The Year of the Dragon

February 2000, after Beijing and Shanghai

Monday, February 14, 2000

Linda is looking closely at this woman ... it being St. Valentine's Day today.

Early this morning we flew to Hong Kong ... a necessary transit point on the way to Taipei. As the PRC and ROC are all frosty with one another it is foolishly necessary to pass through a third country in order to go from there to here.

Linda likes the new Hong Kong airport because the light suits her. She does not mind the transit, or any transit ... as long as it is First Class.

Tonight, and for the next six nights we'll be at The Far Eastern Plaza Hotel (a Shangri-La property) in Taipei. This place qualifies, in Linda's eyes (for light and class).

My friend Dan and his wife Jill joined us for dinner this evening.

Good night!

Tuesday, February 15, 2000

Oh, I forgot! Yesterday's flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong was aboard one of China Eastern's MD-90's. Yes, one of those flying machine types that quite recently fell out of the sky just off the Los Angeles coast. Apparently a big screw assembly in the tail section got all rusted; and at the wrong time in the flight it pointed 88 passengers and crew right into the sea.

Uncertain as to whether China Eastern received (and perhaps ignored) a recall notice from the plane builders, I paid particular attention to the graphics on the safety instruction card. Unhappy Flight AttendantsI am not sure how helpful they would have been; it looks like China Eastern did not want me to use the door if outside there lurked shards of pointy brown steel, gray and even grayer smoke or licking red fire. However it appears the airline did encourage exiting when mauve and teal smoke was hovering in the aisle.

The flight attendants looked like they were not happy to be aboard; even on the safety card.

Before moving on to today I'd like to drop in a few photographs of our rooms. Like our other hotels, The Far Eastern Plaza surrounds its guests with space. We are on the 37th floor; almost 50 floors below the point in the sky where we slept when in Shanghai ... but, still higher off the land than almost any other place in Taipei.

Today we spent four hours in The National Palace Museum. No photos of real things were permitted.

Wednesday, February 16, 2000

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1950: Stinky Valentine

HOLLYWOOD - Film star Joan Bennett shipped a skunk as a Valentine to a movie gossip columnist who had been making cracks about her close-ups. Miss Bennett said she mailed the skunk along with an "appropriate" Valentine. "For years we have been the victims of her nasty remarks," Miss Bennett explained. "I thought it was time to answer back." The actress also paid $800 for two advertisements hinting that the columnist was a "frustrated and jobless actress." "The whole thing is divine," the columnist trilled. "It is wonderful to have someone pay $800 for a Valentine. I didn't know she had enough money."

Our second full day in Taipei kept us downtown for all three courses.

1) The National Martyr's Shrine is dedicated to all of the Chinese heroes who died ("with merit" ... presumably by bayonet or bullet ... not by falling off a truck)
anywhere from the time that the last empire came to a squeaky halt up through the time that Taiwan off loaded the last piece of art from the mainland. There are several hundred thousand corpses who qualify for inclusion. Those that made the list have their names written down somewhere in the National Martyr's Shrine. The really important ones have their photos and a brief "martyrography" on display.

2) The Confucius Shrine, apparently, is a prep school for high-level government bureaucrats. What else goes on there is a mystery. Perhaps Confucius-Says games.

Pao An Temple

3) This afternoon the Pao An Temple (Dragon Mountain Temple) was doing a swift business in selling upgrades for people who were born under the sign of the Dog. As this lunar year is that of the Dragon ... and, as the Year of the Dog is exactly halfway around the other side of the Chinese calendar (six years away in either direction) ... well, that means that people with the canine sign are in for a dismal year 2000, UNLESS they buy an upgrade. So the place was packed with hopefuls (they were even taking service numbers like people do in a bank on a payday Friday). By offering a piece of pork, a glass of wine and a bit of old clothing anyone born in 1994 (and each twelve year increment year before that) can get a booster shot.

Tonight Dan and his wife, Jill, joined us again for dinner. This time we ate in The Shanghai Pavilion ... located on the 39th floor of the hotel. The restaurant is decorated with unique antiques, curios, calligraphy and paintings that reflect early Shanghai. Linda gazed fondly at two Shanghai girls. The girls were embracing.

After dinner we rode two floors up to the rooftop pool. It is outside. Though the air temperature is in the 50's the water temperature is kept in the mid-80's.

Thursday, February 17, 2000

Today will be mercifully short on words and long on photographs.

Tsushih Temple

About an hour into the countryside we came to the old Taiwanese town of Sanhsia. Here is located a Tsushih Temple that dates originally from 1769. An earthquake in 1833 required that it be rebuilt. In 1899 it was again restored after the Japanese occupation government razed it in retribution. Finally, in 1947, after Taiwan's retrocession to Chinese rule, restorers again tackled it.

