Thursday, September 29, 2005

Podcast of JetBlue Pilot's Conversation With Ground Crew

With all the talk about blogs being worse than pr0n, it's not really difficult to pick out examples that show precisely why this is just plain wrong and bizarre. Blogs provide a function that the MSM can't because it simply...well, can't. Here's one example. I've just noticed this podcast at Mike Gilbert's blog (he's the Lead Program Manager of Microsoft Flight Simulator) of a recording done by the podcast's creator (also a pilot) between the Jetblue pilot Scott Burke and ground crew. Burke had to land his plane with a faulty landing gear at Los Angeles last week; he was in total control of the situation, and did a careful Level One diagnostics just as Lt. Data would, and averted disaster. And he was so calm; it's scary. Now this is the reason why pilots are so highly paid, I heard someone say before. Not because they can fly a plane (because it isn't really that impossible for a lot of people), but because they are paid to handle an emergency. Handling emergencies is hard work. For me, I just press the 'panic' button. Anyway, Mike goes on to say:
[The podcast] highlights the incredible level of competence, training and professionalism of commercial air transport pilots. It also provides a counterpoint to traditional media coverage of the event that almost without exception overplayed the disaster potential. I'm not sure what makes me more sad: that news organizations feel they need to add their own drama to the news or that the American public seems to accept (and believe) it.
What makes me sad (OK, mad) is that I know many in the MSM still think of blogging as some sort of fringe activity where weird and irresponsible people come together and have their virtual powwows. The thing is, we won't be able to hear the pilot's conversation if not for blogs and the podcast technology. Yes, there isn't much fact checking, simply because you can listen to an unedited version of things, and do your own fact checking, which in this case probably involves comparing the MSM's account of things with 'reality'. Anyway, the next time another pilot saves the day, I'd be looking for the up-close-and-personal story, from the blogs.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I Love Op-Eds II (The One About pr0n)

Due to an occupational hazard, I treat everything that I read in the newspapers, even the serious stuff, as satire, unless shown otherwise. So, this Op-Ed came along today in the Straits Times titled "Porn? No, blogs bug me more", and I thought to myself, cool, a satire on blogs, should be interesting...
Porn? No, blogs bug me more With inaccurate and inflammatory postings on the Internet, how do we keep kids from believing everything they read? By Carl Skadian, [writing for the column] fatherhood THE past few weeks have thrown up another worry about children and the Internet, as if parents don't have enough on their hands. I'm talking about blogs. As a journalist, I'm naturally wary of blogs already, mainly because bloggers are wont to throw accuracy out the window. That's because checking facts seems to be the last thing on bloggers' minds unlike, say, mainstream publications which, for the most part, do their darnedest to make sure what they publish is accurate. [1] For bloggers, saying what they feel like saying seems to be de rigueur, consequences be damned. Now, blogs have generated much controversy, but what happened here about two weeks ago takes the cake.[2] Just in case you missed it: Three people were charged with making racist comments in their blogs. They allegedly made seditious and inflammatory remarks about Malays and Muslims. [3] In one particularly galling incident, one among the three allegedly admitted to being 'extremely racist' in one of his entries online. That just about did it for me and blogs. I'm glad the authorities hauled the trio to court. Hopefully, doing so will send a message to like-minded folk in cyberspace that they'd better start putting the brain before the mouse. As far as I'm concerned, blogs are possibly the worst things about the Internet. Sure, pornography and other stuff rightly furrow the brows of parents, but the things some bloggers say go far beyond the pale.[4] ... After news of the charges broke, some members of the blogging community made comments that seemed far from the realm of common sense to me. Here were three people charged with making inflammatory statements - in a society where being tolerant is constantly drummed into us, no less - and other bloggers were worried about what the incidents bode for freedom of speech...
I was happily reading, reading, reading until I came to [1]. Wow excellent! This guy is writing for the MSM and biting at the hand that feeds him. True, bloggers can miss a fact or two, but have we forgotten that the MSM, with its arsenal of resources to do its own fact checking, often gets it wrong? Yes! I like him already... (I was still thinking in the satirical mode.) Then I got to [2], and wonder what 'previous controversy' blogs have generated before. Oh well, it's probably some plot device to link it to...somewhere. So I reached [3], and laughed out loud. He's having some fun with this because there's really nothing 'seditious' about this incident. (The relevant parts of the Sedition Act aren't really talking about being 'seditious' in its usual sense.) Nice going... When I came to [4], I told myself... hmmm... wait a minute... something is NOT RIGHT! Is he saying that pr0n is really better than blogs?! Oh my goodness!! This whole Op-Ed is not satire! And my head nearly exploded. To Carl: Have you ever surfed pr0n before? Not in my wildest dreams can I imagine someone comparing pr0n with blogs, and actually putting pr0n on top, no less! How could this have happened?! Carrllll!!! What sort of blogs have you been reading?!! Carl goes on to talk about more serious things about racism and how he doesn't understand how anyone could use 'freedom of speech' to defend these guys, and how he has to keep his kids from believing what they read in blogs (and hopefully in the MSM too, I might add!!) The thing that bothers me more at this point in time is not just 'freedom of speech', but 'freedom of information'. To what extent do we, as bloggers, journalists and members of the public, really know what's going on? According to this (12 Sept entry), there just might be more than meets the eye. In other news, the recent 'students get censured because they 'flame' their teachers on blogs' issue is most interesting. Xiaxue's account is worth a look... And at the front page of Livejournal, there's a feature called 'It's cool to blog in school'... Update (!): Hui Chieh has done yet another superlative roundup.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I'm The Guy...

I'm the guy who writes this. I'm the guy who's mostly forgotten what's happened in childhood, apart from the time when the dog scratched his eye and almost made him blind. And the time when the wardrobe cabinet came down on his head, threatening the same. I'm the guy who's been caned for getting 80% in a school test, and henceforth vows never to do that to another human being, ever. I'm the guy who was made a Prefect in primary school, only to wonder to himself whether the badge he's wearing had a typo and that it's supposed to read Perfect. I'm the guy who had zero marks in a further math test, and who felt a sense of peace indescribable by any mathematical equation; this seditious streak has got him into trouble several times since. I'm the guy who got most of his breaks from good teachers. I'm the guy who decided he'd love the written word from a single encouraging comment the literature teacher wrote on an assignment. I'm the guy whose ideas about faith puts him in no man's land. I'm the guy whom you once loved. I'm the guy who wonders about why God has forgotten so many, only to be told that it's an irrelevant question. I'm the guy who wants to keep a duck at home. I'm the guy who sings hymns to himself when he's walking to the bus stop. I'm the guy who has a phobia for the wedding banquet because he reckons half the guests are unwilling, and the other half are strangers. I'm the guy who still drinks water from the tap in the toilet. I'm the guy who happened to chance upon Mt. Juneau, and decided to climb it, only to fall back a quarter way up because he didn't have enough water, enough time, enough sunlight, enough backup plans, enough GPS, and enough guts. I'm the guy who doesn't smoke, and yet would like to learn how. I'm the guy who dropped out of college after four years; and to his horror, realises that it had to be done. I'm the guy who speaks Chinese, thinks in English, counts in Chinese, prays in English, and pronounces the names of Japanese cars in Japanese. I'm the guy who wants to love you, yet knows that the only way to do so, is not to. I'm the guy who visits the zoo once a year. I'm the guy who's sobbing his heart out tackling this meme. I'm the guy who can tell you that the scent of the brochure in today's mailbox is the same as that found on the inside back cover of the children's magazine D'Light published 20 years ago. I'm the guy who dies a little when he can't blog about some things because he knows the authorities are reading. I'm the guy who makes it a point to watch all the movies about infidelity that's out there, for the divorce stats aren't really funny any more. I'm the guy who holds solitude to be sacred. As when solitude that's accompanied by a lovely woman. If this guy is me, and that guy is Mercer, who, then, are you?

