Posters Surrounding the Abandoned Taipei Dome Construction Site

Ko Wen-je still seems to enjoy quite a lot of popularity as Taipei mayor, despite being increasingly distant from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which did not nominate a candidate in the mayoral election in which he was elected. There has been talk this time round of DPP politicians running against him, but Ko has so far come out on top on polls (reference).

Ko’s reign as mayor has not been all smooth sailing by any stretch, however, and one of the major controversies of his term is still in evidence at the abandoned construction site of the Taipei Dome where posters denouncing Ko can still be found plastered over the walls of the site:


(Top) “Protect old trees before the election
Move old trees after the election
‘Making Real Change’ (from the title of Ko’s second book White Power 2: Making Real Change)
Start with changing yourself”

(Bottom) 7 Questions for Ko Wen-je
Mayor Ke Wen-je, Are you going to let the construction of the corrupt landmark restart?
1. Have you completed the renegotiation of the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Contract?
2. Have you dealt with FarGlory’s illegal breach of contract?
3. Have you dealt with the controversy surrounding the Taipei Dome scandal?
4. Did FarGlory complete the implementation of the seven public safety standards?
5. Have you passed the changes to the Urban Design Review, the environmental impact assessment and the building license?
6. Have you realized the concept of “lining roads with trees” (a campaign slogan)?
7. Have you dealt with the impact on traffic after the capacity was dramatically expanded?


Here the Chinese for Songshan Cultural and Creative Park have been defaced to read “Songshan Logging Park”. Under this is a another poster, which reads as follows:

“The Big Scandalous Egg (a corruption of the Chinese for Taipei Dome) is facing a lawsuit for profiteering, we ask that the administration of Mayor Ko Wen-je end the contract and revoke the construction permit.
Don’t exchange fairness and justice for money, don’t renegotiate the contract for the flawed scandalous egg (Taipei Dome), cancel it.”


(Top right) Ko Wen-je and Farglory are both telling lies, until the public safety appraisal has been completed, plant it with trees.”
(Bottom) “The scandal hasn’t been cleaned up, cancel (the project) and put trees in its place.”


This piece of graffiti has a more interesting story behind it. It reads, “The purity of youth has fooled the whole country to their deaths.” This sounds like something reminiscent of the criticism of the Student Sunflower Movement. However, according to a news article, a man in his 50s went across Taiwan graffitiing this message on a range of different landmarks in 2016. There are picture of him in action here, although I’m not sure if this is a copycat or an original creation.

For an interesting explanation of Wayne Chiang’s recent decision not to run in the mayoral election, check out this Frozen Garlic update.

Punning with Shrimp and Fish 「蝦不掩魚」

There is a great columnist in Taiwan, Chou Wei-hang, who goes under the nickname 「人渣文本」 (Scum Text), often featured in magazines in Taiwan. Always a column to look out for. I was reading a particularly scathing article he wrote ripping into Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), when I came across this cool pun, which harkens back to one of my previous posts 「無魚,蝦也好」:


Ho Nuan-hsuan fired one of the union air hostesses for damaging China Airlines’ image. Does the New Tide faction (within the DPP) think that he did a good job?  Does Tuan Yi-kang (DPP Legislator) think he did a good job? Does Cheng Wen-Tsan (Taoyuan Mayor for DPP) think he did a good job? Cheng Yun-Peng (DPP Legislator), you highly recommended Ho Nuan-hsuan (as chairperson of China Airlines), why don’t you evaluate his performance after taking the job? A small blemish doesn’t spoil jade? Shrimp doesn’t spoil fish? It’s both foolish and blind?

The author takes the common idiom 「瑕不掩瑜?」 (xia2bu4yan3yu2), meaning literally that “one blemish doesn’t spoil the jade” and figuratively that just because there are disadvantages to something, doesn’t mean that they aren’t great overall. He then substitutes the 「瑕」(xia2) meaning “flaw” for 「蝦」(xia1) meaning “shrimp/prawn”, and 「瑜」 (yu2) meaning the “lustre of jade” for “魚” (yu2) meaning “fish”.

Now the phrase reads, “shrimp cannot spoil the fish”, and this is a nod to the Taiwanese phrase 「無魚,蝦也好」 (bô hî, hê mā ho):

Although this phrase was originally used to indicate “Something is better than nothing”, here it is used to mock the idea that you can replace something good with something lesser and still claim to be great overall. Here it particularly refers to the way politicians and others step down from their campaign promises with less appetizing versions of policies. This is a similar usage to the one I pointed out in Li Ang’s novel chronicling the breakdown of idealism and misogyny of the opposition activists that eventually formed the DPP:


As no normal women [Lin Hui-shu is the product of a mixed marriage between a mainland soldier and an aboriginal woman] dared to be associated with Chen Ying-jun, he really didn’t have much choice, and as, Lin Hui-shu was really quite attractive, the two quickly entered into a relationship.


