MRT Prose: ‘You Can’t Drive into Taipei City’ by Hsieh Kai-te 謝凱特的「開車進不了臺北城」

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開車進不了臺北城                                 謝凱特

那一瞬間,我想起父親背著一袋沉重的家私,裡頭裝著電鑽、鐵鎚等數不清叫不出名字的工具,受雇於出錢的資方,看建築師的藍圖,聽工頭的指揮,把臺北蓋出一座城之後,他像那些風雨烈日下吹曬刻虛的鷹架和綠色圍籬一樣,直至功成身退,訕訕退出城外,讓這些光鮮亮麗的符號進駐城中。

是他蓋起這座城,又被城阻擋在外。

You Can’t Drive Into Taipei City    by Hsieh Kai-te

In that instant, I thought of my father carrying a big bag of his things on his back, with his electric drill, his hammer and countless other tools I don’t even know the name of inside. Under contract from the moneyed classes to build the city of Taipei, he consulted the architect’s blueprint and listened to the instructions of the foreman, before, just like the scaffolding and walls of plants from the building site, weathered by the wind and rain then scorched by the sun until hollowed out, he returns to obscurity, sheepishly withdrawing from the city, allowing these symbols of grandeur to establish themselves there.

It was he who built this city, but he who is held beyond its limits.

節錄自《第18屆臺北文學獎得獎作品集》

This kind of prose always repels me to some extent, although I admire the imagery of the scaffolding. One reason for this is because I always think that overtly political art (with the possible exception of newspaper cartoons) generally comes across as preachy and tends to oversimplify nuanced issues. This was also one of the reasons I really didn’t like a lot of the work of theatre director Wang Molin. Another reason is that it echoes a lot of the political rhetoric of trade unionists and implies a sense of unpaid debt to the imaginary working class builders, mechanics and plumbers that pepper the speeches of Conservative politicians when they’re trying to incite anger against immigrants or intellectuals. The subtext to this is an implication that newcomers to the city and non-working class people are being rewarded at the expense of working class people. This kind of notion is often what feeds the xenophobia and inter-class resentment that featured heavily in both the Brexit referendum campaigns and in the recent US election campaign by Donald Trump.

Despite this, I do have sympathy for the chip on the shoulder view of Taipei that many people from central and southern Taiwan have, as I had the same chip on my shoulder when visiting London from Belfast growing up. Lots of people in Taiwan call Taipei the 「天龍國」 and Taipei citizens 「天龍人」. This is a term suggesting that they are elitist and look down on others. It takes its origins in the term “World Nobles” (Japanese: 天竜人 Tenryūbito) from Japanese manga One Piece and literally means “Heavenly Dragon Folk”, snobby arrogant elites who serve as the world government in the manga. 

‘Capable’ in Taiwanese: 「gâu」

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A scene from the play; Source: Greenray Theater Company

I spotted this word used in three places in the second of the Human Condition (《人間條件》) series of plays, ‘Her and the Men in Her Life’, by Wu Nien-chen.

The first situation is when a man discovers his wife, from a Taiwanese-speaking family) is capable of speaking Mandarin well:

Yuki: 我是議員太太的是我都記得要捲舌……

先生很意外,沈默了一下。

先生:這麼gau哦,若這樣,囝仔[小孩子]的北京語妳順便把伊[他]教乎好,北京話不輪轉的人,後擺免[不用/別]想要在社會跟人站起……

《人間條件2:她與她生命中的男人們》臺北市: 圓神文叢,2007年。

This translates as follows:

Yuki: When I say “I’m the legislator’s wife” I even remember to curve my tongue for the consonants.

Her husband is taken aback and is silent for a moment.

The husband: How capable you are. Since this is the case, you should teach the children Beijing-style Mandarin while you’re at it. Anyone who can’t get by in Beijing-style Mandarin won’t be able to make it in society…

Pronounced gâu, the “gau” above is equivalent to “能幹” in Mandarin and “capable” or “skilled” in English.