Monday, September 19, 2005

My Experience With The iPod Nano

I'm happy to report that my experience with the iPod nano has been great so far! I've just been to the AppleCentre at Borders for the third time in two weeks, and I haven't touched a single nano yet! Hyper^ger went with me, and she also didn't dare touch even one demo set. It looks even more wonderful than words can ever describe. But I'm reminded of the Ring... I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship... :)

Friday, September 16, 2005

I Love Op-Eds

There're two interesting Op-Eds today in the newspaper Today. One's titled "Free speech: Are you responsible enough?" from 23 year old Timothy Tang Nam Yen.
There has been much confusion over what can — and cannot — be said on the Internet... People who do not practise self-censorship are often the ones who create civil unrest. These people are often seen as threats to national security and the law stands by to keep them in line... ... As soon as a blog entry is posted, the key words can be picked up by search engines worldwide... For youth who wish to discuss controversial political issues, I feel they should not do so in online forums or on popular blogs, as they may still come under the ambit of local laws governing the Internet... ... However, they should be encouraged to do so in real-life group discussions. This would encourage greater responsibility and civic consciousness (since they have to own their opinions, unlike online where they can remain anonymous or use pseudonyms)... ... In short, the questions for readers to ask are: Is freedom of speech in itself truly constructive? Or does one also need to practise self-censorship before engaging the public with one's possibly controversial views? And, if self-censorship fails, does the Government have the obligation and right to keep individuals in line?
Read the full article here. This op-ed is as funny as it is scary. It's funny in that Timothy feels that folks should discuss politics in 'real-life group discussions'. I guess he's right since most Internet discussions are not real-life hahaha! Even Dubya Bush thinks so too. There are so many different Internets, each one residing in its own parallel universe LOL! The other problem is that to do a 'real-life group discussion', one has to apply for a permit, and the only four or less people (I think) can sit at a table to avoid been labeled an 'illegal gathering'. So, yeah, there might be logistical problems in taking this approach. The scary thing is the last part about the failure of self-censorship and whether the government should keep folks in line. It's abundantly clear to me that at least one person should be afraid, very afraid. Yes, you guessed it: Timothy Tang Nam Yen. Unfortunately, self-censorship is clearly absent in him from the contents of his letter. He suggests legislative measures upon others, and sent his political letter to the newspaper to get it published, for the purpose of engaging the public with his possibly controversial views! He should have censored and stopped himself, putting his letter quietly back into his drawer. I do wish Timothy the best; I won't want to see the government exercising its obligation and right to keep people in line! (But maybe that's a good thing, for people like him are often the ones who create civil unrest.) The other nice article 's titled "Still room for bloggers", read it here. There's a discussion about blogs that need to be registered with the authorities if they seem to be 'political blogs'. Naturally, one would ask what such a blog might look like, as compared to a 'non-political' blog.
... MP Zainudin Nordin, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Information, Communications and the Arts, offers a distinction. It is one between opinion and advocacy. "If the Government were to launch ComCare to help the needy and someone said the scheme was rubbish, well, that's his opinion. But if he said, 'Let's all gang up together and demonstrate against it', he's standing for something. He's politicising it," he said. His viewpoint is reflected in MDA's Internet industry guidelines, which state that web pages that promote political or religious "causes" are automatically licensed. An echo of this approach is also in the Government's view of "crusading journalism" as unhealthy. While blogs are online diaries, the MDA told Today that with regard to political content on websites, "current rules applicable to the media will continue to apply". In general, that means nothing which is against "public interest or order, or national harmony or which offends against good taste or decency"...
I took a full three minutes looking at MP Nordin's response, and I'm still unsure what he meant. How does anyone realistically 'gang up together and demonstrate against it'? And isn't a person who says that the ComCare scheme is rubbish also standing up for something? He's standing up for his opinion that the scheme is rubbish! I don't know leh, that's why I love local Op-Eds. They keep my mind occupied throughout the day with such interesting brain teasers... ;p

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Weather In Singapore Is...