The old streets of Sanhsia are just that: old. And, sort of run down. Not worth a special trip.

The pool on the roof of our hotel is worth a special trip.

Friday, February 18, 2000


If you encounter a stampede of bulls or cattle, do not try to distract them. Try to determine where they are headed, and then get out of the way. If you cannot escape, your only option is to run alongside the stampede in order to avoid getting trampled. Bulls are not like horses, and will not avoid you if you lie down - so keep moving.

Running with this animal theme let me pick up this Hare of the Year award from Esquire:

On March 27, at an Al Gore campaign appearance in Nashua, New Hampshire, a six-foot bunny with gaping, bloody wounds was unleashed by PETA to protest Gore's support for a program to test thousands of common chemicals on animals.

On April 7, as Gore was delivering a speech in Ames, Iowa, Secret Service agents made the bunny sit in the backseat of a car while they ran a security check. The bunny came up clean.

Despite the constant harassment by the Secret Service, Gore's refusal to negotiate, and an oversized Plexiglas head that required a van to cart it, the bunny stalked the vice-president across America. Finally, on July 30 in Minneapolis, the travel and strain got to the bunny, who almost fainted. "You have to take your head off to drink," he explained. "I neglected to do that."

Tired of being hounded by the bunny - whose cause had now been joined by Alec Baldwin, Bea Clark, and the Doris Day Animal League - and anxious to shore up his reputation among conservationists, Gore agreed in October to oppose the testing program and spare eight hundred thousand animals.

For his efforts, the bunny was sent to open a PETA office in India. Reflecting on his body of work - including once spending a day in Intercourse, Pennsylvania, disguised as a condom - the bunny, Jason Baker, said, "I've never been beaten up, but I probably should be, don't you think?"

Dear reader, since Linda and I shall be off in the countryside for most of the day, February 18th is going to be rather pre-wordy. That is, I am using up some interesting media filler now ... rather than toil with it when we return this evening.

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1950: Esthetic Grounds

LONDON - The British Broadcasting Corporation canceled the scheduled televising of an appendicitis operation. The girl whose operation was filmed for the program objected, a BBC official said. The objection, however, had "nothing to do with the cancellation, which was strictly on esthetic grounds," he added.

While I am adding stuff, here are two flyers for the hotel's flagship restaurants: both of which we ate at when Dan and Jill were with us.

The first is from the Shang Palace: pictured are Li Bai and Ou Yang-Hsiu having a "splendid palace banquet." The other is of the Shanghai Pavilion, where the spirit of Zhang Ai-Ling's romance novels can be felt and the sounds of Bai Guang's songs can be heard. Linda liked the "couple" arrangement here.

Until later ...

Hours have passed ...

Just on the far side of the hotel lobby door the whole street was awash with costumes, music and lots of really big pigs. These were very dead pigs ... huge oinkers that seemed to have lived their lives just for this very moment.
These pigs were far grander stone dead and gutted than they ever were when just lying around in the mud passing methane through their plumbing ... though far less happy, I guess.

The pigs are part of the preparations for the lantern festival that starts tomorrow. The other parts that make it work are music, dancing and costumes.

Girl with Pig

Of course, there was the beautiful girl, too. She was cleaning a pig when I found her. Actually, she was shaving one of its legs. This could be something from Grimm's ... really! Look at her. She will haunt your mind! I promise you.

With my mind still on pigs and that beautiful girl we drove north to Keelung Harbor. Overlooking the harbor lays Chung-cheng Park. Along with one giant protective Buddha the park hosts an assortment of Disney type mini-Buddhas that form a moat of guidance around the master. Like temples everywhere it is a sanctuary for both the faithful and the bored.

Linda on the Rocks

Just down the road from God's gaze there lies a crumbled 19th century fort that still sports a few old guns.

Of much more interest is the Yehliu National Park. The natural rock formations (carved by wind and surf) are eerie and lifelike ... and" thinglike". When I took photos of them they looked like queens, frogs, candles, elephants and shoes. Now they look like rocks.

The last stop on our out of Taipei agenda was at the hot springs ... well, actually these things are more like steam vents that squeeze sulfur laden gas from the earth. The place looked like it was ready to pose for a poster for chemical pollution. What with all the pipes and tubes that pump the stuff down to the Japanese hotels on the coast, this birthing spot for all of these medicinal steam belches is best kept behind the scenes.

Saturday, February 19, 2000

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1925: Puzzling Fashion

NEW YORK - The tiny beauty spot, once so popular, has faded out of the physiognomical picture. Nevertheless, milady has found a substitute. It is the latest fashion among the flappers here to wear cross-word puzzles on the cheek. They consist of little pieces of court plaster in the form of a cross-word puzzle placed on each cheek just below the eye. They may be seen on the cheeks of the debutante on Fifth Avenue as well as the stenographer on Bond Street.

