that morning, but plenty of people were making purchases...one woman told me she tries to come almost every day to find great stuff, which she would then try to sell via her internet site.

One person's waste could be another person's treasure ..and the money all goes to a worthy cause.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

shortage of good men!

I'm going to monitor this blog to see how much impact a UDN story is going to have on the number of people who visit my site

I was interviewed about my views on Taiwan...but the headline picked up one comment I made about how there were many smart, financially independent women in Taiwan who were still single into their 30s, bemoaning the lack of good, available single men who had evolved as much as they had ie weren't looking for a wife who would be willing to give up career and freedoms to cook, clean and look after their kids.

According to one story I read on Taiwan's news agency, there are more than 8 million singles. And roughly 30% of women over the age of 16 are single. The island has one of the lowest birth rates in the world.

For men living in rural areas, one solution is to find women to marry from other , poorer Asian countries.


Thanks so much to everyone who has posted their comments and taken the time to look at the blog; I appreciate them.

I think Taiwan is a "hidden gem" in Asia when it comes to tourism..and the longer I am here, the more fascinated I become by the island and its diverse people and cultures.

I hope to keep updating the blog reguarly. Keep checking in!

Final update:
Wow, what an incredible week...one of the people who left a comment talked about the power of UDN and I agree with him! I've had more than 1700 hits on this blog since the UDN article appeared... which is amazing. If only my blog was advertising some product, I would have probably made some money!! (thats a joke)

Seriously, I'm happy that so many people have checked out the blog.
I'm always looking for new ideas, stories to write about ..both for the blog and for my radio/tv reports...so feel free to let me know about anything you feel deserves wider attention .

Thanks so much!

Friday, January 11, 2008

election fever ..or not

The election trucks are coming!!!

In the past few days, i've become used to the sound of fireworks and loudspeakers in my neighbourhood as election hopefuls speed by on jeeps soliciting support from voters.

Yes, its election time. But since 2001 Taiwan has had elections almost every year..and voter fatigue is setting in.

But these elections - to choose the make up of a new parliament - are a little different from the past. Thanks to electoral reforms, the number of seats is roughly halved...scaled down from 225 to just 113. The voting system has changed too. In the past, multiple candidates, some from the same party, vied for a number of seats in the same district. Now, only one candidate can be selected for each district. Previously, voters cast one vote; now they need to cast two - one for the candidate; a second for a preferred party.

The aim of the parliamentary reforms - which got strong support from the public embarrassed by their unruly legislature, where fist and food fights often erupted - was aimed at creating a cleaner and more efficient system, which would encourage more moderate, less corrupt or extremist legislators.

"You need to be much more hard working. .Its very competitive. because there is only 1 seat where you can get elected", said DPP candidate, Julian Kuo.

"In the past, we had 10 seats elected in a multiple seat district. I would say you got 8% of total voters and you got elected…sometimes you only pursue some fundamental factions or interest groups, and you got elected. But [now] you cannot do that. you need to have 51% . You need to pursue every group, even those who are not interested in politics.

DPP candidate Julian Kuo (on the right, wearing the number 5 badge) hoping for a 3rd term in office

In many parts of the island, its been a heated, ill humoured and bitterly fought campaign. Candidates are fighting for their political survival.

High ranking officials from the two major parties have campaigned with their party's legislative candidates, using very different tactics.

The DPP has focused on national identity and Taiwan's ability to withstand pressure from Beijing. They say if the KMT wins big, there's a danger the island will be "sold out" to China.

Its also pushed for a referendum, also to be held on Saturday, asking the public to support legislation to force the KMT to return state assets it says were illegally amassed while the party was in power for more than five decades.

For its part, the KMT has called for a boycott of the referendum - despite tabling its own, targeting alleged corruption by the government. The party has focused on the poll as a chance for voters to evaluate the poor performance of the Chen administration - focusing on the sluggish economy with the island trailing behind the other Asian "tiger economies".

But for candidates campaigning on the streets, its all about very local - rather than national policy issues.

"People care about the economy ..and also education" , said KMT hopeful, Diane Lee..aiming for a fourth legislative term.

"If you are not satisfied with life for the past eight years..you have to come out for the future of the country. The KMT will have a big win", she predicted, "because the DPP did so bad".

. Kmt candidate Diane Lee

But while this election campaign has been heated and bitter at times, many members of the public say they’ve no interest in voting. In the last parliamentary elections, the turnout rate was just above 59%; this time round, it could dip to below 50%.

"The competition (for the elections) is very fierce…but the climate is very cold", said Lo Chi-Cheng, professor of political science at Soochow University. "I think we are going to have a historically low turn out."

My unscientific straw-polling of passers-by on a busy intersection in Taipei appeared to confirm that view - with more than three quarters saying they wouldn't vote. "Its boring. I don't care about the elections.. its too complex for me. I think the politicians are all trash. I don't trust them", said 25 year old Lee Shun-Ho, who also admitted he had never voted in any election.

"They still control the political power and brainwash us…" said Diamond Si Singlim, cycling past a KMT election van. But he had equally disparaging words for the DPP . "I wont go and vote", he said.

"The majority of Taiwan are sick of being played by these politicians. they are real opportunists. " "I'm not interested and judging the two main parties I'm not satisfied with either" said Veronica Wang.

"Taiwan can stand on the international stage because our economic power is very strong, but if we don't go continue to move ahead, we have nothing. We always focus on this politics issue, but economics, it's the most important thing… without it we don't have anything."

Apathy and voter discontent are high. A low turn out rate could also frustrate the efforts of election analysts gazing into their crystal balls trying to accurately gauge just how much impact the result will have on the crucial presidential race in ten weeks time.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Call for action to save endangered Taiwanese humpback dolphins

pic courtesy Wild At Heart

A coalition of environmental groups in Taiwan handed in a petition to the Executive Yuan - or Cabinet - today, calling on the government to take urgent action to protect a group of endangered dolphins that they say are facing imminent extinction.

Scientists believe there are less than 100 Indo –Pacific humpback dolphins – also known as sousa chinensis – living in a small area of waters off Taiwan’s west coast between Yunlin and Miaoli counties.

But they say their habitat is being rapidly degraded, mainly due to human activities – including extensive land reclamation and industrial and agricultural pollution of their waters.
Taiwan Humpback Dolphins: courtesy of FormosaCetus

While humpback dolphins exist in other parts of the world, including off the coast of China, and as far away as Africa, experts believe the group in Taiwan are a distinct sub-species, because of differences in their skin pigmentation and with their own unique habitat.

But, activists like Robin Winkler, director of the Wild At Heart Legal Defence Association, says their days could be numbered.

"They’re threatened by things like habitat loss, noise, pollution land relamation and so forth.

"These animals are protected by law and they’re clearly endangered. their habitat is also required by law to be protected. Unfortunately, it happens to be one of the most intensively developed areas of Taiwan..not just in the past, but also the future…including steel plants, petrochemical plants expansions and new plants."

He suggested campaigners might ask the authorities to intervene to compel certain companies to halt future plans if those development plans were believed to threaten the dolphins .

As a first step, though, activists want the government to declare a moratorium on future industrial projects in the area while specific measures are drawn up to better protect the dolphins and safeguard their habitat.

If not, they warn, the unique animals could disappear for ever within the next decade or two.

You can sign a petition or read more...check out this blog...

Friday, January 4, 2008

new year

Its winter in Taiwan! very unusual to see trees and plants covered in ice...but this was minus 2 in Hehuanshan over New Year!!

Its been a year since I started this blog...and to be honest, at times, I almost gave it up. It takes some effort to keep up with regular postings..and I must admit that I hadn't updated as often as I'd wanted.

frosted plants

Anyhow, thanks to everyone who has taken a look at the blog; and also added comments ...without readers and feedback, there's no point in keeping this going!

I spent the New Year along Taiwan's beautiful East Coast. I was very excited as it was my first time to visit Taroko Gorge...quite spectacular.

The different rock formations and colours are amazing. And though there are many different trails - which are not very strenuous - each walk had different features and characteristics, setting them apart from the others. New Year's Day, we drove further into the gorge, higher up towards Hehuanshan which is always so picturesque and often shrouded in amazing mist. But so cold at this time of year! Anyhow, survived the sub zero temperatures and was so happy to have spent the start of 2008 breathing great air and taking in the stunning scenery.

Happy new year to everyone!