I was just reading mrbrown's entry on 'the climate of fear' in Singapore. I kind of agree this climate actually exists here because just yesterday, a visitor to this blog emailed me and we started a gmail conversation. Janice (not her real name, her real name is Lisa Lim) told me she wanted to comment on my entry but didn't dare do so, for fear of being 'blacklisted'. Her fear is understandable. I just went The Weather Channel and found out there really is a climate of fear here (click for bigger picture). The interesting thing about weather is that it's not only a 'top-down' process (earth's tilt, volcano eruption, ocean currents...), it can also be very much influenced by 'bottom-up' factors (man-made pollution, excessive CO2 emissions, too much logging etc.) I think the climate of fear can be very much reduced if the Singapore Protocol is signed by citizens ASAP. This will reduce, within the next five years, the number of self-fulfilling fearful prophecies by as much as 50%. It's pretty astounding, if you think about it. The only question is: do we have the will to do so? I don't think we have much choice. The climate of Singapore depends on it. We must act, now. Update (!): Hui Chieh predicts that more people would be interested in this weather report as another blogger has been found to be sediActious today, Friday. Interesting enough, the Weather Channel has proven to be quite prescient on this matter... For my other (more conventional) writeup on interpreting weather, click here. Update (!!): Via the forums, The New Paper reports that "Gan faces seven counts of promoting ill-will in Singapore under Chapter 29 of the Seditious Act." ;p

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Musical RENT Playing In November: Still R(A)!

I read with joy that they they're bringing in the musical RENT for the second time this November.
"BROADWAY's smash hit musical Rent will play at Kallang Theatre again this November. Singapore will be one of the stops on its 10th anniversary tour. Most of the cast and crew of this Pulitzer Prize and Tony award-winning musical will come direct from New York, including its 1996 original creative team of director Michael Grief, choreographer Marlies Yearby, costumer designer Angela Wendt and lighting designer Blake Burba. The La Boheme-like show was penned by the late American composer Jonathan Larson, a protege of Broadway meister Stephen Sondheim. Sadly, Larson died of a brain aneurysm a day before the musical opened in New York in 1996. Its plot revolves around a group of artists struggling to pay their rent. Along the way, issues such as the plight of gays and Aids are explored with grace and good humour..." ST Life/Time To Pay The Rent
RENT first played in Singapore four years ago. One of the more interesting things that happened was that a few days before opening night, the National Arts Council stuck a R(A) sticker on the show. I wrote about this then, and the bad news is... it's still restricted to under-18s this time round! I don't mean to be seditious, but seriously, take away the sticker, please?

Monday, September 12, 2005

A Couple Of Bloggers-Forumers Charged Under Sedition Act

This is a very disturbing development. From CNA:
SINGAPORE : For the first time in Singapore, two bloggers have been charged under the Sedition Act for making racist remarks. They are 25-year-old Nicholas Lim Yew and 27-year-old Benjamin Koh Song Huat. A subordinate court was told that both their blogs had content that cast aspersions on the Malay community...
Now we all know how ambiguous these sorts of things can be (remember the scholar?), especially in the context of online content like forum posts and blog entries. I wonder what the real story is. I also didn't know at first what 'sedition' meant, I only knew it's quite a serious thing. But strangely enough, as SGInk points out, there's something amiss about the definition of this Act. Sedition actually means words or actions that make people rebel against authority, 煽动判乱的言论或行动. 'To cast aspersions on' means to attack the reputation of someone. In the meantime, Gabriel's advice is good: stick to infantile stuff! Update!: The CNA article as now been updated and expanded, but the 'cast aspersions' part has been removed. It now reads:
Twenty-five-year-old Nicholas Lim Yew and 27-year-old Benjamin Koh Song Huat are being accused of posting racist comments on an online forum and on their blog site. They are both being charged with committing a seditious act, by promoting feelings of ill-will and hostility between races in Singapore. They were not represented by defence lawyers and were granted bail of S$10,000 each...
Hmm... what happened to their lawyers? Update (!!): I have been looking around GoogleCache and found some blogs that talk about the blog (now deleted). Seems to me if we want to catch bloggers with racist entries, there are many, many more to go around. Personally, I do hope that there are sufficient grounds for this conviction. If not, well... In the meantime, HuiChieh has a comprehensive roundup. And Mr Miyagi has just Todayed me. Well, at least it's better than the last time I was quoted in a newspaper talking about, of all things, pr0n. Update (!!!): One more blogger has been found to be SediActious. Mr. Wang urges all to keep things in perspective. Things are not as bad as they look. Update (!V): HuiChieh rounds them up.

Rockson's Barbaric Yawp

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering. I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world... I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles. You will hardly know who I am or what I mean, But I shall be good health to you nonetheless, And filter and fibre your blood. Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, Missing me one place search another, I stop somewhere waiting for you. ~Walt Whitman/Leaves of Grass/Song of Myself
Ephraim Loy is on the roll! The last time his letter appeared in the ST Forum, he suggested that bloggers should be educated by the authorities about what should or shouldn't be blogged; naturally, some took notice. Last Friday, the forums editor published (with wicked glee over the imminent backlash, I'd imagine) his letter of complaint about this magazine called Lime promoting Rockson's blog. He thinks that it's not good for young people to be exposed to this sort of thing. (mrbrown has the context.) Now Rockson has probably one of the most vulgar local blogs, but strangely enough, it has serious social consciousness oozing out of its HTML code. So if you feel you've had enough warning, go here. Rockson reminds me of Whitman, America's greatest poet (at least to me, because he's the only American poet I kind of read on and off). Whitman's stuff was vulgar to his contemporaries because they didn't like what he wrote. Whitman celebrates things that once were vulgar, like the human body (I Sing The Body Electric), boring things like 'blacksmithing, glass-blowing, nail-making, coopering, tin-roofing, shingle-dressing... (A Song for Occupations), preaches joy and optimism and encourages curiousity (Song of the Open Road) and doesn't follow the usual 'academic' rules of poetry. It's useless to be vulgar just to shock people. Except maybe in places like the army where this is appropriately used in the systematic taming of soldiers. But I think Rockson uses the course devices he's so good with to 'shock', and then, to 'tell'. And to tell his story with a rarely seen passion around these places. What Singapore needs is authenticity, and he provides plenty. I'm looking forward to Ephraim's next letter to the newspaper. ;p Perthling virgin undergrad has more (via Further reading: America's Poet: Walt Whitman, National Geographic, December 1994.

Friday, September 9, 2005

Thursday, September 8, 2005

iObjet d'art

Apple just announced the upcoming iPod nano (which probably refers to an iPod that is very small) and I think if I were a competitor in the MP3 player market, I'd probably just close shop and sulk at the bar hehee...


A few weeks ago, I got the iPod shuffle as a freebie, and was thinking whether to open the nice packaging to use it, or sell it at the forums because an iPod mini (discontinued today) was probably more suited for my purposes. (There is no display nor a quick way to directly go to a specific song in the shuffle.) After a few days of deliberation, I thought, what the heck, let's give the shuffle a try. Boy was I glad to take that plunge. It's like product nirvana, a sense of that wow! It's no longer just a product, but of form and function, and emotions, all exquisitely brought together in the most harmonious way. And it doesn't even feel it 'exists', it's as light as air...  

This reminds me of the product design of the Palm PDA. Since its inception, Palm's people, many of whom came from Apple, had to find ways to battle against a behemoth like Microsoft. Palm, Inc., at that time wasn't really a big company compared to Bill's company, and what they did was totally unintuitive and unconventional. They came up with design guidelines that collectively came to be known as the Zen of Palm (really fun 44-page pdf!). Part of it was marketing fluff, of course, but there's no denying that the spirit of the guidelines in general saved Palm from total oblivion in the beginning and even today. Yes, there are times when folks argue that this zen thing is the wrong way to go, and they might be right in the dubious execution of some Palm products. But generally, I think the philosophy still holds, and aspects of it can be seen in the iPods. For example, the guidelines emphasize a crazy obsession to simplicity. Now, how one arrives at 'simplicity' is quite interesting.

The shuffle achieves this by limiting functions. Going against conventional wisdom, the shuffle doesn't give customers what they want. You can't tell what song is currently playing, nor can you navigate to a specific song. (There are ways to circumvent this limitation. One can arrange songs in a pre-determined order on the computer first before transferring the music to the shuffle.) Another way is creating the illusion of simplicity, in the sense that loads of features are hidden cleverly, revealing only the correct ones when the need arises. This is when superior user interface design really shines, as seen in the other iPods. So, is it good to limit features in the shuffle? Folks are limited in the sense that they lose the ability to choose their songs in a quick manner. There is a school of thought that suggests this might be beneficial. Increased choices might lead to decreased happiness, according to some researchers. I can't read the whole article so I'm just guessing... one explanation is that it's frustrating to have too many choices, as can be seen quite clearly in Creative Technology's MP3 player lineup

