Friday, July 28, 2006

My Throat Hurts

About a week ago I went to the doctor because I had an earache. I'd had it for about a week. I think it was from swimming--which I do a lot of. They gave me some medicine and told me not to swim for three days. I followed their instructions, and soon I was all better.

Now I have tonsillitis (that is with a double 'l'). I just found this out from a doctor, though I could have guessed by the swelling, redness, and pain.

Guess what else? My former employers, who were technically responsible for paying my health insurance (I even offered to reimburse them after they released me from my contract) cancelled my health insurance about six months ago. So when I went to the doctor, instead of the usual $150 NT, I had to pay $550 NT (NT being the new Taiwan dollar, worth about $.30 US). The best part is that I'll probably have to pay--out of my own pocket--six months worth of insurance dues. This is all not to mention that I might have to have my tonsils out in the next week or two, and it will likely take until the end of August to get all my insurance woes sorted.

Why couldn't I have gotten sick like this during the first three years in which my insurance was all paid up? Why?

I'll tell you why: someone up there doesn't like me. I've had it too easy for too long and now it is time to pay the piper. Woe is me!

I guess there is nothing to do now but rend my tunic, pour ashes on my head, wail, and gnash my teeth.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Swinging a Dead Cat

Last weekend I was in Tainan taking a walk with my girlfriend when I saw something unusual. As we strolled along I glanced at the local flora along side the road. I saw something hanging from a tree, and at first I thought it was a big dried-up leaf or a piece of bark. As I got closer, however, I saw that, whatever it was, it was attached to the tree by a length of cord or heavy twine. Suddenly it dawned on me: it was a dead cat.

This cat had been dead for a long time. It looked almost like a piece of jerky. I pointed it out to my girlfriend and she said, "Oh, great."

Naturally my first thought was that some sick bastard had caught a cat and hung it up on the tree to kill it, but then I remembered something I'd been told a long time ago. It seems that there is an old tradition in Taiwan which involves hanging a pet cat from a tree after it dies. It isn't commonly practiced these days, but I guess it used to be the normal way to dispose of your deceased feline.

What do you do when your dog dies? Dump it in a river or other body of water.

Here is something I found on the web about the tradition, which apparently is some kind of reaction to the idea that cats are bad:

"In some places in the Taiwan countryside, it has been the tradition that cats are not buried after death to rest in peace, but are hung by the neck in the woods. Oddly enough, this is said to be due to the purring sound cats make when they are feeling content. Shin Dai says that people from her small hometown think purring is the sound of troubled breathing, indicating that cats carry illness. Therefore, after a cat dies they insist on tying a rope around its neck to prevent the germs from getting out."

There is more stuff about cats and also a mention of putting dead dogs in the river at this link.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Apocalypse: What Channel?

(Okay, I know Ashcroft's gone now, and those aren't exactly the names usually associated with the Four Horsemen. This is from Wikipeida: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are mentioned in the Bible in chapter six of the Book of Revelation, which predicts that they will ride during the Apocalypse. The four horsemen are traditionally named War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death. However, this is slightly at odds with the conventional interpretation of the Bible, which actually only directly names Death. Consequently, it is not possible to definitively state the intended interpretation of the horsemen; in fact, interpretations frequently reflect contemporary values and issues.)

I have to make a confession (bless me Father, for I have sinned): I have not been following the news lately. I could blame it on my being in Taiwan, away from easy access to English language news sources, but that would be a lie. The truth is I’ve been lazy and self-indulgent. When I could be watching CNN, I flip back and forth between the half-dozen English language movie channels instead. There’s rarely anything on worth watching, but I find that by cycling through the channels continuously, I can almost make my own movie. In my defense, even if I were to watch CNN, I’d have to sit through hours of completely useless programming like “World Sport,” “Larry King Live,” and “Talk Asia,” not to mention the five minutes of commercials that play for every ten minutes of programming.

I haven’t been reading the paper lately either. There are two or three English papers here in Taiwan that I could be reading, but instead I’m reading Bleak House, by Dickens. I could also read the news on the internet, or listen to one of many news webcasts.

Why the sudden lack of interest in The News? I used to be an NPR junkie. I listened to Morning Edition on the way to work and All Things Considered on the way home. The homepage on my web browser has been Yahoo News ever since such a thing existed. I used to live and breathe The News. Now, however, I can’t be bothered.

I think that one reason is that ever since Bush and his machine staged a quiet coup de etat in the elections of 2000, the news has just gone from bad to worse. And, yes, I mean that the news coverage itself has declined—there are no journalistic heroes, and independent news sources are being squeezed out by the monopolies--, but I also mean that the content, the stories, have just become more and more demoralizing to me. First there was the election, then the recount scandal, then that creep actually took the white house. Soon after he began dismantling the country like it was a corporation that had been subject of a hostile takeover. Then September 11, which in and of itself was bad enough, but then the whole world rolled over and handed the Bush administration a blank check to do whatever it wanted (which is probably why so many people—myself included—feel that they must have had something to do with those terrorist attacks).