The second instance is an exchange between two friends who haven’t seen each other in a while. One of them has gone from selling clothes in a market to heading up a company and is being modest about it:

Yuki: 上遍[次]看到你的時候,你在市場賣衫……越一個頭,尚沒也是一個企業家……總是有一些鹹酸苦ㄐㄧㄚ……

武雄:那是機會好,不是我gau……

《人間條件2:她與她生命中的男人們》臺北市: 圓神文叢,2007年。

This translates as follows:

Yuki: Last time I saw you, you were selling blouses at a market… and now in the blink of an eye, at the very least you’re an entrepreneur… Whatever the case you seem to have gone through a lot…

Wu Hsiung: It was just a good opportunity, it’s not that I’m particularly talented

The third instance is as follows:

Yuki:你兒子開7-11哦?幾間?三間……哪會麼gau……

《人間條件2:她與她生命中的男人們》臺北市: 圓神文叢,2007年。

Which translates to:

Yuki: Your son opened a 7-11? How many stores? Three… Who knew he was so capable

The gâu also features in the phrase 假gâu (ké-gâu) for “trying to be clever” which I previously posted on.

MRT Poetry: ‘Better a Song’ by Bai Ling 捷運詩:白靈的〈不如歌〉

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This time it’s a reader contribution. My former co-worker snapped this poem on the MRT and sent it to me. The poem was written by Chuang Tsu-huang (莊祖煌 pinyin: Zhuang Zuhuang) who goes under the pen-name Bai Ling (白靈). He was born in Taipei’s Wanhua District in 1951 to a family from Fujian in China. After studying chemistry in Taiwan and teaching for a while, he went to the US to study a master’s at the Stevens Institute of Technology. He is currently a professor at National Taipei University of Technology and at one time took part in a grassroots poetry collective, including a period as the editor of a grassroots poetry publication. He has won a plethora of prizes for his poetry.

不如歌 Better a Song

平靜的無,不如抓狂的有
Better a manic something over a tranquil nothing
坐等升溫的露珠,不如捲熱而逃的淚水
Better a tear bubbled up in heat over a dewdrop awaiting the warmth
猛射亂放的箭矢,不如挺出紅心的箭靶
Better to land the bullseye than to loose an arrow in haste
養鴿子三千,不如擁老鷹一隻
Better a single eagle than to raise three thousand doves
被吻,不如被啄
Better to be pecked, than to be kissed

Let’s All Stop Pretending We Can Do Anything About Chen Shui-bian: Breaking It Down in Taiwanese「免安呢假心」 bián án-ní ké-sim

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A picture of Chen Shui-bian on his release from prison with the caption “Chen Shui-bian gets out of prison and waves to his supporters to show his gratitude to them”; Source

In a discussion between panelists from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Kuomintang (KMT) and media commentators on whether former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian is too healthy to remain on medical parole from jail on TVBS’s ‘Situation Room’, the former DPP legislator Shen Fu-hsiung (沈富雄) broke into Taiwanese to try and cut through some of the political bullshit being spouted by both sides. The gist of his point was that nobody in the studio really believes that Chen Shui-bian will go back to prison during the four years the DPP are in power, so there’s no point in arguing over this or that medical report. He also says that given Chen Shui-bian is on medical parole for political reasons, then he should be less provocative about it and not argue with people. This is in reference to his argument with a street pedlar selling bread in a Kaohsiung park who filmed Chen Shui-bian walking in the park. Chen and his friend approached and threatened him with a lawsuit and an “anonymous” tip-off later caused the bread seller to get in trouble with the government. You can get a sense of the effect of Shen using Taiwanese in the middle of a conversation being conducted in Mandarin from the wry smiles of the other panelists. Use of Taiwanese in Taiwan is generally more direct and emotive than Mandarin, so it’s often used when politicians want to convey sincerity (or forthrightness).  I’ve indicated the code-switching between Mandarin and Taiwanese below:

Taiwanese: 免安呢假心  bián án-ní ké-sim   ( 不用那麼假惺惺  / Let’s not pretend )

Mandarin: 也不用定期有醫療報告  (And we don’t need regular medical reports)

Mandarin: 我們大家也不要在這裡吵來吵去 (And we don’t need all of us sitting here arguing back and forth)

Mandarin: 因為這個都是一種表態而已 (Because it only serves to show where we personally stand on the issue)

Taiwanese: 我ê感覺是按呢   góa  ê  kám-kak   án-ní (Mandarin: 我的感覺是這樣子 / English: My feeling is)