Well, it's great if you can find the product that you really want. But for a n00b like me, it's highly depressing. Of if you have too many girlfriends or boyfriends, and you need to choose... man, that sucks lol. Another explanation is that it's not really about limiting choices/functions, per se. It's really about the fact that another person (the product/user interface designer) has already chosen what he thinks you'd want, leaving you with the best combination and presentation of features and functionalities. But you ask, how does the guy know what I want?! I'm not sure, I just think the iPod designers are geniuses... ;p

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Taipei and Hurricane Talim

We stayed in a hotel for the first week in Taipei because my mum felt that the family home was too old and unsafe. The nice hotel in the city had at least one awesome sign. After a week in Taipei, I decided to extend my stay here for another week. My parents left for Taichung to visit a doctor there for the next few days and I checked into Taipei Hostel. The rate for each night was S$25, so it was still OK. Initially, I wanted to find a place near Hsimenting, the place that teens and young people like to go to and which was near the family home. My Taiwanese friend Mavis told me that in some small hotels there, one might get a knock in the middle of the night, with someone offering special services. Wow! Lip my stockings! Mavis took the day off on Tuesday and we went to Dansui River; took a boat across and cycled for a few kilometers to the ShihSanHang museum that showcases the archaeological findings of an ancient Taiwanese culture almost two thousand years old. Very impressive stuff. At Bitan south of Taipei, paddle boats were getting evacuated. Mavis told me that a hurricane was going to hit Taiwan tomorrow. I didn't have a clue until then because I hadn't been following the news. A typhoon is a hurricane that appears in Asia, while a hurricane is a typhoon that occurs in the North Atlantic. I prefer to call them hurricanes because the word appears meaner and stronger. I had one experience with a Taiwanese hurricane. Ten years ago, I'd spent 15 months in a place near HsinChu working for a military contractor. We had to paste ducktape on the windows in case they break... Anyway back to the 21st century, I thought, what the heck, I should move back to the family home instead of staying at Taipei Hostel and paying unnecessary money. This is my dad's family home (both my parents were quitters from Taiwan, my dad became a Singaporean eventually). Our family came here regularly during the June holidays many years ago, and these visits were probably the only happy childhood memories I had. So on Wednesday morning, I checked out of Taipei Hostel and checked into the empty home on Wednesday afternoon. Because all my relatives had already moved to the States, it's quite dilapidated. The rain started to fall in the afternoon, and they came in waves. The wind picked up gradually, and if you didn't know how to maneuver your umbrella, you might as well throw it away. Which was what happened to so many abandoned umbrellas along the roads. I listened to the radio for the latest updates, and it was announced that there would be no school and no work on Thursday. The authorities had expected hurricane Talim to be a force not to be trifled with. (I later learned from Mavis that department stores, KTVs, MacDonalds and 7-11s would still be open.) The other directive was to stock up food and water for a few days. I decided to prepare for this warning by going to 7-11 and buying two two-litre mineral water bottles and a loaf of bread. The bread was for Thursday's breakfast. Hurricane Talim was projected to hit Hualien (on Taiwan's east coast) at 2am Thursday, 1st September. As a mark of respect to this awesome force of nature and also to make sure that I could escape in the event of a failure in the structural integrity of the ceiling, I didn't sleep that night until 3am. The funny thing was as the evening progressed, the winds seemed weaker. Still, there were periodic strong gusts of wind and I could see that some metallic thingys at the construction site next door had already collapsed.

The building was standing its ground, but it was still somewhat scary though. A sudden great pressure difference between the inside and outside could easily take out a window, or worse, the entire plate of the ceiling tiles, I reasoned accurately or inaccurately. I spent the night marvelling at the spectacle of invisible power, and watching the news where TV reporters at Hualien were trying to sensationalise the already quite sensational night by standing outdoors and giving exciting and wet field reports. One reporter couldn't even stand properly in the strong winds. Those guys were nuts! (But they're fun to watch!)

The next morning, the news was that central Taipei had fared quite well. Unfortunately, there were six deaths and more injuries in other places caused by floods and falling debris. Talim was blocked by the Central Mountain Range (screenshot from Google Earth) and the hurricane had spilt into two parts. The section at the higher altitudes continued on to mainland China, where she claimed many lives subsequently in the coming days.