The morning I woke up and saw CNN declare G.W. Bush as the 43rd President of the United States of America, I vowed to leave the country. At the same time, my news addiction kicked up to a new level. I monitored the news constantly for any information that might foretell the downfall of the administration. Instead, I saw the opposite. I saw years of diplomacy in the Middle East being tossed out the window. I saw corporate corruption running rampant. I saw civil liberties not just being eroded, but being washed away in a flash flood. I saw religious fundamentalism replacing rational thought. And I saw the American public welcoming all of this with open arms.

I guess I finally just gave up.

Then last night, when there was truly nothing worth watching on the movie channels, I switched over to CNN. Apparently there is something new going on in the Mid East. Israel has launched some kind of offensive against Lebanon. In the midst of the coverage of the conflict, CNN did a story about how Christians in the US are heralding these events as a sign of the coming apocalypse (not that Christians haven’t been doing the same during every major world event for the past two thousand years). I was disturbed by this, as such an attitude is an abdication of responsibility to do anything to try to change the situation. It is a cliché to say it, but it is is nonetheless true that people who look for signs and listen to alarmist preachers are contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I turned off the TV and went to bed.

I woke up this morning at about 5:30, and for some reason got up and turned on the TV. CNN was still on the Israel-Lebanon story. Apprently while I slept Israel had killed four UN observers in a bombing raid. I switched to HBO, and this is where things got weird.

“The Devil’s Advocate” was on CNN. It was the scene where Eddie Barzoon gets beaten to death by hobos turned demons. I switched to the next channel only to find “The Ninth Gate.” Next channel, “Warlock.” Next: “Fear Factor” (truly the work of Satan). Finally, and most frighteningly, Cinemax “On Location” was doing a piece on—dare I mention the name—Adam Sandler.

Now, if these selections, all playing concurrently, are not a sign, then I don’t know what is.

I guess it is time to get right with the Lord.

Friday, July 07, 2006

That of which I am scared...

I mentioned in a previous post that I have some fears about riding on the back of a motorcycle. The truth is, I am a little bit afraid of being in a moving vehicle of any kind. Some of my friends in Seattle used to always make me ride in the back seat (even if I was the only passenger in the car) because I irritate drivers by always putting my hands on the dash board and making frightened sounds.

I decided to try to put a name to my fear, but I found that there are several possibilities:

Amaxophobia -- fear of riding in a vehicles
Gephyrophobia -- fear of crossing a bridge
Kinetophobia -- fear or dislike of motion
Tachophobia -- fear of speed

While looking up information on phobias I also came across several that I might be accurately accused of having, but that are not related to my fear of transportation. For example, there is Demophobia, the dislike of crowds. Keeps me pretty nervous here in Taiwan, where the population density is 23 times that of the U.S. (US pop. density is 29.77 people per sq. km, In Taiwan it is 685.47 people per sq. km).

Here's a list of phobias. Some of them don't seem like phobias but realistic fears, like traumatophobia, the fear of injury. Who isn't afraid of being injured? Others are just weird, like Zemmiphobia, the fear of the great mole rat.

For a list of population densities by country, go here.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Running Out of Gas

When Jessica and I left Kenting, we were both glad to get moving again. Checking out of the hotel took longer than we had hoped, and we had a lot of ground to cover before night. In fact, I was hoping to get all the way back to Hsinchu--a hope that later turned out to be unrealistic.

I know I should have checked the gas gauge before we left Kenting. We even passed a couple of gas stations on the way, which should have reminded me to look down and see how much was left in the tank. But I didn't.

We were a few kilometers out of town, and I guess I was going a little slow, so Jessica said, "Jia yo," which is a phrase of encouragement which literally means, "add gas," as in "give it some gas". It is usually used to tell someone to "go". For example, in a competition you might shout to your favorite, "Jia yo!" in the hopes that it would make him or her speed up, do better, etc.

Well, apparently I was driving a little too slowly. The road was wide and visibility was good. Plus there was a beautiful view of the ocean. I guess I was just taking it easy and enjoying the scenery. Anyway, when Jessica said, "jia yo," I believe she meant it as an encouragement to speed up. I took it as, "add gas," and I looked down at the gauge to see that the needle was deep in the red zone.

We ended up making it to the edge of the next town (Man Jiu) before we ran out of gas. I pushed for a while, but it was hotter than Satan's codpiece, so we stopped and flagged a group of young folk on scooters. They went and bought us some gas while I enjoyed a cold beverage.