The public transit system is new - different lines were done in different stages, but now enough of them criss-cross the city to offer an excellent service in both time and on the budget. e.g. For $2 AUD we travelled right across Taipei, from the Taipei Zoo in the South East of the city, to Tamkang University in Tamsui at the end of the line in the North-west - that's one fifth of what it costs me to travel by train into the centre of Melbourne from the outer suburbs where we live! (Australia was once rumoured to be a social democracy.) What public transport in Australia (and much of the west) used to be, it now is in Taipei: cheap, efficient, safe, for the peoples' use and pleasure. It has been built as a common asset for the citizens of Taipei and its visitors to share, at a fair and reasonable price. It hasn't yet been turned into a privatized slug in the hip pocket. While Taipei is the home of many transnational corporations like ACER Inc, they are all busy inventing and marketing 'new' products and 'new' services, not locking up and cartelling the public assets accrued with the sweat and toil of earlier public-minded generations - as has happened in Australia in the last decade, be-jesus!
In the central part the transit lines are underground - indeed some of it got flooded in the worst Typhoon for over 90 years just days before we arrived - but on the outer sections, the tracks are largely above ground and you look over the suburbs as you head out to Tamkang. I am amazed how quickly the city got back up and working after the typhoon. Two days ago there were 40,000 cars submerged in underground car parks, while there are still signs of hoses pumping water out of many of those basements, the power is back on everywhere we went, and there is little sign of the earlier flooding.
2001, Sept 21
Today we are going off to have lunch with C's old boss, when she worked as a Research Assistant for the New Party, back in 1996. He is Long-bin Hau, a Member of Parliment for the New Party. We had a pizza in Lai Lai Sherton in downtown Taipei. He was a very nice fellow, and spoke near perfect English so I was able to have a full conversation - no translation by C required. He has a brother with a software company which is interesting. Taiwan seems to have a thriving software industry. They certainly recognise the value of it, and the need for intellectual protection. Although, like the Europeans, they tend to embed software in some hardware device, to get return on investiment on such intellectual property.
Long-bin got us two passes into parliment, into Legislative Yuan which was sitting and was discussing the recent typhoon damage. A female opposition member got up to the podium to challenge the government member responsible for the Taipei infrastructure. She attacked him as incompetent, blamed him for effectively causing the submerging of the 40,000 cars and peoples' houses in some low lying areas, by not having adequate flood mitigation measures in place. This woman seemed to be a good actress - she went from tears to smiles, from a loud angry voice to a quiet and articulate deliberation, all supported by a power-point presentation up on a very large screen. All the time that she verbally blasted the minister, he stood silently behind another podium, not flinching a bit, very relaxed. When it finally became the ministers turn to answer her accusations, he simply called for one of his senior public serrvants to come forward, to address the womans questions, and didn't answer anything himself! C tells me this is a pretty quiet day in the Yuan, which can get quite heated, with the throwing of glasses of water upon an opponent from time-to-time, and even the occasional upturning of tables and fist fights! That's robust democracy for you, in this newest of democracies... all in the house, definitely better than coupes and revolutions. It really very interesting seeing a new democracy in action. People we talked to seem so much more into political issues than back in Australia. The Taiwanese seem to be really soaking up the full spectrum of what democracy offers to people. It crossed my mind what a great place it would be, at this point in time, to study democracy in action. It would make a great PhD study for a socio-political student.
2001, Sept 26
Today we went to Tamkang University where the conference is being held, to check in. We walked up through a narrow commercial street to the steep stone steps that lead up to the University. There is a Naval Museum with scale models of many of the famous ships from much of naval history. The museum is in the shape of a ship bow, and the upper story is the modelled as a ship (controls). They have an impressive array of sjip models in here - if you are into this sort of thing, which I'm not, I wouldn't be surprised if it was amongst the best of the collections of such models.
We then went to the right building to register. C wasn't on the list, but they gave her a complimentary pass, which was very good of them, so were did the 3-days together. She knew of the keynote speaker Hsi-Kuo Chang (HK), and was very surprised to see him there at a technical conference, as she only knew of him as a writer of sci-fi - at which he was quite famous. Sure enough it was the same HK - the following evening at the conference dinner we got to sit on his table, along with the conference chair (Prof. Timothy Shih) and Jianhua Ma another very personably fellow from Hosei University in Japan.
I delivered my paper to the agent workshop. It ended up getting selected as 'Best paper' for the workshop, which was a very nice honour. I got instructed to be there later in the evening to get presented with the award. But I couldn't be there alas, which was really disappointing (unlikely to pickup one of these awards again, for some long time), as we had a scheduled family restaurant diner with C's dad, who I hadn't yet met, and this was to be the big evening - the father-in-law / son-in-law dinner, 5 years in the making.
The following evening we went to the Chinese bacquet which was the conference dinner. The food was fantastic and I leant the meaning of "gan bei, gan bei". The higher up the academic, the better the drinker it seemed to me:). I got a request from HK to take back to the University of Melbourne, to see whether we would be interested in hosting a future version of the DMS conference (for which I later got no support for in the dept, despite my keeness). He knew the city of Melbourne well, as his daughter had spent a year studying at the Uni of Melbourne. It turns out that Timothy Shih was a great player of the Er Hu (a two-stringed Chinese instrument/violin). He came to a fork in the road early in his choice of career between playing the Er Hu professionally, or embarking on the computing career he currently is well into as a professor. His students dragged him up on stage to do an impromptu performance, which was excellent.
Photo 4: The Grand Hotel - built by the wife of Cheng Kai Chek, recently refurbished.
2001, Sept 26
On the way back from Tamkang University on the last day of the conference, we got off at Chien Tan Station. C went to a course, with her mum, in the Chien Tan Youth Activity Centre (a part of the CYC) - some new product selling franchise. I walked across a motorway, then up through the grounds of the Grand Hotel, sat in a shop there and sampled some of the locally grown green tea. This place was built by/for the wife of Cheng Kai Chek - herself one of three famous Soong sisters from China, all of whom married into powerful dynasties. It has been restored relatively recently, as it was heavily damaged by fire. The foyer is wonderfully luxurious: both Chinese and modern western at the same time. While the marble floors echo many a western five star foyer, the columns and their designs and the proportions of everything about, are of classic Chinese origin in their design. In the gift shops there is a mingle of expensive jade sculptures, and the occasional prism of glass with laser beam etchings embedded deep in the heart of it. This hotel is the venue for the next PRIMA conference ... I've really got to get another paper accepted into that one!
Photo 5: The traditionally tiled roof of a shed in the grounds of the Grand Hotel.
Yesterday afternoon, we went on a day trip from the conference by bus to the National Palace Museum - it is set against and into a hill, that in some way reminds me of the Egyptian tomb of ___ and probably for similar reason: there is much treasure and antiquities in this place! The National Palace Museum houses the third largest collection of artifacts after only the Louvre in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Over 2 million individual items, another 500,000 scrolls of text and drawings. Every thing that is currently on display is there for one month only. They have enough artifacts to have a different collection on display each month for the next 20 years, without repeating the display of any item - and there is a hell of a lot on display!