Saturday, August 26, 2006

Trash, glorious treasure

Due to the insistence of Robert Williams that I include more photos here, and the insistence of the prolific commenter "Anonymous", I will have to talk some trash. Recycling, actually.

You may be used to seeing bins like these, seen on the 4th floor of the International Programs building at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU):

But a much more curious recycle bin, found in various places around campus, is in the shape of a flower, like this:

After I got over the fact that there were many different recycling bins here, I was stunned to realize that "laser printer cartridges" and "inkjet cartridges" each warranted a separate slot, alongside "plastic bottles", "cans", and "waste paper". Just how many printer cartridges do people go through around here?

Actually, not many. The rate of erroneous insertions is higher than the actual rate of printer cartridge recycling, as can be seen here:

As we say in the geek world, the signal-to-noise ratio is fairly low here.

I read an article a number of years ago about how various cities had decided to alter their recycling strategies from having lots of separate bins for paper, cans, bottles, etc. to having a single recycling bin. The idea was this: all it takes is one person to get a bit mixed up every now and then, and you still have to hire someone to sort through it all anyway. If it costs the same, and if people are more willing to recycle if it's easier for them, then it makes sense to have just one bin.

And the photo above perhaps justifies their thinking.

But couldn't they have made different divisions? Batteries? Colored vs. white vs. newsprint vs. glossy paper? How'd they decide on these divisions?

The division into five seems appropriate for Hong Kong, given their flag:

And, c'mon, you gotta love that bee. Which apparently stands for "Better Environment Endeavor":

Here's an article from 2003 Newsletter of the San Francisco Department of the Environment on
recycling issues today.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


I have pictures now! Yes, that means I have a digital camera. More on that below.

This is the view from my apartment/hotel room where I'm staying. The view is looking roughly south (the road in the immediate foreground is Renfrew Road, the main road by HKBU, and runs due south).

The beige buildings on the bottom left are part of HKBU (Hong Kong Baptist University, in case you forgot), and in fact, that's pretty much the end of campus. The greenish buildings on the right, surrounded with barbed wire, is, well, I guess I can safely say they're classified. In the distance you can see a bunch of tall buildings. I don't know exactly which buildings are where on the map, but that should be the main shopping areas of Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui. After Tsim Sha Tsui is water, which you can't see, and then Hong Kong Island, which you can see as the mountains in mist in the very back.

Lots of those very tall buldings you see (except for the ones in the way back on the right) are residential. The shorter residential buildings are older, and pricier. The taller ones represent the rush to build more housing on not very much land.

Here's my adventure in getting a digital camera. As I mentioned before, I didn't have a camera, and I figured the best (meaning cheapest) place to get one was where I was going: Hong Kong.

The reason I didn't have a camera was this: I don't use one. I had a camera a long time ago when I was in grad school, and once, when I went to Germany for a math conference, I took a bunch of pictures. When I got back I completely forgot about developing these pictures for years, until I finally brought it in. The developed pictures were a good example of minimalist art: nothing but gray. In some cases, darker on one end.

I figured, if I wasn't going to develop the pictures, why take them?

On later trips I just bought postcards. Here were photos that a professional took, under ideal conditions. Why not go with those? Then I discovered that I never looked at them. As in, when I moved, I packed them in boxes, and when I moved again, I didn't need to repack the boxes because they were unopened from the last time I moved.

So as you can see I'm not much of a scrapbook person.

But with this blog, I figured this might be a good way to start up again, now that there are things like digital cameras.

So I was in the market for a digital camera. Not a nice one per se, but one that will take pictures that I can put on my blog. In Hawaii I looked at some prices, and it seemed that the low end was around $100.

In Hong Kong, most of the prices I saw in shops were in the HK $3000-3500 (about US$400) range. But these were very nice cameras. In Tsim Sha Tsui I looked around at a Nikon store that didn't have prices on any of the cameras. I asked for a cheap one, and the person showed me one for HK $1200 (US$150) and I said I was looking for something more along the lines of HK $700 (US$90). I walked away, and he said he could do it for HK $900 (US$117). I said no.

Ever since I've been looking for a digital camera. Yesterday in Mong Kok, they had lots to sell (I got a SIM card for Pepperdine's cell phone there) but I didn't see any camera stores.

Now, my Cantonese tutor back in LA had suggested the Sham Shui Po district for cheap electronics. I went there last night. I was kind of procrastinating, so I arrived around 9pm. To my surprise, many of the stores had already closed (Hong Kong is supposed to be a city that never sleeps, just like New York). And most of the stores I saw were selling cell phones. Down the block, most of the stores were selling stereo systems. Not many were selling cameras.

I did see one store that sold lots of different electronic stuff. I said I wanted a cheap camera. He pointed me at the HK$1200 ones. I said I was looking for something more along the lines of HK $800 (US$104) (The experience at Tsim Sha Tsui had me thinking I had lowballed my view of prices). He pointed me at a few cameras he said were HK $890 (US$116). I said 800. He said 890. I said 800. He said 890.

Now you must realize that I was pretty tired of looking for cameras at this point. And I had given up finding a camera at the price I saw in Hawaii. So I said OK.

He then tried to sell me memory cards. Oops: I forgot all about that. I suggested that maybe I didn't need one. He said that the camera would only have 32 MB, enough only to test the camera. I asked how many pictures that was. He said 4 or 5.

Now I didn't do any research on these so I had no idea whether he was right or not. For most blogging purposes I would only need one photo at a time, but when we take a field trip, I'd want more than 5. He showed me a 512 MB card for HK $360. Yikes. So much for saving money. I told him I didn't want to buy it now, that I could buy it later. I already had the HK $900 in cash out in my hand.

He went to ring it up, and came back, asking if I was paying with cash. I said yes, with the actual cash fairly visible this whole time. He told me he would sell it to me for HK $260. I gave in and said OK.

So for HK $1200 (US$156) I have a digital camera and a 512 MB memory stick.

So much for getting cheap deals in Hong Kong.

If I had to do it over again, I'd have bought a camera in LA or Hawaii. It was cheaper there.

The camera, for the geeks out there, is made by Speed, and is a GL-130. It says it is 12.0 megapixel, but that's probably not right. The files turn out to be about 1.6 MB (the one above I degraded through a program to make it smaller and therefore faster to download). It has a digital zoom of 4x, but that's irrelevant given that I'm downloading them to my computer where I can play with the image anyway. It's also a video recorder, for some reason. I suspect I'd need a lot more memory to do that if I want to try it.

Oh, and I estimate I could probably have taken 10 pictures without the memory stick. I probably would have been fine except for the educational field trip we'd take to Vietnam for a few days. Then, I would have had to make on-the-spot decisions about which photos to keep.

So, I've now officially entered the 21st century. I have a digital camera. And you will now see pictures on this blog.


In case the end of the last post was confusing, here's the deal: Last March (or something like that) HKBU sent me forms to fill out to process my visa application. As you might expect, this is a good deal more involved than what most people experience when landing, because I'll be working here for 5 months instead of being a tourist for fewer than 30 days. Thankfully, the HKBU staff fills out much of this paperwork, but I still needed to supply things like proof of the the fact that I work for Pepperdine (like a contract) or that I have my Ph.D. No big deal. They told me it required two months for processing, and when I received these forms, I had more than two months. In my mind, I had a whole semester.

Not only this, but our contracts go year to year. I have tenure, but each year during the summer I have to sign a contract again. So the relevant contract for my employment this fall semester should be the one for 2006-2007, which I would receive in the summer. So I decided to wait until the summer.

After the end of the spring semester at the end of April, I started on getting the materials for the visa. It occured to me that if I planned on visiting Hawaii, Taiwan, and the Philippines before I arrived, I would have to get this application ready by June 10. Earlier, even, considering the time it takes to send it to HKBU and for HKBU to send the visa back. I started asking around and found that the contracts wouldn't be ready yet. Eventually it was decided that I could send my old contract, and send the new contract later. I finally sent the packet of information for the visa to HKBU on May 13.

On June 22, the HKBU people pointed out I forgot to sign one of the documents, and that I needed to send more stuff. This other stuff was stuff I thought I had sent, like 2 photos. I faxed what I could and took more photos, but they eventually found the photos. And about the contract, it turned out all that was needed was not a contract but a letter from the International Programs office saying I really was a Pepperdine faculty member.

The HKBU office finally submits everything on June 26. They said the process takes 4-6 weeks, so it should be ready in early August. Whew.

My flight from LA to Hawaii is on August 11. So as that date approaches, I get nervous when the visa stuff hasn't come back yet (By the way, I get the 2006-2007 contract to sign in the last week of July). But apparently this is a situation they deal with a lot at HKBU. The solution: Come in with a tourist visa, come by HKBU and pick up the work visa (which should be in by the time I arrive), then leave the country and come back in.

Luckily, leaving the country is pretty easy: go to Macau.

Now strictly speaking, going from Hong Kong to Macau isn't leaving the country: since 1997, both have been part of the People's Republic of China. But under the "One Country, Two Systems" slogan, both are "Special Administrative Regions" with their own laws, and, as it turns out, their own immigration/visa. So by leaving Hong Kong, I get my tourist visa cancelled and my Macau tourist visa; by leaving Macau I get my Macau tourist visa cancelled and get my Hong Kong work visa activated.

So yesterday I took the 3C bus to Tsim Sha Tsui, where there is a convenient ferry to Macau. The setup is a lot like getting a plane ticket: you buy a ticket, you have to be there 15 minutes early for your departure, you get an assigned seat.

The ferry ride wasn't particularly interesting: there was a lot of fog or pollution, and I couldn't see much of the islands we were passing. It was interesting to see how much forested area there still is on these islands, though. Based on how much Hong Kong is developed, I would have expected there to be housing scattered everywhere.

Macau was a Portuguese colony for the purposes of trading with China, and later, a jumping off point for the Jesuits in bringing Christianity to not only China but other areas in Asia, like Japan. At some point in the 20th century, people in the Portuguese empire decided they didn't want to be ruled by a colonial power, and Portugal decided it didn't really want to rule them either, and quietly, Portugal divested itself of most of its colonies. Macau was the last to go, and the handover to China was much less hyped and in the news as the handover of Hong Kong. But it happened, and in a lot of ways, Macau is like Hong Kong.

Not in every respect, though. The most visible difference when you arrive are the casinos. Some of these are Las Vegas-like monstrosities, rising out of the small colonial city with mock volcanoes, mock Egyptian palaces, mock Chinese cities, and so on. There's even more coming: enormous construction works are taking place, diverting traffic and causing quite a nuisance.

I couldn't find the bus stop. The guidebook was good about telling me what buses to take, but I couldn't figure out where to get one. I eventually walked into town, which wasn't far, or wouldn't be far if it weren't hot and humid outside.

There's not much that's particularly exciting in the main touristy square except a building run by the tourism agency that has the feature of being inside and air conditioned. But a little north of there, past some quaint street vendors, and up a long steep hill, lies the ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral. This was a major area for the Jesuits, and it was partly built by the Japanese that the Jesuits converted, but who had to flee Japan when the Tokugawa Shogunate decided to persecute the Christians. This gave me a point of reference (being Japanese, and being Christian, though almost certainly not descended from these Japanese Christians). At some point the Chinese kicked out the Jesuits, and the cathedral got used for army barracks, and eventually in the 19th century there was a fire and all that is left now is the main facade.

The facade itself is interesting in how it communicates the gospel to those who are illiterate: the Holy Spirit is a dove that is above the scene, a young Jesus is right underneath with items related to the crucifixion, and below him, Mary. The major Jesuit leaders are below her. On the left are 16th century Portuguese ships following a star in the East, bringing the gospel to China. On the right the woman from Revelation is shown crushing a Chinese-style dragon.

There was also a crypt where it is believed several important Jesuit leaders were buried. The door to it explained in English, Chinese, and Portuguese to remain silent out of respect for the dead. But very few people were taking this advice. The whole scene was kind of a circus. Which, based on my experience at the Taoist temple, may not have been conscious.

Nearby is an excellent museum of Macau, where they first exhibit parallels Eastern and Western civilization, then describes the development of Macau, through modern times.

Macau Tower is also hard to get to--it took a lot of explaining on the part of the people in the tourist information center to tell me how to get there by bus. I felt that the distance to the bus stop was almost the distance to the tower. Which isn't true, but it looked like it.

Macau Tower is one of the tallest buildings in the world, and the observation deck also features a sky-walk, where you get tethered onto a line, and you can walk (as a group) around the top of the tower with no railing to keep you from falling. This was not open at the time. Thankfully. They also had a zipline that allows you to jump off, down to the ground. This was open, but I didn't do it. Maybe if I were with friends. Maybe.

Tired of chasing buses, I took a taxi to the ferry (cost 30 Patacas or about USD $4), crossed back, and got my work visa activated.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


I know last post I said I was going to talk about language. I'll do that post later. But first, I have some things I want to say about food.

Hong Kong is one of the famous places in the world for its food. And so far my experiences have been fairly limited but I have enjoyed what I've had. There are just so many choices here, and not just for Chinese food. And I've only tried a few things. So I won't be able to really say much about HK food until awhile from now.

I will say that I subconsciously expected there to be lots of dishes like the Chinese food we have back in LA. And it's not that these don't exist--it's just that the popularity of the various kinds of dishes is very different. Sweet and sour pork is very hard to find. Noodle soup with shredded seafood is very easy to find. Orange chicken, broccoli beef, moo shu pork: these are all among the most popular dishes in Chinese restaurants in LA. But while it's possible to find some of these on some menus, they're not the big items here.

Noodles are really big here. Now, I like noodles. But somehow I had it in my head that noodles were a more northern thing, and stuff-with-sweet-sauce-on-rice was more the Southern Chinese fare. But for every dish I see served on rice, I see about five dishes served in noodles.

Another issue is that most of these are served hot, and quite frankly, it's hot enough outside as it is.

The hotel staff brought me a complimentary fruit basket. It had an apple, two bananas, an orange, and a firedragon fruit (fo long guo). Thanks to my Cantonese tutor, I knew what this was before I got here (Thanks, Jackson!). Here's a picture of some of the varieties. It's the most improbable-looking fruit I've ever seen. And it's quite tasty. Though I had to ask the receptionist downstairs in the hotel lobby how to serve it (do I peel it like an orange? Chop it into slices? No, I cut it in half medially, and treat the top and bottom as bowls, scooping out the white pulp with a spoon).

With the heat as it is, I'm surprised I don't see more restaurants serving these fruits.

Allow me to backtrack a bit to Taiwan. As I've mentioned, I hit Taiwan twice: once on the way to the Philippines, and then back. The second time I was recovering from TD, and had a bit more time to sample the local fare. Actually I think that not all of that was TD. I think some of that was I now was getting a lot more fiber in my diet than I'm used to. You know when your mom said, "eat your vegetables"? And "You'll learn to like it"? Well, it seems the Taiwanese actually did eat their vegetables, and they actually did learn to like it. And now, when I order a meal at a restaurant and ask for recommendations, the waitress points out some dishes, and when I pick out a meat dish, she helpfully suggests that to balance that, I should get a plate of mixed vegetables. This involved a few carrots and mushrooms but many more things that I can't identify. I also didn't know what to expect. I saw a small yellow bulb that looked like a squash or tomato of some sort, but when I bit into it, it seemed like it was made of dough. I gagged at first because of the discrepancy.

I suspect my digestive system just didn't know what to do with all of this fiber. Actually, digestive systems don't know what to do with fiber, which is why it cleans your digestive system out. But the sudden shock of all this fiber was probably partly why my gut felt weird for a few days.

Hong Kong food has lots of veggies too. In fact, I think in the US, there are veggie plates for vegetarians and for people who want to feel healthy. In Hong Kong and Taiwan, there are no veggie plates: there are lots of dishes with lots of veggies in them, because these veggies are popular. Some of these have meat in them, so it's not for the vegetarians per se. In the US, especially when ordering Chinese food, we think in terms of what kind of meat is involved. Here, there might be meat, but the main attraction might be some vegetable.

Also, in Hong Kong especially, everything is seafood. I like seafood, generally speaking. But I don't think of it as one of the main food groups. In fact, it's an afterthought for me. When ordering at a restaurant, thinking about what kind of meat I'd like, I think of chicken, beef, and pork. Oh yes, and there's various kinds of seafood too--I almost forgot. Here, it's more a matter of what kind of seafood you'd like. And if you want a change of pace, sure, we have chicken, beef, and pork.

In the interest of bringing some balance to my diet, I ate at McDonalds last night and had a couple of Big Macs. They tasted just like Big Macs back home. They did seem to have a menu that included breakfast stuff at the same time as regular stuff. In particular they had orange juice. I ordered one. The large orange juice was still small, but that's true of orange juice in McDonalds in the States, too.

The placemat was full of assurances of the quality and cleanliness of their food. It even said that their chickens were kept protected in an enclosed area to prevent mixing with wild birds. Now, in the US this kind of thing brings protests from PETA, but here, in light of Avian Flu, it's the sort of thing that reassures customers.

I'm off to Macau today. It's more than sightseeing, actually: when I left for Hong Kong, my work visa hadn't yet arrived, so I arrived with a tourist visa, went to HKBU, and picked up my work visa. To have this approved, I need to re-enter the country, hence, going to Macau and back. Actually, Hong Kong and Macau are now both part of the same country, namely, the People's Republic of China. But under the "One Country, Two Systems" policy, they are considered separate as far as visas and immigration and such are concerned.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Arrived in Hong Kong

Okay, I'm in Hong Kong now.

To sum up, for those of you who don't know what the deal is:
I'm teaching in Pepperdine's Hong Kong program this fall, which means a bunch of Pepperdine students come all the way to Hong Kong to take Pepperdine classes, and I am one of the people teaching them (the only one from our Malibu campus). Actually, Pepperdine has many such programs, in Italy, Germany, Argentina, etc., but our Hong Kong program is unique in that we are hosted by a local university, Hong Kong Baptist University, and the Pepperdine students in the program can take classes there, too.

So I'm living in a hotel on the HKBU campus, teaching in HKBU classrooms, holding office hours in an HKBU office, and so on.

Benjamin So from HKBU met me at the airport. He was holding a sign with my name on it. I've never had someone hold a sign for me at the airport before. But, sad to say, the experience was not as exciting as I had hoped it might be: I saw him, he met me, and we went to the car waiting for us.

But it was convenient. I have two suitcases, and the handle of one of them is slowly tearing itself apart, and I was not looking forward to taking public transportation, transferring 3 times (each time going up or down stairs), and then having to wander around campus looking lost. Instead, Ben and a driver from HKBU took me straight to the hotel where I'll be staying for the semester.

I've got a suite. That means I've got two rooms that connect. One hotel room has a bedroom and bathroom; the other has a living room and kitchen (well, it doesn't have a stove but it does have a microwave).

Past folks who did this program told me about the area and I was able to use their help to find a shopping center (Festival Walk) that has a grocery store and stores to buy random other things I didn't bother to pack (like fingernail clippers). Most of the other stores in that shopping center are kind of like the ones I mentioned in Taipei 101: famous brands so exclusive I've never even heard of them. I did see a place selling digital cameras, in the HK$3000 range, or about US$380. Much higher than what I was able to find in Hawaii (where I saw a low-end one for under $100), and I was expecting to find prices much lower than in Hawaii. They're probably only selling high-end cameras. I need to find the place where they sell the cheap stuff.

The past folks told me about this handy shopping center right next to the subway, and they told me about the Chinese Red Army training base next to the school, but they neglected to tell me that the army base was directly between the shopping center and the school. To get there, you have to walk around the base. So much for taking a shortcut. Yikes!

The internet connection in the rooms is convenient, but I'm surprised at how slow it is. I haven't had a connection this slow in a long time. It was noticable enough that I ran a few tests and I found I was experiencing download rates of about 20 KB/s, though McAfee's online test gives between 60 and 100 kb/s. By comparison, DSL and cable can often get between 200 and 500 kb/s or something like that. And it's not that I'm trying to connect from Hong Kong to the US: pages from HKBU take awhile to load, too. Not that I'm complaining--waiting an extra two seconds for a webpage to load is not what one would call "hardship". But I imagined, technology-wise, Hong Kong would be better than anywhere I'd ever been before, so I'm just surprised. Then again, this is a hotel, so I'll see what the connection is like on campus.

I haven't experienced much here yet, so nothing much to report. But if you're one who doesn't check this blog on Sunday, I had a lot of posts yesterday, so check it out. I'll probably post something about language later on tonight or tomorrow morning.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Kitch as Kitch Can

There's a Taoist temple called "LongShan Temple". In it I saw throngs of people worshiping. Burning incense on bunches of joss sticks at once. Placing food in carefully arranged, ornate arragements. Chanting texts. And on the side, crowding around booths to buy incense, food, and texts to chant. In fact, there seemed to be as much activity in the buying and selling as in the worship itself.

The remarkable thing is that this seemed to bother no one. Just about everyone was doing it: regulars, tourists, monks, teens.

Then I recalled that it is in Christianity that we have the story of Jesus driving out the money changers from the temple. If we didn't have this story, would we be the same way?

Oh, wait... there's a huge market for Christian religious items, from embroidered scripture verses to "Biblical" diet books. But at least we feel this commercialization is a bad thing, right?

I didn't bother to ask anyone there, but I wonder if the worshipers there might not think the commercialization was cheapening the experience in any way.

In a way, it's surprising that it was the West that caught onto the consumerism bug first. A "common sense" approach to religion, which seems to be common all over the world, is that deities are beings who control your circumstances, and you can try to appease them by giving them presents. The most worshiped deity in the Greco-Roman empire was not Zeus or Artemis or anybody we've heard of in our mythology stories. It was Fortuna, the Goddess of Luck. Or as the Greeks called her, Tyche. Doing a risky business venture? Throw a few coins to the Goddess of Luck. Going on a sea voyage? Doesn't hurt to appease Fortuna. When gambling on your last dollar, call out to Lady Luck. And while you're at it, might as well not have any deities feel they're being left out, so let's give a bit to the other folks in the Pantheon.

In a way, it's a very business-like way of doing religion.

Not like Christianity. Jesus bought you with his life. Salvation is for free. You respond by giving your whole life to Him.

Not that people haven't tried bringing back the "common sense" religion back into Christianity. Give a bit of money and take off years in Purgatory. Buy the new best-selling book and your Christian walk will be renewed. Promise to go back to church if God will just help you pass the next exam.

But this approach eventually gets met with disapproval, and eventually, it dissipates.

Everywhere in Taipei I see neon signs and flashing colored animated signs. It's like every street corner is a Times Square. In the West, we see this as kitchy. Cheap. Here, it may be that it's not seen this way at all. In fact, quite a lot of money went into these things. Here, it may be a sign of prosperity. Money doesn't cheapen things here. It's the cost of doing business. In a way, very common sense.

And yet, I think, the money does not belong in the temple. Jesus just might have been onto something here. Non-intuitive. But true.

A photo!

Here's a photo of the gang from Hawaii taken on August 12. Some of you might be wondering why I hadn't put any pictures on my blog yet. That's because I don't yet have a camera. I figured the best (cheapest?) place to buy a camera is probably Hong Kong, where I'll be going, so why don't I wait 'til I get there to buy one?

This photo is using David Komatsu's camera. I also downgraded the resolution so it wouldn't take forever to load, so any loss of quality is my fault.

From left to right: Daniel Yanai, Mr. Kosziewski (my high school math teacher), Lance, Jay Tamashiro, me, Mrs. Kagan (my high school computer teacher), and David Komatsu. Unless otherwise noted, these are some of my classmates from high school.

Note: I'm blogging several things this evening, so read through several blog entries to see if you got all of them.

Do you really believe in democracy?

I saw the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall today. Large, impressive, even imposing. Somewhat like the Lincoln Memorial, the building is at the top of a long set of stairs, and inside it is a single room with a large statue of Chiang Kai Shek seated with a look of benevolence and wisdom. Somewhat after the death of Sun Yat Sen, Chiang Kai Shek seized control of China, under the Nationalist Party. When the Communist followers of Mao Ze Dong won victories against the Nationalists, Chiang Kai Shek and his group left for Taiwan and ruled there.

From the perspective of the Cold War, Chiang was "our guy" and Mao was "their (the Soviet's) guy". After all, Mao was Communist, right? And Chiang was for Democracy, right? right? Errr....

Behind the statue of Chiang Kai Shek are three slogans: "Ethics", "Democracy", "Science". The one in the middle, "Democracy", is made up of two characters: people-rule.

Now this was written in the ancient style, going right to left, as opposed to what people do today which is mostly left to right. So I got thrown off for a bit, and read it as: rule-people. Or Lord-of-the-people. Hovering over his head like a caption, to describe just who you're looking at. Which, come to think of it, was more characteristic of Chiang Kai Shek's rule. Prof. Bruce Herschenson at Pepperdine, with whom I disagree with politically more than anyone else I know, does have a fun quote that is probably accurate: "The best thing that can be said about Chiang Kai Shek was that he was not Mao Ze Dong".

Close by, there is a park dedicated to the 2/28 incident. The year was 1947. WWII was over, and Japan was forced to give Taiwan back to China (meaning Chiang Kai Shek and the Nationalists, though Mao's followers were in control of a sizeable chunk of China at the time). Immediately after the handover, the people of Taiwan were relieved to hear they would no longer be under the iron grip of Japan's war-making machine. But they did not expect China's rule to be harsh as well. Tempers simmered with each freedom lost, until a woman selling tobacco on the black market was harrassed then beaten by police on February 27, 1947. The result was an outburst of anger, and people took to the streets, marching through the main government square (much of which was off-limits). The Governor asked for troops from the mainland, which arrived on March 5 and slaughtered protestors, and hunting down the intellectuals who they saw as leaders of the movement. It is estimated that 30,000 people were massacred in this event.

Why, then, was Chiang Kai Shek seen as a force for democracy? In the Cold War era, the concept that the world was being divided ideologically between democracy and communism quickly faded, as it became clear that what was really happening was countries were being asked to ally themselves with either the US or the Soviets. It didn't matter if you were not a democracy--in fact, it was easier to make the quick decisions deemed necessary to rout the communists militarily if you weren't. Or so it was supposed.

In 1954, Guatemala, in its first democratic election, elects a socialist. The US sends in our military to overthrow the government, installing a military dictatorship that lasted until the 1990s. In 1973 we do the same to Chile, bringing into power the feared dictator Pinochet. All in the name of fighting communism.