Although some of his political prisoner comrades joked with him that he was really scraping the bottom of the barrel, most admired him with a little bit of jealousy mixed in.

Riffing again on the “yu2” and “xia1” sounds, he adds the phrase 「又愚又瞎」, where 「愚」 (yu2), meaning “foolish”, is a homophone of 「魚」 (and 「瑜」) and 「瞎」(xia1) is a homophone of 「蝦」 (and a near homophone of 「瑕」xia2).


Pimp My Characters: 衚衕, 666 and 爆改


Photo by Ivan Walsh, licensed under Creative Commons

Saw a cute variant of 「胡同」 (hutongs – traditional Beijing alleys) in a news article that caught my eye:


The headline translates to:

“Beijing Hutongs are too rustic, a group of foreigners spent four years pimping out a spicy soup shop, a butcher’s and a traditional board games room… the results were amazing”

I thought the use of 「爆改」(bao4gai3) as an equivalent to “pimp” as in “pimp my ride” was interesting, as well as the use of the slang term 「666」(liu4liu4liu4), used to stand in for 「溜溜溜」(liu1liu1liu1). Although 「溜」 is conventionally used for “skating” or “slippy”, here it’s used as slang for “with great and practiced skill”.

The news article has pictures of the designs here if you’re interested.

「ㄆㄨㄣ(潘)系列」 Swill, leftovers, rice water and other delicacies

When browsing a few of the Chinese-language posts that come up on my Facebook feed, I saw the following (public) post from China Times journalist Feng Kuang-yuan:

The first section of the post reads as follows:





Yesterday I was discussing something with my daughter
This was whether or not we should plan out a menu for our house
That way, if guests visit
We can offer them a choice of dishes

We both thought this was a good idea
So we started to think of different sections for the menu
I was thinking of things like a range of hamburgers, of omelettes, of pasta
But the first range she mentioned was
a range of leftovers

I found an article in the ET Today from 2014 which helped explain the meaning of the Taiwanese word 「ㄆㄨㄣ」 (pun/phun). It explains that Chinese character (本字) associated with the term is the popular surname 「潘」 (Pān in Mandarin), which originally meant “the water leftover after washing rice”. The term can now be used to refer to leftover foods or kitchen waste that is normally used to feed pigs, so another translation might be “swill” or 「餿水 sou1shui3」(food waste) in Mandarin.

This definition is also featured in the MOE Taiwanese dictionary as below:


The character is pronounced “phun” (Click through to hear).

The ET Today article came out in the midst of the gutter oil scandals and apparently kids surnamed 「潘」 were teased at the time, being called 「ㄆㄨㄣ小孩」. Kids can be so cruel. A Taiwanese teacher cited in the article, suggested that an alternative character be invented to represent the word to avoid embarrassment for all the Mr and Miss Swills out there. He advocated the combination of the food radical 「食」 alongside 「賁」 (bēn in Mandarin). Although the latter means “energetic” on its own, he suggested it because it makes up the right part of the character 「噴」 (pēn in Mandarin), which means “to spray or spurt”:


Afternote (Nov. 16, 2017): 饙 fēn (to steam rice) is in fact already a character, so in this case the Taiwanese teacher cited in the ET Today article is suggesting borrowing this character for a new purpose, rather than creating a new character.

泊車 paak3 che1 English interpreted through Cantonese to Mandarin – Parking


Parking Lot APP CEO Ronald Yu (second from left)

I recently attended a conference in Taipei at which the CEO of parking app 「停車大聲公」 (ParkingLotApp) Roland Yu (余致緯) described his company’s transition from a mobile-based valet parking application to an app that provides information to drivers on cheap and convenient parking spots near their destination where they can park themselves, allowing them to pre-book times and check availability. It was an interesting question and answer session and I’ll go into it in more depth in the IP Observer later this month.

What interested me in terms of language, however, was that although his app bears the word 「停車」 (ting2che1), meaning “to park”, Ronald kept using the word “pa車” during his speech.

During his brief introduction to his business, he mentioned that he’d written an article online detailing his company’s transition. On inspection of this, I found that he’s used the term 「泊車」, which although looks temptingly like 「怕」 is pronounced “bo2che1”. So why was he pronouncing it “pa”?

Continue reading

The curious case of 「開嘜」

I was at my bus stop this morning when I saw this sign on a shop that pricked my curiosity:


The first bit is the classic shaven ice dish that’s very popular in Taiwan 「剉冰」(Mandarin cuo4bing1), almost always referred to by its Taiwanese pronunciation: chhoah冰

(Side note, you should definitely try this place if you want some pretty stylized shaven ice – 路地 氷の怪物 (Street Ice Monsters) – there are two in Taichung and one in Taipei)



Anyway, it was the second two characters that intrigued me more: 「開嘜」.