Taiwanese: 阿扁啊,即然會當行到這個地步 到厝裡 更加出來散步 a píⁿ a  kì-jiân  ē-tàng  kiâⁿ-kàu chit-ê  tē-pō͘  tńg  kàu  chhù  nih   kèng-ka chhut-lâi  sàm-pō͘ (Mandarin: 阿扁啊,即然可以走到這個地步 回到家裡 還能出來散步 / English: Since Chen Shui-bian has already come this far – he’s returned home and he can even go out for walks)

Mandarin: 我覺得要守份一點,要低調一點 (He should wind his neck in a little and do things a little more low key)

Mandarin: 不要給人口舌啦 (Don’t give people anything to talk about)

Taiwanese: 對無對   tio̍h    tio̍h (Yes or no?)

Taiwanese: 別囂掰啦   m̄-ài hiau-pai la (Mandarin: 別囂張啦 / English: He shouldn’t be arrogant)

Mandarin: 不要給人家看到這個樣子 (He shouldn’t let other people see him act that way)

Taiwanese: 你若想講我按呢做時 人看著礙目      sióng kóng  góa án-ní  chò  ,  lāng  khòaⁿ-tio̍h  gāi-ba̍k  (Mandarin: 你若想講我這樣做的時候,人家看到會覺得礙眼 / If I do this kind of thing, people  will get irked by seeing it.

看到 khòaⁿ-tio̍h (Seeing that)

真的很刺眼 (Is really irritating)

I wonder will Chen Shui-bian take his advice.

If I’ve made any mistakes, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Mixing Taiwanese Proverbs?: 「相罵無好話,打架恨無力」 sio-mē bô hó-ōe, sio-phah hīn bô-la̍t

So by now everyone’s quite likely seen the photo below of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Su Chen-ching (蘇震清) choking Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Chen Yi-min (陳宜民) over the latter’s attempt to disrupt the DPP’s passing of a holiday bill. The bill is an altered version of a KMT bill that the DPP had opposed while in opposition. The KMT reportedly has little opposition to the bill itself, but were objecting to what they see as DPP partisan hypocrisy in trying to pass a bill they had previously opposed and in passing the bill without allowing any time for debate. The KMT are not necessarily opposed to the practice of passing a bill without debate, but are rather a little miffed that the DPP is doing this despite praising and visiting students taking part in the Student Sunflower Movement, who were protesting the very same method of passing bills when the KMT was trying to pass a cross-strait trade-in-services act in 2014. Despite more publicity being given to the photo below, the KMT reportedly stuck the proverbial boot into a few DPP legislators too, but less conspicuously.

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Photo source: Wild East Magazine

Anyway, this post is not primarily concerned with politics, but rather with a Taiwanese phrase used by former New Party legislator Li Sheng-feng (李勝峰) when commentating on the scuffle on TVBS’s political chat show ‘The Situation Room’:

 

「相罵無好話,打架恨無力」 sio-mē    hó-ōe,  sio-phah  hīn bô-la̍t

Nothing good or auspicious is said when people are cursing at each other; people hate themselves for not being able to hit each other harder in a fight.

I originally thought that this was a mixture of two phrases in Taiwanese:

1. 「相罵無好話  相打無揀位」sio-mē     hó-ōesio-phah  kéng ūi which means “It’s easy to say awful things when arguing and to underestimate your strength in a fight”.

2. 「相罵恨無聲,相拍恨無力」sio-mē  hīn  bô-siaⁿ , sio-phah  hīn bô-la̍t which means “When in an argument, you hate yourself for not being able to shout them down louder, and in a fight you’ll hate yourself for not being able to hit them harder”, or, you’ll always try and find a way to bring the other person down.

But my (very gracious) Taiwanese friend called his mother in the south and she said that the phrase that the guy says on the TV program does actually exist and that it is the same as the meaning of No. 2 listed above. But she also pointed out that people in southern Taiwan say “hūn” instead of “hīn”.

Feel free to share your opinion or any similar phrases you have in the comments section.

 

Aggressive Notes: Taipei Parking Battles 台北停車:瘋了嗎?