It seems to me that if you really believe in democracy over a dictatorship, you would trust in it for any situation, no matter how dire. In fact, in good times, any system will work--when there's no threat, the system will hold; when there's plenty, everyone can have what they want. It is only in the face of threat that one's beliefs are really tested. Many dictators have said, "democracy is nice, but we don't have the luxury of that. Let us build up our country, stamp out the communists, solve the unemployment problem, etc., then we can have democracy". Which means they don't believe in democracy at all. Or at least they don't think it's effective at solving problems.

So Chiang Kai Shek did not believe in people-rule. He believed in rule-people.

In recent news, a judge ruled that President Bush cannot simply circumvent search and seizure rules in our constitution and provided by Congress, just because "the terrorists are not playing by the rules". As if the Bill of Rights is a fragile glass sculpture that can only be handled at genteel cocktail parties, but would never survive in the rough-and-tumble biker bar. If we believe in the efficacy of a nation ruled by the principles of natural rights, then we believe it can be effective against ANY alternative, no matter whether they pull their punches. And if our dear President doesn't believe that, he has given up on democracy altogether.

It's not the terrorists who "hate our freedoms". Their rhetoric gives no indication that they have any problem with what freedoms people halfway around the globe from them may or may not have. It's the current administration who "hates our freedoms". Because if it weren't for these darned search and seizure rules, we could finally win this war on terror. Or something.

It's been fashionable ever since WWII to say, whenever we're fighting, that we're fighting "for our freedoms". It's a line that worked in WWII, and it was actually somewhat plausible: if Nazi Germany takes over Europe, will they want to conquer us next? Then would we live under a dictatorship? But no conflict since has ever threatened to take over the US as a country (and it's not clear the Nazis would have either). And the line has gotten to be a bigger and bigger stretch each time. The current War on Terror might be about a lot of things, but "freedom" isn't one of them. To take the interpretation that is most charitable to the current administration, we're fighting for our safety.

Which is not a bad thing, per se. The terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon, and one more was supposed to hit something major, probably, and they killed thousands. They didn't take away our freedoms. They took away our lives. The War on Terror is supposed to stop this from happening again. In other words, it's not a fight for freedom, but for life.

But if we decide to throw away our notions of natural rights of individuals in the process, it must be that we have decided that this democracy experiment had a good run and all, but ultimately, in the Big People world, it just won't work.

I realize that in every war, we've thrown away some of our freedoms. Soon after we became The United States of America, we passed the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798, giving the president power to lock up anyone who he thought was undermining national security. Public outcry of this probably influenced Thomas Jefferson being elected President in 1800. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln suspended Habeus Corpus. This gave him the ability to try people for sedition willy-nilly. During WWII we locked up Japanese Americans (even those living in Latin America) without trial. Martial law was declared in some places. During the Cold War we had federal agents investigating peaceful dissenters. And in the end, we got our freedoms back, right?

It's like someone learning to roller blade in a rink, and holds onto the side. Every now and then, he lets go and skates for a bit, but whenever the threat of falling comes, he grabs the side again. But each time the touch of the side is a bit less, and less frequently. Then we know we're making progress.

Well, I think we're ready to abandon the side.

Okay, let's see if that generates comments, this time!

I do have another point about the 2/28 memorial. The fact is that after a history of arresting opposition leaders, the people in Taiwan said, "enough", and demanded true democracy, eventually electing those opposition leaders into office. And they pushed to have 2/28 remembered, so that such a thing could never be tolerated again, building a memorial where many were murdered, right across the street from the presidential palace. So there is hope. From a region that knew only oppression from the Qing Chinese court, to oppression from the Japanese military dictatorship, to oppression from the KMT (as opposed to the oppression from the Maoists), they have found freedom. How? I'm not sure. I think the people just got fed up and demanded it. It does give me hope about other parts of the world, especially areas where there has never been democracy or respect for human rights.

More blogging in a bit.