This morning we finally made it to the memorial to the man who wanted to make Taiwan what he wanted it to be. That sentence is more helpful than it first appears. Chiang Kai-shek died about a quarter century ago, and the city in which he died is still home to his unburied body. Whether his corpse will ever be returned to his boyhood China is a very open question. His widow (Madame Chiang Kai-shek) is more than 100 years old. She lives on Long Island in New York.
She has not been helpful with the moving arrangements. In any event the Memorial is impressive, if only for its prime urban location. While in the vicinity we watched some practice for tonight's lantern festival ceremony; we also viewed a changing of the guard: one that took place directly under the eyes of the man for whom much is named.

After the changed-out guard left the premises so did we. We went to the Lungshan Temple to see a working Buddhist temple in full swing ... this being lantern time, a lunar new year and the last chance for Dogs to get an upgrade ... the facilities were busy. Lots of food offerings, incense smoke all over the place, prayers right and left, monks with bowls in hand, hawkers with postcards ... this and more.

For a change in faith we next walked through Taipei's only working class red light district. Being a Saturday morning, only a few of the legal brothels were open for business. The posted rate is NT$1000 per 15 minutes, or fraction thereof. That's about $33 per quarter hour. Photographs of the facilities or the employees were not allowed.

This evening the opening of the Lantern Festival took place at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. Linda and I were fortunate to have made the acquaintance of a Mr. Lee ... an important Taiwanese lawmaker. He gave us two VIP passes to see the Lighting Ceremony and the folklore performances. We were seated only yards away from the President. This sort of surprised me: had these people never seen The Manchurian Candidate? We didn't have to pass through any security. I had my backpack with me ... it was never searched ... I am a foreigner ... I was never X-Rayed. I pointed my telephoto lens right at the President's head ... no secret service people wrestled me to the ground.

MPEG Film (200k):
The Dragon Lives!

At precisely 7:00PM the President pushed a button and a green laser beam shot from the man's finger. Less that one 1,862,000ths of a second later the tip of that laser hit the dragon's eye and the animal went wild: erupting with its own porcupinal spillage of laser needles along with a cascade of dry ice gas. Angry dragon music accompanied the beast as it whirled on unseen hunkers.

Oh, all the while this was happening it rained.

Sunday, February 20, 2000

Sunday, February 20, 2000 - (or 02/20/2000, maybe 20/02/2000 ... whatever, I was trying to build a palindrome ... but, nothing works fairly ... however, if I use the now out of favor New Guinea method of dating legal documents [day/year/month] I have a trickle of success: 20/00/02).

The rain continues. Is this auspicious?

Today Linda is going to deal herself three Tarot cards. Her first wish is to become a Lesbian prostitute; and the cut of the cards will decide whether she will be able to wander this happy road ... or, must she return to a personal purgatory: South Florida. Only the cards will decide. But, each day the cards can be cut anew. She has crossed an interesting watershed: one that most of us never reach.

As for me, I am going home just long enough to change out my suitcase, pay my creditors, charge my car battery and refresh my airline tickets. A week from tomorrow Bangkok will loom large in my thoughts. For the entire month of March my home will be the John LeCarre suite at The Oriental hotel. I'll use it as a base ... to perhaps allow myself mini-trips into Burma and Cambodia.

This morning's read is the Taipei Times. The front page offers two snippets of dubious relevance:


"Minister of Defense Tang Fei said yesterday during a radio interview that Taiwan's armed forces are not as weak as propaganda from China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) claim - but he did admit serious problems exist within the military, such as the fact that the physical strength of the conscripts is badly eroding."

" 'Generally speaking, conscripts these days are fairly weak physically as well as emotionally. This comes as a result of being spoiled by their parents,' Tang said."


"Thirty-six hours into a marathon movie watch, more than 150 sunken-eyed Thais still managed to suppress their yawns as they bid to break the world record for watching films nonstop."

"The 52-hour movie-watching contest started at noon Friday with 468 people. The numbers dropped rapidly overnight as contestants were caught napping or felt too tired to continue."

"Some 100,000 baht (US$2,702) in cash is up for grabs, to be shared between those who can stay the full course or endure the most movies. The world record is held by a Hungarian who watched 20 movies in 37 hours and 25 minutes."

"Contestants, who had to take urine tests to make sure they are not cheating by using stimulants, are allowed to take five-minute rests after every movie."

"They are monitored by an infrared camera to check if they fall asleep, move seats or disturb others."

A Weekday, February Something, 2000

The cards were cut, the cards were dealt, and the cards were played.

Next: Pre-Bangkok

Search WWW Search