Sunday, January 28, 2007


The Lecheng Gong Taoist Temple in East Taichung 宮成樂的區東市中台

***Start Correction***

My math apparently isn't even half-decent! There is a mistake in the assumptions of the math reasoning further down in this post. The correction can be found here. Enjoy!

***End Correction***

If I'm not a very occasional Taoist-Buddhist layperson, I guess I'd have to be a part of sleeping religion, 睡覺教, Mandarin slang for secularism. But if I am a very occasional Taoist-Buddhist layperson, here is the temple I baibai 拜拜 at.

I do several religious activities at this temple along with my girlfriend, usually once a week on the weekend. I offer twelve sticks of incense to an array of gods at altars on two floors of the temple. The offering need to be done in a specific order. I also make use of these to ask questions to ye Gods:

First you more or less randomly pick out a red-and-brown stick (not pictured) that corresponds to a piece of paper that has ye Gods answer written on it. You don't know if the stick you picked out actually corresponds to ye Gods answer-paper yet because you haven't asked your question yet.

After you do a prayer to ask the naggling question that you're asking ye Gods, you throw a pair of these on the floor. Ye gods will give you an answer to any question that's been naggling you.

Both flat sides up or down: Ye Gods say NO!
One flat side up and the other down: Ye Gods say YES!

The catch is that you have to ask your question three times consecutively and receive the yes answer three times consecutively before the YESSES add up to a definitive yes. Let's do the math.

Assuming that flat sides land UP or DOWN in a 1/2 "random" ratio, you've got three possible outcomes with every throw:

That means there's a one out of three chance that ye Gods will say yes once, but you've got to get ye Gods to say yes three times consecutively before you can go home with a definitive answer to your question. So, that means if you get a NO result on your first or second throw, your next throw is like starting all over again. So how does the math work out?


In general, you may have to give these cashew-shaped objects more than 27 sets of throws before you get your positive result, and some sets of throws may involve one or two throws. Three and you're homefree.

That being said, if you wanted to predict ye Gods answers, you wouldn't even be able to be right 1 out of 27 times because there are sixty-four sticks that correspond to sixty-four pieces of paper each with a unique piece answer from ye Gods themselves. BTW, ye Gods can only speak and understand Mandarin and Taiwanese. English hasn't reached the Heavenly Plane yet.

If my math is half decent, the odds that your preconceived answer about which piece of paper ye Gods will give you as their answer are about one of 1728 guesses (1/27*1/64=1/1728?). You'd have to guess right three times about two wooden blocks falling on the floor and about which one of 64 identical red sticks gets pulled out of a box.

Let's put it this way: the odds are stacked in ye Gods favour! Their mysteries will remain a mystery unless you have a lot of patience and a lot of luck.

And now for something completely different:

Lanterns are hung on trees in preparation for the Lantern Festival, on March 4th this year if I'm not mistaken. That would be 15 days after Chinese New Year, this year on February 17th, 2006.

Here are two pictures that were taken on the same day as the above pictures but don't have much relation to the topic. The whole set for January 28th, 2007 can be found here.

King Whitemonkey surveys the territory.

King Whitemonkey is happy!

King Whitemonkey is very happy!

King Whitemonkey is very, very happy!

Enjoy the rest of January. This is Strangelaowai the King Whitemonkey in Taichung City.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Capital Cities: Beijing, China 首度: 中國北京

It occurred to me the other day that although I am reasonably well-travelled for my age, I have only been to four capital cities, and not even the capital city of my own fine nation, Canada! FYI, those four cities are:

So it's with great excitement that I am able to announce that around late February or early March, I'll be going to Beijing, China! Yes, that wacky Olympic city of bad air pollution, poor water supplies, the Tiananmen Square, Ring Roads, Ducks of Culinary Prowess, The Forbidden City, I'm gonna be there in Beijing!

By Ducks of Culinary Prowess, I just mean Beijing Duck.

It's kind of an amusing reason why I'm getting the chance to go there. Basically, I'm applying for a job with the Immigration Stream of the Foreign Service of the Federal Government of Canada. Yes, that's right, I have heard that our gouvernment has a high demand for speakers of foreign languages, and so I am answering the call by taking the three mandatory sit-in Canadian civil service exams in Beijing.

Don't get me wrong. There were places closer to Taiwan (but not within Taiwan) where I could have gone to take these tests, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul and Tokyo. At the very least, there are direct flights to those destinations. However, I just couldn't help but select my preference as Beijing instead of all those other places owing to the mystique (un mot francais) of the Chinese capital.

If I do well enough on the three sit-in exams in Beijing, I presume I will get a call or email from the gouvernment's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade telling me to appear for work in Ottawa on such and such day, and so I will appear, mais non! It is not quite comme ca.

For you see, owing to my poor ability in the French language (Quelle dommage!), I'll need to study French for one year in Ottawa, but here's the silver lining: c'est le gouvernment qui pay d'argent!

After that, it's probably a few more years in Ottawa, and then off to whatever foreign country they post me to. Given my language ability, it's probably gonna be China, so I better get a look at it now to prepare!

As you might expect, I'm stoked about going. I've already gleaned all the useful China travel knowledge from people who have been there before moi. For example, I'll make sure to depart from Shenzhen to Beijing instead of Hong Kong to Beijing, because even though they are almost the same distance from Beijing, flights out of Shenzhen are about half the price of HK-departing flights owing to all the Chinese domestic carriers that fly out of Shenzhen but much less so out of Hong Kong.

You might not know it, but being an English teacher in Taiwan is not glamorous! For the most part, I am NOT a young, jet-set Asia-travelling hipster, but rather a hack of questionable talent who is taking his last shot at 20-something success. Indeed, it's now or never! Do or die! I taught these cheesy lines to my adults last week. Like I said, total hack, c'est vraiment!

Well, I'll take lots of pictures and post them when I can. However, owing to lack of accessibility in the People's Republic, I may not be able to post pictures immediately to the blog, although I'll make sure to direct you to my Flickr account before I depart if I think you'll be able to expect picture updates there.

This is the Strange Laowai, doing my best to be young and jet-set, as you so vicariously wish to be!

Sunday, January 14, 2007


釋迦 Buddha-Head Update

Update: 釋迦 is apparently called a Buddha-head Fruit or a custard apple, although I barely see how such a non-apple-like fruit could be called a kind of apple. For the local Taiwanese phrase translated into English for this fruit, click through this link (thanks to hsingfang530804 for the great link!).

Previous Article

釋迦 Buddha's Head

Have you ever eaten Buddha's Head? Extra points if you can find a better English translation for this fruit!

A google image search using the two characters in the Chinese name of this fruit, 釋 shi(4) and 迦 jia (1) turns up exactly 1890 photos as of January 14th, 2007. Many of these pictures are of Sakyamuni (aka. Siddartha Gautami, Buddha) because 釋 shi(4) 迦 jia (1) is just a shortened version of Siddartha Gautama's Chinese name, 釋迦牟尼 shi (4) jia (1) mou (2) ni(2). Given that there is such a small amount of information about Buddha's Head on the internet in Chinese (and probably in English, too), I figure it's a rather extremely unknown fruit both in the west and perhaps elsewhere too. Most sites about the fruit seem to be from Taiwan.

But wait, Strangelaowai! Why are you calling this fruit Buddha's Head and not just Buddha? After all, didn't you just say that the Chinese name for this fruit is just a shortened version of Siddartha Gautama's Chinese name and doesn't make reference to Gautama's head at all?

Your absolutely right, my unnamed Logical Friend. Indeed, the Chinese name doesn't refer specifically to Buddha's head at all, just to Buddha. Therefore, logically you could assume that the fruit's name is just Buddha in English. However, language and all things translation typically aren't that simple.

Part of this comes down to the experience of eating the fruit (which is something I just did today) and the connection between Buddha and Buddha's Head (the fruit). The similarity between the fruit and the person is that, as you can see from the picture that can be found through the title's link, the fruit is shaped like Siddartha Gautama's head. The fruit has round, bulbous sections on it's green skin, just like the curls of Gautama's hair. Presumably the similarity starts and ends in shape and doesn't continue into colour!

Inside there are long black seeds about 3 times the size of watermelon seeds with sweet soft flesh surrounding each seed. This forms what I'd like to call a seed curd. You can eat the seed curds one at a time or you can eat them by the mouthful, spitting out the seeds as is necessary.

In any case, Buddha's Head is sweet and only sweet, unlike its fellow Asian fruit the durian, a fruit that has similar soft, somewhat sweet white flesh to it but with a terribly strong bitter flavour added on top of the already exotic flavour. Take it from me, Buddha's Head is a much tastier fruit and I will happily trumpet its delicious superiority over the durian on a blog any time. Just ask.

Now for a few final notes. A Babelfish Chinese-to-English translation of 釋迦 turned up only Shakya and entering Shakya into yielded no results. Encyclopedia articles that I found from only referenced the Shakya people as well as Sakyamuni the Buddha, but nothing remotely related to Buddha's Head the fruit.

So can someone tell me, what's going on? What is the proper English name for Buddha's Head the fruit? And can you buy such a fruit in Canada? In China? In Japan? In Mexico? This could very well be a special fruit indeed. It certainly has a special name to go with its special flavour.