I previously posted about passive aggressive notes in Taipei related to parking.  But this post couldn’t really be described as “passive aggressive” as it is pure aggression from start to finish:

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You can see the shutter of a shop in the reflection of the car window, which reads 「請勿停車」, which means “Please do not park”. And here’s a close-up of the note:

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The note reads:

「刺破輪胎已違法! 

今日已”報案”調盤視 

畫面.限3日出面調解

否則依法辦理.

敢做敢君自重.

不誠意理.不要

後悔絶不善!

85-7-留

人·物證皆有」

Or in English:

By puncturing my tires you’ve already broken the law! Today I already went to report it as a crime and we’ve gone through the CCTV footage. I’ll give you three days to own up and come to an agreement, otherwise I’ll proceed through legal means. If you had the guts to do it, have the guts to behave like a gentleman about it. If you don’t deal with this honestly don’t regret the unpleasantness that comes!

85-7-Liu

We’ve got witnesses and evidence

It’s interesting that the author used the shorthand 「当」 for the character 「當」, which is the same as the simplified version of the character used in China. They also use the shorthand 「処」chu3, which is a variant which differs from both the standard version of the simplified (处)and traditional character (處):

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Taken from the Ministry of Education Variant Dictionary, a useful resource when you come across characters that don’t seem to exist in normal dictionaries.

This explains that 「処」 is a variant of 「處」(as is the simplified character).

I don’t know what the situation is exactly and if the car belongs to the person who put the “no parking” sign on their shutter or someone else. I’m also not sure what the 「85-7-留」 means, thought it might be a license plate or a reference to a law, but it doesn’t seem to be the latter. Let me know if you know!

Earthquake Man and Pokemon Go 地震奇人

I went to Xinbeitou today to check out all the Pokemon Go fun. Loads of people and really nice atmosphere, although drivers weren’t seeing the fun side.

Every time there was a rare pokemon found in the park, there were whispers and a rising bubble of excitement followed by a stampede.

While I was waiting for my friend to finish up (as my battery had died), I got approached by a man with a National Taiwan Ocean University cap on his head, with the words 「地震奇人」(earthquake whisperer) along the side. He did the standard awkward stranger approach and after asking where we were from we continued to talk in a mixture of Chinese and English. He said that he didn’t understand why everyone had gone mad for the game, and said that he’d been coming to Xinbeitou for the hot springs for quite some time but it had never been so crowded before. After this things got a bit weird. He pointed to the「地震奇人」on his cap, which he said is someone who can hear earthquakes before they happen. He said he was working for free at the university as a postdoctoral researcher and that he was approaching 70 years of age. He said he was able to predict typhoons at least 8 days before they hit too. Then he took out this advertisement:

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He asked me what I thought of the picture. Then started to describe how the different shapes represented different things. Like the mountain in the background is important because it represents a goal, and something about how it has its inverse in the neckline of Angelina Jolie’s top. The arm making an “L” shape and her leg an inverted “V” also featured. Then he started talking about the mangroves and what they represented. He then took out several other pictures. One was of a Fendi Karl Lagerfeld campaign as below:

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He said he was a structural engineer and had also studied economics, so he had created his own field which he calls “economic/financial architecture” or something similar. He took out a graph showing the stock price fluctuations of 東鋼 (Tungho Steel), when I asked him why Tungho Steel, he said it wasn’t important, that it was just about the shape of the fluctuations on the graph. He took out picture of two nearby buildings, which were visible from where we were standing. The first was the Radium Kagaya, pictured below:

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He kept stressing the importance of threes, in particular, how the building moves out in three blocks from the right. He also had a picture of the building below, which neighbours it:

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It’s slightly harder to see, but he had another theory about the shape of the medium bit of this building, as the three parts towards the top have a different shape than the ones below.

He said his method of analysis was based on the discoveries of Robert F. Engle III and Clive W.J. Granger, who won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2003, the former for “methods of analyzing economic time series with time-varying volatility” and the latter for “for methods of analyzing economic time series with common trends (cointegration)”. It was slightly odd, because he kept mentioning the concept of qi (氣) too. I’m not sure how his interest in economic trends in the real estate market related to the shapes of the buildings. But I thought it was an interesting encounter I’d never have had if not for Pokemon Go.

Protests in Taipei: Uber vs Taxis; Land Rights and Illegal Buildings

Last week I saw taxis besieging the Executive Yuan (between Shandao Temple and Taipei Main MRT) over the government’s failure to crackdown on Uber quickly enough.  Taxi drivers were protesting because of Uber’s refusal to be subject to taxi regulations in Taiwan‬ and it’s refusal to clarify its tax status. My colleagues at work had a related discussion last week over whether existing (over?) regulation is strangling disruptors in the interest of maintaining the status quo. While there were a wide range of opinions as to whether Uber‬ is, in fact, bringing anything new to the Taiwanese industry as a disruptor or whether it’s just trying to dodge consumer protection regulations and tax, the conversation can be extended beyond Uber to the financial sector and further afield. Some of my colleagues thought the government was being too cautious when it comes to providing legislative flexibility to innovative industry disruptors while others thought existing legislation was just common-sense protection for industry players and consumers? The government announced that they are going to launch “diversified” taxis, but it’ll be interesting how the story develops beyond just the Uber issue.

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About a week prior to the taxi protest, I was passing by the front of the Executive Yuan when I saw this protest placard, along with a single protester. It reads:

政府無能,     [When] the government is inept,

百姓受窮,     the ordinary people are forced to live in poverty;

竊盜私地,     Stealing private land

罪大惡極,    is an extremely pernicious crime.

天理難容。     [which] the heavens cannot tolerate.

哀!     Woe!

I’m not sure if it was a specific grievance as I didn’t stop to chat, but maybe someone can help me out in the comments section.

I saw the banner below outside my friend’s housing development when she invited me for a barbecue/pool party there (near Qizhang MRT – opposite Carrefour):

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Common facilities (of a residential complex) are illegal buildings, the residents have been lied to

From what I’ve gleaned from the internet, this is a controversy over certain common areas of a residential complex which were built without planning permission by the developers. The city government then demolished or plans to demolish these areas and the residents are protesting because they were sold their apartments under false terms.

If you’ve seen any disgruntled looking peeps holding signs let me know in the comments section!

MRT Poetry: Chen Ke-hua’s ‘Night’ 捷運詩句:陳克華的「夜」

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Another day, another opportunity to lean over someone to take a photo of the poem on the MRT behind them. This one’s by Chen Ke-hua and I thought it was pretty appropriate for this humid summer night.

夜     Night

沸騰之夜,     The Simmering Night,

將她最燙的一塊皮膚     Lays the most scalding piece of its skin

貼在我頰上。     Against my cheek.

我疼出淚來,說:不,     I cry tears of pain and say, “No”,

這不是我最需要溫暖的位置。     This isn’t where I’m most in need of warmth.

Chen was born in 1961 and was born in Hualien in Taiwan, although his family were originally from Wenshang in Shandong. After graduating from Taipei Medical University he started his career in medicine. In 1997 he studied at the Harvard Medical School, returning to Taiwan in 2000. He now works at the Department of Ophthalmology of Taipei Veterans General Hospital and as an assistant professor at the medical school of National Yang Ming University. As well as his medical career, he’s also a poet, an author, a painter and a photographer.

Update: Tea Trademarks in Taiwan

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I recently posted about a trademark lawsuit in Taiwan, involving Uni-President Enterprises Corporation’s tea brand 「茶裏王」 and 「阿里王 Ali One」. I pointed out in the post the difference in the second characters of each brand name. However, I recently checked the trademark database in Taiwan and found that Uni-President has registered both 「茶裏王」 and 「茶里王」 as can be seen below:

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You’ll notice, amusingly enough, that the character 「裏」 doesn’t even show up on the Taiwan Intellectual Property Office trademark search website – and is displayed as just a blank box. The missing character is pictured in the image, however.

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This makes the judgement I previously mentioned a little more understandable, given that two out of the three characters are the same (even if they have different meanings). You’ll also notice that the product ranges to which the second trademark is applied is broader than the first.

Here’s the registration for 「阿里王」:

AliOne

Interestingly, the English translation for 「茶裏王」, “King of Teas”, doesn’t seem to be a registered trademark. So many companies and brands adopting similar English names is allowed, like the one at the head of this article (King Tea).