I left the apartment the afternoon. The rain had almost stopped falling; I was more worried about loose projectiles flying at great speeds. One thing that had always intrigued me was the haze in large cities. Taipei has this haze that just won't go away. I had always thought that it was due to pollution. But what I saw in Alaska told me that this needn't be the case. Haze or fuzziness in the air could be due to inherent weather conditions. To find out the real story, I decided to visit Taipei 101, temporarily the tallest building in the world. The hurricane would have blown pollutants in the air far away, and if it was still hazy, the pollution account would be weakened. The trees had been bent by the winds...

Oops, the place was closed.

Even without going up the observatory, I could see that the air was still a little hazy, so I reckoned pollution need not be a cause of the hazy conditions in Taipei skies. I went back the next day.

The following is actually a screenshot from SimCity4.

An NBA star was there too; I had no idea who he was.

The 101 skyscraper was beautiful! It's looked like eight huge Chinese takeaway lunch boxes stacked up nicely! (I later learnt that the official account is that it's supposed to represent a tall bamboo. I like my account better.)

Anyway, I hope I can return to Taipei and do interesting things someday. This place is chaotic, but it has its charms. My feeling is that a newcomer here might absolutely hate it. But give yourself one week, and you might not want to leave. Or not. The guidebooks on Taiwan more often than not refer to Taiwanese as the most hospitable and warmest people. Guidebooks sometimes get things wrong, but I believe they are right about this. The funny thing is that in other countries I've visited, there are very nice and beautiful buildings, but not so nice people inside. Taipei seems to me the opposite. Old or quickly worn out new buildings, but relatively beautiful and unaloof people inside. Maybe I'm biased to a certain extent and have lowered expectations; I don't know.

Another fluffball thing is the 'cuteness' of women here speaking through their noses (like how Chinese cartoon characters speak). They don't do this to seduce people, it's really quite natural. LOL That's another thing about the Taiwanese. They're natural. And the service at restaurants, shopping centres is just great. Folks talk to you like they talk to their own grandmothers, informal, but professional, and non-descriminating. No doubt there're plenty of bad people around and things can be very bad in some areas, but the variation is great, so one can find excellent stuff here too. I like the variability here.

We've all heard about the chaotic Taiwanese traffic. It is still happening now, but this time I had a different perspective. Taiwanese drivers are one of a kind. I'd recommend all tourists to sit at least once in the front seat and zoom through Taipei. A health warning for folks with weak hearts is appropriate here. The skill of the driver will certainly impress you, simply because you will not meet with an accident, I hope. It's a little like Formula One; you just can't figure out how anyone would survive in those tough conditions. Anyway, at first I reckon that folks were bad to drive so madly across town, but this time, I realise that sometimes, there's no road rage involved, strangely enough. The taxi driver I had was smiling when someone else cut abruptly into his lane. It's all taken in stride. Ironically, because there're so many scooters zooming around, so motorists need to heighten their senses and not take anything for granted. Still, there are those who won't dare drive in Taiwan; perfectly understandable.

To all tourists, treat the red lights as a guide. The old joke is that to be able to cross the road successfully and safely, just follow a dog that's doing the same thing. No motorist would want to hit a dog. I'm no longer that afraid to cross the road this time. Crossing a road would mean turning cars won't care and might cut across you. But they are so good that they can estimate exactly when you'd be in the car's path, and they would stop accordingly. This is one assurance I didn't have before. Your mileage may vary. Please be careful at all times!

I took the bus and it's now much improved. There's this scrolling display and it tells what the next stop is. Never get lost again! The MRT is also now very convenient. As usual, I continued my usual MRT observations to see whether folks outside trains waited for those inside first to alight first. If there're lots of people in the train going out, those outside would wait. Sometimes, if there's not a lot of people alighting, they won't. But those outside didn't insist their way, so it was still quite good. And people liked to queue up...

Overall, I'm not sure what's going to happen to Taiwan. Despite the oppression from across the Straits, things seem to be still going OK. So I'm still quite optimistic...fingers crossed...
Read the entire entry.