The High Speed Rail

The Taiwan Highspeed Rail system, often called Taiwan's Shinkansen, is up and running. By far the closest station to where I live is the Taichung station, ironically located in Wuri 烏日, Taichung County 台中縣.

This is the shiny exterior.

This is an outdoor plaza with the station in the background. I have pictures of the interior, but they aren't that interesting because it looks pretty much like an airport. The interior pictures are only interesting if humourously contrasted with the ridiculous lack of planning that characterizes most of the rest of this city. Oh well, maybe next time.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


The Matsu Videoblog

The order of the videos below is top-to-bottom, but the order of the Matsu photo set I posted at is last-page-to-first-page, bottom-to-top on each page. Enjoy!

You will notice that I became fixated on certain phrases and icons during my Matsu trip. Sleeping on Spears, Awaiting the Dawn arose throughout the trip, as did Chiang Kai-shek and the theme of protecting from and taking back the mainland. These are all metaphorical for the way I view Taiwan, the way I view life, and the way I view humanity (especially the way I view humanity). As an endnote, I neither endorse nor disagree with the aspirations, opinions and policies of historical figures portrayed in this videoblog.

Any comments about The Matsu Videoblog as a whole can be posted in reply to this message. In the meantime, enjoy this crazed, foreign adventure!

-The Strange Laowai


The soldiers of Matsu ROC

The Strange Laowai goes to Matsu, Fujian Province, Republic of China (中華民國福建省馬祖), and documents his own experience shortly after landing on Nangan (南竿) island.


Made it to Fuao Harbour, Nangan

The Strange Laowai reads Chinese to discover that he has found the harbour he was looking for.


Take Back the Mainland

The Strange Laowai stages a mock ROC military propaganda clip. The clip was shot at Chinbi Village, Beigan Island, Matsu, Lienchiang County, Fujian Province, ROC (中華民國福建省連江縣馬祖北竿芹碧村).


Safety Number One!

The Strange Laowai stops by a Chinese-only road sign and reads it in Mandarin and then again in English.



In an effort to teach the viewer one lexical entry of Mandarin Chinese, the Strange Laowai shows a real-world referential object in the video and then pronounces the lexical entry first in Mandarin and then in English.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


They could be anywhere.

The Strange Laowai runs amok in an underground ex-military installation at the Peace Memorial Park on Beigan island, Matsu, Lienchiang County, Fujian Province, ROC (中華民國福建省連江縣馬祖北竿和平紀念公園).


Military equipment at the defunct Nigushan training grounds.

The Strange Laowai demonstrates the moving parts of a turret gun on a long-forgotten military watchpost within the Nigushan training grounds on Beigan island, Matsu, Lienchiang County, Fujian Province, ROC (中華民國福建省連江縣馬祖北竿尼古山教練場).


Exploring the Beihai Tunnel on Nangan

The Strange Laowai explores the Beihai Tunnel (北海坑道) on Nangan and explains a bit about how it was built in addition to making a differentiation between the Beihai Tunnel on Nangan and another Beihai Tunnel on a different island in Matsu. The clip was shot on Nangan island, Matsu, Lienchiang County, Fujian Province, ROC (中華民國福建省連江縣馬祖南竿).


Sleeping On Spears, Awaiting the Sunrise (Always on Alert)

The Strange Laowai makes another mock ROC military propaganda clip at the Sleeping on Spears, Awaiting the Sunrise (Always on Alert) memorial on Nangan island, Matsu, Lienchiang County, Fujian Province, ROC (中華民國福建省連江縣馬祖南竿). At 00:26 you can see a gigantic statue of Chiang Kai-shek (將介石,"中正") standing tall, facing the mainland with the kind of hopeless ambition, futile determination and ceaseless pride that pretty much sums up all of humanity.


New Years Eve celebration in Jieshou Village, Nangan, Matsu (part 1)

A large auditorium is full of Matsu residents who have gathered in the largest town on the main island of Nangan for a county government-sponsored solar New Year's Eve performance/bash. The performance seen in the video ended at 11PM and most of the audience members caught a special late 11:30 ferry sailing to get back to their home islands.


New Years Eve celebration in Jieshou Village, Nangan, Matsu (part 2)

This time with fire!


New Years Countdown from a Hotel Room in Nangan, Matsu

The Strange Laowai counts down to 2007 in his hotel room in Nangan, Matsu after realizing that Matsu really isn't big enough for him to be able to find a crowd that he could count down the New Year with together.


Goodbye Matsu and Happy New Year from Tunnel 88

The Strange Laowai wraps up his New Year's trip to Matsu from the famed Tunnel 88, an ex-military cave hideout that has been converted into a storage facility for the liquor of the same name.

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