Looking online I found several examples of its usage, but they all seemed to point to a different meaning, referring to starting filming or broadcasting. One of my friends suggested that 「嘜」 is short for 「麥克風」, a borrowing from the English microphone, with an additional mouth radical to emphasize the difference from the original meaning of 「麥」, “wheat”. So in this sense it would be something similar to where the director shouts “rolling” on a film shoot, referring to when the sound starts getting recorded.

This meaning is suggested by the Executive Yuan’s Youtube channel, titled 「行政院開麥啦」 (notice the 口 in front of 麥 isn’t included), translating roughly to “The Executive Yuan start broadcasting”.

Likewise with this article on the broadcasting of judicial proceedings: 「司法,開嘜啦!」.

This doesn’t really help us with the sign at the bus stop, however, and it’s most likely that the character 「嘜」 `(mai4 ㄇㄞˋ) is just standing in for its homonym 「賣」(mai4 ㄇㄞˋ), although I’m not exactly sure why. It could just be to attract attention or for comedic effect. If anyone has a better suggestion, feel free to put it out there in the comments section.


Ay Chung Flour-Rice Noodles and their Passive Aggressive Neighbours


Photo credit: Chi-Hung Lin

Although not to everyone’s taste, this noodle shop is one of the most well-known in Taipei and you’ll have to line up in a quick-moving queue to get your order in. As i was waiting for my friend to get his order, I noticed these signs on the pillar that separates the store from its neighbour:


As well as the English-language sign on the left which states rather directly: “Don’t eat noodle here”, there’s a Chinese-language sign on the right. For those lacking super vision, here’s the enlarged version:


This sign reads as follows:


Compatriots who are fans of flour noodles, don’t let your rubbish fall on the ground. Don’t cause people problems, thanks!

Although the word 「同胞」 technically means simply “compatriots”, it is frequently used by people on both side of the Taiwan Strait to refer to the other side, more frequent when Chinese people refer to Taiwanese people.

For example, the permit (as their passports aren’t officially recognized) that Taiwanese people have to get to enter Mainland China are called 「台胞證」(Taiwan Compatriot Permit) a more casual way of referring to the 「台灣居民來往大陸通行證」 (Permit to allow residents of Taiwan freedom of passage to and from Mainland China).

In my mind this suggested that the sign was probably aimed primarily at Mainland Chinese tourists, many of whom visit the noodle shop while in Taipei.

Flowery Wordplay 「我想要兩朵花」

My manager at work brought me back a little souvenir from her holiday in Singapore – a coin purse with a joke on it:


The joke plays on the two meanings of 「花」 which means “flower” when used as a noun and “to spend” when used as a verb. As Singapore uses simplified characters, you’ll notice the characters are all in simplified form:


This literally translates to

“I want two flowers: to have money to spend, and to be able to spend it however I want!”

So 「有銭花」 and 「随便花」 are jokingly posited as the two kinds of flowers referred to in the first sentence, while they actually mean “having money to spend” and “being able to spend it how one likes”.

Another Year Another Sign: Vet Wei-shyue Chang Opposes Radioactive Imports from Japan 張維學又在反對

I’ve previously dedicated a long post to the various signs that have popped up around the Zhongzheng bridge that separates the Yonghe area from Guting (my morning commute), with everything from an urge to protect Taiwan’s claim on the Diaoyu Islands, to support for former KMT presidential nominee Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) and demands that the Japanese government apologize to “comfort women” – the women who were forced into sexual slavery under Japanese rule. Although only one of the signs has his signature, I assume that they’re all the handiwork of Wei-shyue Chang (張維學), director general of the Association of ROC Veterinarians and senior vet at Jinhua Animal Hospital.

A new sign has been up for quite a few months now, but I only really got the chance to get a clear picture a few days ago:


It reads


Oppose imports of food affected by the nuclear disaster

This refers to the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant and the continuing debate over the standards used to judge food safety and concerns over the alleged mislabeling of provenance of affected foods.

Everyday Variants: 垃圾「乱」丟


I walked past this sign the other day near Dingxi MRT station and was reminded of how often Taiwanese people use simpler variants of some characters when writing some of the more complex Chinese characters, many of which were adopted in China as the standard simplified version of the character:


It reads:




Dumping rubbish
[Incurs a] fine [of]

It’s not OK to throw bags inside

Here 「亂」, meaning here “carelessly” or “against the rules”, is written using the variant 「乱」, which is identical to its simplified form.

This variant form is listed in the MOE’s Variant dictionary: