Category Archives: Massive Missives

The Earth is flat.

It’s true.

Or at least, it is as true as any other scientific statement. You see, I think that scientists are wrong. About evolution, about atomic energy, about astronomy and about the life, the universe and everything. (42.)

Now, I am not about to dismiss science as the thing to which all intelligent apes should aspire. And I am not about to subscribe to “Creationist Weekly.” (Their slogan? ‘God made it in a week. And so do WE!’) But I have some issues with science, generally accepted scientific truths, and the way that we simply accept them.

There is this trend in which the theories of before are ridiculed and debased before the altar of contemporary science. Today’s scientists may be standing on the shoulders of those that came before, but they’re kicking a few heads as they stand. Old theories are taught in schools with scorn and the invitation to join in the learned chuckling at those poor silly buggers that came before.

The Earth is flat. This was the prevailing theory for hundreds of years. And the chances are that you were probably taught this in a “How could they be so stupid?” way. I know I was. But the problem is this. At the time that the statement was first made, the theory was sound. It made sense. All the bright sparks agreed. It become public knowledge. And you know what? To the average layman, the earth MAY AS WELL BE flat. Does the curvature of the earth really effect your day? Really? No. But  you see, at some point, this theory was binned in favour of the shiny new theory that the earth was round. And public opinion was once again changed, and flat-earthers were regarded as morons. The problem is, you see, that the earth ISN’T round… never was, never will be. It’s geoid. (Which is a fancy way to describe a slightly flattened ball.) Now that we know that the earth is geoid, we can safely regard ourselves superior to both flat-earthers and round-earthers.

We have all seen the evolution of astronomy, and we all know the stories about how the universe was formed. Sure you do. First, the sun and all the planets revolved around us. Then, they didn’t, we revolved around the sun, and the universe revolved around us. Then, it didn’t, and we became just one planetary system in a large universe, all expanding away from some central point. And now, now we don’t even have that. Now, we are in a universe that is both infinite AND expanding. (Don’t ask what an infinite universe can be expanding into, your head will hurt.) Also, despite the theory of red and blue light shift and our means for establishing relative distances between stars and galaxies, apparently, we are now ALL simultaneously at the centre of the universe, and we are ALL moving away from one another. See… I am not sure what you were taught at school. I was taught that once upon an instance (because before the instance, there was no time. Geek joke, sorry)… there was a sigularity. And that singularity existed at a point where time had no meaning. t=0. Something happened, some critical mass was reached (Don’t ask how something unaffected by time can undergo change, your head will hurt…) and it blew up. Bang! BIG bang! And from that moment onwards, the universe basically exploded outwards into a uniformly expanding hole. That’s what I was taught, and that was what passed for public opinion.  Now.. it is one step behind the curve. And I am sure that in a few generations, children will be indulgently taught just how quaint we were at the turn of the century, just how mislead and ill-informed we were. And perhaps we are. But as right as scientists may be in the future, they only go to demonstrate that until we have an absolute truth, we can only be correct until someone improves on our theories.

Newton. Arguably the greatest mind our race has ever known. Have a flick through The Principia if you have any doubt, and remember that he did it all by himself. He gave us universal gravitation and the three laws of motion. (As well as a LOT more.. Newton was a very busy boy.) He was a bright lad, and he revolutionised science. But even he was proven incorrect (or at least partially incorrect) by the brighter boys of the twentieth century. Atomic gravitation and particle theory changed the way we look at gravity, and well… basically, Newton may have laid the foundations, but someone else is going to decorate the living room.  (Newton had a few other failings as well… he remained convinced until his death in certain basic theories of transmutation of elements. He believed that it was indeed possible to turn lead into gold, make himself invisible, and a bunch of other things.) But the thing is… in time, even Einstein and Hawking will be proven incorrect, or improved upon in some fundamental way.  (Einstein may already be on the way out, a science team has recently determined that the speed of light is NOT necessarily a constant in a vacuum. )

Evolution is another thing that is evolving. (Cough)

There was a time when the best of the biological world were firmly of the opinion that life as we know it is the way that life has always been. This despite some embarrassingly big bones that were being discovered. Along came Darwin, and his theory of adaptation determining the survival of a species. It was violently opposed (Not least by the Church… but seriously, I am not going to bring them into this… suffice it to say that the Church has always been the grumpy old man of the human race, resistant to change and demanding of respect for tradition.) by basically everyone at the time. In retrospect, they were perhaps not all that incorrect in doing so. There are a few issues with the theory of evolution, and even Darwin was said to have despaired of trying to explain the evolution of the eye. Now, I am not saying that evolution was wrong. The fossil record clearly demonstrates that creatures evolve, and then some. My contention is that the Theory of Evolution, like most scientific theories is subject to correction subsequent to advances in the field. Who is to say that we are not going to find something out in the next decade or two that will force us to rethink our current truths? As it is, anthropologists are divided over the diaspora of the human race, how it was that we spread from Africa to India, what happened to our tools along the way (apparently, after mining for flint, crafting flint tools and using them for almost a million years in the Olduvai Gorge, we somehow forgot how to use them on the way to India and the Asian sub-continent. It is something that has yet to be explained.)  and why we decided to go to India in the first place…. I mean, have you seen what they eat?


I guess what I am trying to say is this:

Flat-Earthers, Creationists and other non-believers are wrong. But in a few generations, so might we be.

I have a sneaking suspicion that at some point, someone is going to have a good look at Quantum mechanics and is going to point out that really, honestly, truly, it’s bullshit. It has been said of Quantum mechanics that anyone who is not outraged at the description of its base theories has not understood them. And I think that that statement may be more prescient than originally thought. Consider… we are currently unable to explain the actions of certain particles. Thus, it is theorised that the particle is both a particle and a wave. It requires a fair amount of mathematical hokum, but the numbers eventually work. So now we have something that is two things simultaneously, but assumes the form of only one when it is being observed. The same applies to the half-lives of certain radioactive isotopes… they only degrade if they are not being observed. It’s tantamount to suggesting that as long as you stare at your banana sandwich, it will never go bad. Patently, something is happening, and my argument is that we simply can’t understand it.

This has happened before in science… hell, it happens ALL the time. When we lit a fire, we were not witnessing an exothermic reaction of particulate matter… rather, we had succeeded in igniting the phlogiston contained within the item we were burning. Mountains were not formed from the grinding together of tectonic plates, but rather had always been there, formed during the formation of the planet. Meteor impact craters were not the result of strikes from extra-planetary bodies, but the result of underground steam explosions. So perhaps… just perhaps, quantum mechanics will someday be exposed as an understandable error based on the knowledge that mankind once possessed.


We are constantly evolving. Not just biologically, but in philosophy and mentality too. Our children ARE more advanced than we were. They’re exposed to concepts far more advanced than those we were taught, they are kept at the cusp of our understanding. They stand on our shoulders, and we stand on the shoulders of giants. All we need to remember is that one day too, we will be kicked by those above us.










Another year gone.

Well, if that was 2011, then I guess we’re done with that. Nothing like another year flying by to make you feel that little bit older, eh? And it’s strange too, because 2011 was a jam packed year. I made up something facetious and irreverent (who me?) for the New Year and my Facebook update, but it really is weird.

So what does this year bring? If the Mayans are right (And they were so right about everything else that they MUST be…) then this year is the last one. Ever. The end of everything, the spinning down of the universe and the final establishment of entropy over this universe and every other. What is it with humans and numbers? There is something about calendars clicking over that makes us go all fuzzy and stupid.

Remember Y2K? Remember the Y2K bug and how basically everything was going to collapse in a giant technological black-out? How we were going to be reduced to savagery and eating beans out of tins? (Assuming that we weren’t reliant on electric can openers, of course.) Well, I am not sure about you, but there always seemed to be something vaguely fishy about the Y2K scenario. I mean, I am not trying to be funny, but when my Windows calendar goes out of whack, it prompts me to reset the date and time, but still lets me listen to music while I do it.

Last year was a big year for doom prophets. Well, just the one notable one really, but he did successfully predict the end of the world TWICE. In the same year. To my recollection, neither of them happened. I may be wrong though, I don’t get out much. (Although I do think that I might have noticed a lack of new content on YouTube. Not immediately, you realise, but certainly by now.) Yes, I am talking about Harold Camping, a man who has finally given up on his day job of doom-mongering, and has retired to a (hopefully) quiet dotage of disappointed living.

It’s not a religious thing, either. It seems to be a human condition. It is as though we feel that the entire universe needs to recognise in some spectacular fashion the ability of just one planetary species to count very slowly to 2000ish. And you may be scoffing, along with me, at the millions of morons that whole-heartedly fall for this crud every time. And then, well… you have to answer a few questions. Do you observe your birthday? Do you celebrate in some fashion a relatively arbitrary count of 365 rotations of our planet? Do you count anniversaries? Did you make New Year resolutions? It’s stupid really. Why 365 days? Because it represents a complete orbit of our sun? But it doesn’t, not really. 365.25 (Or thereabouts) is a much better measurement of an entire Earth orbit. And really, who cares about Earth and our piffling little Sun? What about our galaxy? Or our galactic rotation? Or the celebration of shifting another standard galactic unit of distance from our neighbouring galaxies? Nope. These will not do. Intelligent apes that we are, everything revolves around our ability to count steadily upwards.

But I digress… So how was your 2011? Did it bring you everything that you wished? Is there any chance of 2012 treating you any differently? Or are you relying on the fact that the calendar has clicked over to bring you a change of fate? My guess is that like me, you’re going to complacently sit back and allow the world to happen around you. It’s no big deal, we all do it. Or do we? We live in a world of plastic celebrities and sentiment. We watch our plastic TV shows, all stamped from the same mold, all relying on the same plastic jokes, gimmicks and situations. We live our plastic lives, in our plastic worlds, with all our plastic friends. And the only good thing about plastic is that it is cheaply recycled. Aren’t you getting tired of the same rubbish on TV? The same tired repeats and reboots of classic movies? Honestly… is there any real difference between X-Factor and something like Britain’s Got Talent? Is there any need to film another ‘Transformers’ movie? Are you satisfied with what you are watching? Are you satisfied with what you are paying for? Are you satisfied?

This year, I am celebrating the counting ability of my race by making one final resolution. I am going to make a change. Not to the world, hell… probably not even to the people around me… but I am going to make a change for myself. If nothing else, the start of this year marks a decision for me to improve myself. Lots of little things that I have been ignoring and putting off are going to be dealt with. I’m going to get into shape. I am going to write. I want to study something. I am going to make the time in my day to devote a portion of my energies to the pursuit of my dreams.

Will I succeed? Will I make a difference? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But without trying, the answer is a certainty.

One of my favourite movie quotes is from the Terminator series. It was one of those things that I heard as a kid, remembered, and somehow still has meaning.

“No fate but what we make.” It’s true, you know?

So my question to you is this. How are you planning to live this year?

Being a Man.

All my life, I’ve been a man.

With all that that means, and with all that that carries, I have been a man.

When I was a lot younger, people older than me would call me “young man”, but only humorously. You see, they were forecasting, for I was still a boy, a kid, a youngster. There were no expectations or responsibilities beyond an assumed interest in girls, and an expected interest in sports. But time went by, and I grew older. People called me “young man”, but meant it. Legally no longer a minor, I was now expected to be living life to the fullest, assumed to be drinking heavily, partying harder and generally doing all those things that come naturally to university students and school leavers. I was expected to work hard at my studies, expected to have some form of additional income (other than my parents) and I was expected to be looking to the future whenever I could focus long enough on the present. It was assumed that I would have a steady-ish girlfriend, and I would be expected to have some form of sporting allegiance to a club in some popular sport.

When I next looked, I was being called a “young man” by a few less people, and just “man” by a few more. I know that I am in my thirties, and that to people under 20, I must appear hopelessly old, if not old-fashioned. For those of you that know me personally, you will know that I am not a person who gives overly much credence to the opinions of others, especially when those opinions are about me or my actions. Life is too short to worry about pleasing other people. Focus on pleasing yourself and the ones you love, and the rest will fall into place, or fall out of your life entirely. And those that do… well, they were not worth having in the first place. That said, I know that at the age of 34, I am now roughly halfway through our promised three-score and ten. That makes me middle-aged. And that is an appellation that is uncomfortable in its bearing. You see, there are certain expectations that come with the role of the middle-aged man. I should be settled, I should be providing for a family. Hell, I should HAVE a family of my own. I should be settled into a career and I should be thinking hard about provisions for my retirement and future.

And there’s the rub. You see, I know myself to be old-fashioned. I understand this about myself. I believe that there is still a place in this world for gallantry and I believe (for better or worse) that being a man entails stepping up to responsibilities rather than letting others deal with them. I believe in self-education and betterment, and I believe that there is nothing that someone cannot do if they would only put their mind to it. I believe that honesty really is the best policy, and would rather tell someone an awkward truth than a convenient lie. I expect this all of myself, and I expect it of others. I have a few “old man” quirks to go with all that dogma as well. I cannot abide reality television. I resent having to allow someone else to edit my perception of reality. I cannot abide the shallow tackiness of it all, and I find television 99% garbage. I have hit an age where a lot of the new music really DOES sound alike to me, and I struggle to keep track of new starlets and one-hit-wonder boy bands with more abdominal muscles than lyrical ability. I like to choose my words carefully, and I like to use the word most appropriate to a given situation. That I sometimes confuse a listener (I believe) speaks more about their lack of vocabulary than my poor word choice. I read. A lot. Not always fiction either. I believe in personal choice. In all things.

So you see, I can understand it when younger people look at me as though I am hopelessly outdated, possessed of a bygone ethos and old-fashioned morals. But there is more than that. I’m a follower of science, a disciple of empirically proven, repeatable and documented fact. There is no room in that doctrine for religion, and thus no room in my life for it. I like to think that that makes me something of a liberal, a far cry from an old-fashioned conservative. I use the internet. Frequently. For a hobby. I like to keep up to date on social memes and viral videos. I am online for at least an hour every day, more often two or three hours a day. I enjoy a range of “younger” pastimes, not the least of which are blogging, playing the guitar or playing online games.

And I don’t think that I am alone. I think that there are others like me, men that are trapped somewhere between the manly virtues of the generation before us, and the worldly requirements of the world that they have bequeathed us. I think that there are others who have adapted themselves to a world where political correctness is king, to a world where equality supersedes merit, others who have had to find an acceptable middle road between chivalry and perceived chauvinism.

I believe that being a man means standing by your principles. I believe that being a man means listening to the opinions of others, but making judgement for yourself. I believe that being a man means having no master but yourself, and being subject to nothing but your standards.

Ironically, I believe that believing all of this probably DOES make me middle-aged.

So be it. I am content to be myself.

Ah… the boob tube.


One of the <ahem>  benefits of being a jobseeker and being around the house a bit is that one gets a fair exposure to the television. And whilst Britain may embody the very best of culture and history, its television is fleetingly brilliant. Fleetingly, you say?

Indeed. Fleetingly. There are channels… endless channels where the entire daily schedule is comprised of rerun shows. Now, these shows are being rerun for a reason. They are all great shows.  But they are made, and then they are run and rerun over and over and over and over…  It is as though the television-makers are only fleetingly creative. They make one or two good shows, and then they show it over and over again.

Weirdly, the British channels seems singularly unable to run any show in sequence. Not only do they show shows so amazingly out of sequence that you can watch the final episode of FRIENDS (Season 10 filmed in 2004 – So SEVEN years ago.) followed directly by an episode from Season 4 (filmed in 1998), but they quite often show reruns of shows that are still being shown too. For example, I enjoy watching Top Gear. (Yes, Clarkson is a pillock , but the cars are great.) Top Gear is still being made, still being shown and still being enjoyed by a massive audience. And yet it is possible to watch back to back episodes of Top Gear filmed YEARS apart. Back to a time where Clarkson had hair, and could see his belt buckle.

Today I watched a TV show called Antique Restoration Roadshow. Yes, its a reality TV show in the strictest sense, but there is no drama beyond the explanation of each item and its history, and as someone that considers himself something of a history buff (or at least a fan) it is a great show. My mother mentioned to me halfway through that the show was a rerun. “From probably 15 years ago.” I was a little dubious until she indicated the male presenter and told me who he was. The middle-aged man on the screen was definitely someone that I recognised…. as an older antique show presenter. And yes, there was definitely at least 15 years between the way he looked then and the way he looked now.

Now, whilst I can appreciate that certain shows are considered classics, and therefore NEED to be dragged out on the silver screen at least once a year, there is a certain lazy stupidity to dragging out shows that nobody really cares about year after year. I am relatively certain that there is no groupie fandom associated with the Antique Restoration Roadshow. Likewise, I fail to see the point of having the Top Gear boys extolling the virtues of the “new” 2005 Suzuki Swift, much less the listed prices that they mention. It’s stupid. It’s retarded. It makes watching TV a complete lottery. Each show is advertised, but there is no way to know WHICH episode you’re going to be watching before you actually sit down to it.

The best way to solve the problem, and indeed a possible way of forcing TV executives off of their lazy backsides, is to have a little disclaimer in the corner of the screen testifying to the fact that the show was “first aired in September 1997.” That way, the occasional viewer like myself is not going to be surprised when the talk show they are watching suddenly introduces a celebrity that is four years dead, or mentions that the new phenomenon called the internet is something worth watching.

As things that need getting used to in the UK, the TV is something that I am still irritated with. About the only thing current on the TV is the sport coverage, and well… I never have given a shit about sport. It is a strange axiom of being a man that one is supposed to know details of all sporting events, be able to comment intelligently on referee decisions, speculate on upcoming games and one should always ALWAYS have a sport and a team. Football fan? (That’s soccer to you Yanks.) You should have at least one favourite team. Weirdly, many of the women here also follow sport, also have a team. I have discovered more than once that I am regarded as something of an oddity for being utterly unable to give a shit about organised sports.

Apparently, the World Cup rugby is on again. This is something that happens every four or five years, a lot like the Olympics. Like the Olympics, the event draws thousands of on-site supporters and billions of TV viewers. Like the Olympics, it is something that I don’t watch. I have a father and brother-in-law that are avid viewers and supporters and have already met people in my day that have demanded (quite aggressively, I might add) to know who I support and why. I think there is some scope for choice given that whilst I was born in South Africa, I travel on an Irish passport, am resident in England, and lived most of the last decade in Taiwan. Unfortunately, the last World Cup game I watched was in 1995, the final between South Africa and someone else. I was there with a group of university friends, attracted by the deal offered by the bar… which involved free drinks and massive discounts every time someone scored a try and scored in some other way. I recall (hazily) that South Africa won without scoring any tries… a disappointment in that I drank no free beers that night.

A story like that never scored points in South Africa, and doesn’t score points here either. Sometimes, I miss Taiwan… with its fanatical devotion to American sports, and utter negligence of everything else. I score even less points when I discuss my interests with my disbelieving audience, interests that include writing, reading and learning how to do things. Even in a country that reruns 15 year old TV shows about antiques, an interest in predominantly academic pursuits is a little strange. LUckily for this Blog, I have no intention of changing myself to conform to public expectation… especially when you consider that that self-same public are too sheeplike to have complained about their TV schedule.

Nonetheless, my blog for the day is done.

See you need time!



Dear Taiwan….

Dear Taiwan,

Well, old friend, it looks as though we’re about to part our ways. Again.

This time, I leave your shores not to explore utterly new territory, but to return to my family. Home, it seems, will once again be where the heart is.

And while the move promises stress and sacrifice, sweat and strain… I find myself counting down the days with a smile.

I first came to the Ilha Formosa in 2002. It’s 2011, and it seems that what was intended to be a one-year-two-at-the-most trip became something much more than that. My entire adult life, the bit that counts, has been here in Taiwan. All the things that people do when they leave home? I’ve done all of those things in Taiwan. Normally with an exchange of broken English and shattered Chinese. Housing agreements, employment contracts, surgery, job interviews, import interviews and somewhat drunken taxi rides. All here. My friends and family will probably agree that the last thing I need is more self-confidence, but that is exactly what Taiwan and my life here has given me. If I can/could do it in Kaohsiung, then I can/will do it in London. The world is my 牡蠣, and I intend on success.

And if I am taking something away from Taiwan, then it is only fair that I leave something behind for you.

This then is the Yeti’s advice for Taiwan, and the people that stay.

Cherish your children. Let them think. 

Taiwan has amazing children. They are polite, respectful and for the most part, are easily motivated students. They are happy to learn, demand answers and satisfaction from their teachers, and respond well to interesting lessons. They do not wear hoodies and terrorize old people. They do not kick one another to death on YouTube, and as a rule can be trusted not to steal. These are good kids. They work hard, and can be relied upon to complete work that is set them. They normally come from small families, and enjoy a level of education unlike any other country I have seen. They are outstanding.

And yet, any creativity that they may have had is stamped out by an education system based on Confucian ideals and rote learning. Repetition and regurgitation are the desired results of Taiwanese schools, creative thought and lateral thought are not. Before they start their elementary school career, most children are happy to venture an opinion, take a guess or create something original. Within a year or two, these impulses and abilities are stifled, often never to return. For all their eagerness to please, older school children are afraid to guess, afraid to venture an opinion and often have no opinion other than the teacher’s stated position. This speaks of a failure of the most disgusting magnitude of Taiwanese schools. It is only laziness on the part of teachers that refuses to recognise original thought, only gross ineptitude that would insist on every child in a class having the same thoughts and answers.

These children are intended to be your future, Taiwan. They will one day be the face that the world sees. Would you have them accepted as innovators, or would you be relegated to a nation of emulators… nothing more than a country of institutionalised plagiarism?

You are a first world country. Step up.

Every country has its foibles, and every country has its failures.  For the most part, Taiwan is a first world success story.

The Taiwanese postal system is phenomenal. It is easily on a par with any Western country, and in my opinion, is probably better than most. The Taiwanese medical system is open to vast abuse, but still provides world-class care to the end-user. I have heard tons of horror stories from the people around me, and yet… whenever it has come to me and mine, the doctors and dentists of this country have proven to be compassionate, efficient, and English speaking. Public transport is cheap and abundant, reliable and efficient. The new subway system in Kaohsiung is great, far cleaner and better than the British Underground. (Cheaper too.)

Government departments seem genuinely intent on helping their customers, and whilst I know that griping about the police and the tax department is de rigueur for all residents of Taiwan, they have both been only too eager to help me when I have asked. Police have come to our aid within minutes when required, animal services within a half-hour. The Kaohsiung Tax Bureau is fast, friendly and so efficient I always leave with a smile. (Filing taxes as a FOREIGN NATIONAL has never taken more than ten minutes, INCLUDING queuing and all the calculations.)

But Taiwan is a failure in three regards.

Your animal treatment is pathetic. Animals are better treated in shanty towns in Tanzania than they are in the gleaming skyscrapers of Kaohsiung. Taiwan is a disappointment, an abject failure and deserves only the harshest censure for their apparent apathy with regards animal rights. Every single government “initiative” and legislation has been as a result of campaigning and lobbying by animal rights groups. There is no governmental accountability when it comes to animal care, and laws are enforced with a minimum of effort. Animal abuse is widespread and endemic, tolerated by Taiwanese citizens with a casualness that is shocking. For every person that cares about animals in Taiwan, there are fifty that believe animals are property to be caged or disposed of when unwanted. The western concept of an animal being part of the family simply doesn’t exist here. It is a slap in the face for Taiwanese generosity of spirit.

Your traffic is your second failure. There is nothing wrong with your road system. Your roads are well surfaced, drain well and are big enough to handle the load. But your drivers, coupled with an apathetic and protected police force, have resulted in a completely chaotic traffic system. I challenge anyone to stand at any given intersection with traffic lights anywhere in Taiwan. I guarantee that within ten minutes at least one person will have run the red light. If you pick a busy intersection, it is three or four violations a minute. Where are your police? What are they doing? Why do you always see three or four of them in a police car, but never one ticketing people that run lights? Why is double and triple parking condoned? Why are scooters allowed to ride on pavements? Does nobody in this country care enough to get anything done? How many accidents must be tolerated before someone says “Enough”?

Your level of English is atrocious. I understand that countries like Bali and Tanzania are more focused on tourism, but why is that EVERY taxi driver in Bali spoke English to me, while I always land up speaking Chinese to taxi drivers in Taiwan? Some of them do speak English, granted, but the VAST majority do not. And I always wonder (as I direct my driver in my pidgin Mandarin) how a tourist is expected to get from the airport to his hotel. I have YET to get an English speaking driver at the international airport. How is it possible that Third World Bali has better English as a second language than First World Taiwan?

You are an independent nation. Be proud of who you are. 

Something that almost all of my Taiwanese friends have asked me at one point or another is… “Do you think Taiwan should be part of China?”

My answer is, was and always will be, NO. Taiwan is an independent, sovereign nation. That you have the misfortune of having China looming over you is terrible. Nonetheless, your heritage is Chinese, and there is no escaping that. It is your history and your culture. But where China has stagnated culturally, where China persecutes and prosecutes anything different or deemed a threat, Taiwan allows personal freedoms difficult to find in Southern Asia. Taiwan is a beacon of hope, a demonstration of what Chinese based culture COULD be.

That said, you are in danger of becoming a pseudo-American sycophant. Your national sports are basketball and baseball. You worship the Americans. You follow their news more closely than your own. And I understand… really, I do… Big Yankee Brother is all that protects you from the nasty Chinese. But you can be allies, and you can enjoy their protection WITHOUT assimilating their culture. The Taiwanese culture is a proud tradition of over 5000 years. Why on earth would you want to emulate an overfed country that was literally rubbing sticks together for fire when you were making fireworks and paper lanterns? Be proud of what you have, Taiwan, lest you lose it forever.

I’m sure that what I have had to say will spark debate and criticism. As long as you’re thinking about these things, I am happy.

I leave Taiwan with a heavy heart, knowing well that I will miss the friends that I have made here, knowing also that I will return one day. (To teach or to visit remains to be seen.)


The Yeti.

It’s the end of my world…

It may be that there are a host of changes staring me in the face. It may be the coming emigration, and all the paperwork involved with that. It may be the quitting of a perfectly good job in a perfectly good job market and heading into a struggling market to find work. It may be that the end of the world is nigh. But I’ve been a little more introspective and reflective than usual.

Wait… what? The end is nigh?

<sigh> Yes. Of course. I am not going to denigrate my blog by linking to the garbage, but you can Google it for yourself. It is the considered opinion of some (Not all) Christians that the world ends on May 21st. (Just four more shopping days until the end of the world!) There seems to be some contention as to whether it is actually the END of the planet, or if it is just the so-called “Rapture”… a religio-cosmological removal of true believers and a subsequent hell-on-earth scenario for the rest of us until the TRUE end of the world. Some sites say that the phenomenon will begin at 6pm in every city in the world on May 21st. That’s right… 6pm. A sort of “rolling Armageddon” if you will. God will obviously take into account daylight savings time and political boundaries during his razing of the planet. Which I think is pretty damned decent of him, given that planet-wide demolition would seem to be his goal.

At the end of it all, Harold Camping, the man behind the prediction, and member of a religious radio station has certainly drummed up PLENTY of celebrity for his show, and most likely secured lucrative advertising rights too. We’re going to have to ignore that the same Harold Camping predicted the SAME end of the world on September 4th, 1994. (A day I remember as being a lazy Sunday notable only for its complete lack of world-ending events, Rapture or Satanic power struggles for the dominion of Man. I believe we had hotdogs for lunch.)

There is speculation that Harold Camping is only making these predictions to further his own ends. But that would mean that a religious man was lying for personal gain. And that would be wrong…. right?

Actually… there have been a few predictions of disaster aimed at the end of this year.

As a recent survivor of a magnitude 14 earthquake and a 170 metre (170 METRES!!!) Tsunami, I feel honoured to be able to still type without having to hold my breath. Oh… and my internet connection is pretty good considering that Taiwan was meant to have been torn in half. For those of you in the western hemisphere who perhaps have no idea of what I am talking about… well…  Here in the East, we have our fair share of religious crackpots too. Enter Master Wang. (Seriously… his name in Romanised English is “Wang”. ) Master Wang is/was a Feng Shui “master”. Now, in Taiwan, Feng Shui is far more than a practical and mystic way to orient your furniture. (No pun intended) Feng Shui comprises a system of beliefs that has commentary on life, the universe and everything. Feng Shui (Pronounced “FONG SHWAY” for those of you who are still botching it!) is a big deal here. People consult their Feng Shui teachers in the way that priests used to be approached with life and family problems in the past in the west. Anyways, Master Wang upped and burbled to his followers a prediction of a magnitude 14 earthquake that would strike Taiwan at 10:42 and 37 seconds on May 11th. Yes, that’s right. Magnitude FOURTEEN. Because exceeding the maximum recorded quake in known history by a factor of 5 on an exponential scale is nothing when you have spiritualism on your side. Anyway… the resulting tsunami was set to return at 170 metres in height. Weirdly, it would take a further 6 days for the tsunami to hit Taiwan. (Apparently, Master Wang isn’t strong in geography or geology skills.) To survive the tsunami, many of his loyal dupes followers purchased converted shipping containers for a princely NT$ 160k each. (That’s about 4000 Euro in real money.) (I used to quote real money in US Dollars… but… they’re about to exceed their national debt cap, which raises some concerns as to the liquidity of their government. Euros it is.) There is speculation that Wang was involved in some way with the production of these containers. But that would mean that a religious man was lying for personal gain. And that would be wrong…. right?

Probably my favourite Doomsday prediction is the: Y2K Global Collapse. No wait, I prefer the…

The Mormon belief in the Return of Christ in 1891.  No wait, I prefer the…

The Jehovah’s Witness END OF THE WORLD and SECOND COMING of  1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, 1994! No wait, I prefer the…

The conjunction of the major planets and our subsequent magnetic destruction of December 17th, 1919.  No wait, I prefer the…

Miller’s End of the World March 21st 1843 October 22nd 1844. No wait… I prefer the…

Mayan Calendar End of the World in 2012!

Oh yes… we have a winner. This Doomsday belief comes from a heady mix of ignorance and gross stupidity, mixed in with a dash of fervour and absolutely no common sense whatsoever.

See, there were these Indian types, right….  Sorry… make that MesoAmericans. (Because calling a Mayan an “American” is more politically correct than calling him “Indian”.) Anyways, these guys used great big stones to mark their calendars. And according to some arbitrary measurement, they had “Ages” of the world. (Not really arbitrary, it is just that they used Base 20 and Base 18 mathematics, and that makes my head hurt.) Given that they all died out thanks to greedy white people that discovered their land and killed anything that they couldn’t steal natural causes, they only carved stones for a little way into the future. Living in their third world, they made calendars for every day until the end of their fourth world. Which is pretty industrious considering most of US can’t program a VCR three days in advance. Anyways, someone got hold of this, saw that their calender was marked until 2012, and made the logical leap that that meant that the world ended in 2012. Which is tantamount to you reaching the end of the fourth chapter in a book and simply throwing it away because the book is “done”. Irrespective of the fact that the Mayans had already lived through three Ages… suggesting that they were comfortable with the concept of a new Age beginning, and irrespective of the fact that the Mayans celebrated the end of each Age with MASSIVE parties… suggesting that they approached it in the way teachers approach the end of term, well.. irrespective of all this, we have a remarkably popular Doomsday event. And a Hollywood movie. (Which makes it real… of course. The same way Ben Afleck made Pearl Harbour real… the way that the only people who ever shot Nazis were American soldiers… and how if aliens ever did land, they would of course gravitate to Washington DC… not anywhere in Europe. )

Ah well. It amuses me that people have been falling for the same scientific or religious hyperbole for thousands of years. It saddens me that the liars often get to make more than one Doomsday prediction, an occurrence that I simply cannot fathom. It disgusts me that money is made off of fear and ignorance by those who would abuse the trust that they have been given. It angers me that the media play their part in whipping up public furore. But then… stupid is as stupid does.

Me? I’ll plan for the future. One where nothing is going to absolve me of accountability tomorrow for my actions today.

Yeti out.

Red tape: What are we doing?

It’s a Sunday night, and I find myself sitting and working through the endless caveats and addendums of frequent flyer mile redemption. Bear in mind that I am not attempting anything arcane or utterly outlandish. This is a recognised frequent flyer group, and I am attempting to do something that has been offered to me as an option since the very first day I joined. Cash in my miles for free flights. There. I said it. Having said it, I confess to being somewhat out of my depth. And I can’t help thinking that if I am having troubles, then there must be plenty of others that do too.

Presumptuous?  Arrogant? Probably. But then… I know that I’m more intelligent than the average Joe. (My mom told me… it must be true.) I have a university degree. (That alone puts me in the “trainable if not intelligent” category.) And if I am spending hours trawling through endless hyper links without finding what I am looking for… well, I know that my suffering is not unique. Some of the people I have seen on my journeys bear testament to the fact that stupid people can and will travel. Whether it is the overweight woman who exclaimed “I’m an American, you can’t search me!” to nonplussed and unmoved airline security in Hong Kong, or the massively drunk man arguing with a check-in clerk that she was in fact working for his airline (She wasn’t), there are plenty of dumb people out there spending time at 33,000 feet. How do they redeem their miles? How do they get through the endless permutations of rules and regulations? Just the fact that somehow they do is enough to keep me plugging away at it.

Perhaps it is Red-Tape Fatigue.

You see, I’m not just trying to redeem some miles and get a comfier chair out of it. (Fetch….The Comfy Chair!) At the same time, I am orchestrating the planned emigration of myself, my non-EU wife and my decidedly non-EU dog. We’re trying to work out the shipping of some our household, we’re working out the intricacies of the Taiwanese tax system, and we’re doing a TEFL course. To say that the last few weeks have been characterised by bureaucratic bull is an understatement. And it got me thinking. (Not just about how some people get anything done, I know how they do it. It’s simple. They don’t. They ignore it, and hope that it will go away. I have friends who do that sort of thing… simply keep their heads buried in the sand while their visas expire.) No, it got me thinking… what are we doing? Why does it have to be so bloody-minded, obtuse and honestly, difficult beyond any reasonable point of expectation?

I understand that because something nasty happened in American airspace TEN YEARS ago, that airports might be a little leery. But anyone travelling on international flights will agree that security is really getting to be over the top. And I am not speaking about the countless stupidities of the TSA in the US. (There are hundreds of valid complaints about that organisation, go google them. Prepare to be dismayed, but not surprised… after all, when you give someone who has basically got their high school equivalency and nothing else a badge and a dab of authority… what do you expect?) I am speaking of “normal” security measures. The endless proof of identity that everyone from the check-in clerk to the flight attendants can (and will) ask for. The endless security checks. The fact that shoes and belts are now expected to be removed?  When did a BELT become a potential weapon? Oh yeah… from the first day that someone decided that a strip of leather with a weight on the end of it can cause damage. So… sometime after the death of the dinosaurs. How many planes have been held up at belt-point? How much damage could I do with my belt that I COULDN’T do with the freely given seat-belt extension? Besides, I’d bet my blog that even the chunky seat belt extension couldn’t even dent the glass in the windows. Travelling through Heathrow is the pits during winter. It’s freezing cold, the floor is NOT heated, and NOT carpeted. And there you stand, in socks. While some “trained security inspector” watches a conveyor belt go by. You’re juggling your passports, your tickets, your foreign exchange, your keys, your cellphone, your laptop, watch and other odds and ends that WERE in your pockets and bag… and then they expect you to put your shoes and belt back on. With a hundred people standing impatiently behind you.

And that’s another thing. Why? WHY? Why in this world of modern technology, WHY is an airline ticket still the same size and shape it was fifty years ago? Why does it have to be too big to fit into your wallet? Why can’t it fit neatly into your passport? Why not? There is NOTHING on the ticket that would prevent its being shrunk to a far more convenient size. Come on airlines! Here is a freebie. Cut the size of your tickets in half! Passengers will be happier! AND… you will be saving money on your paper rolls…. (should be halved, if my math is correct.)… and as a BONUS… you get to market yourself as “making every ecological cut possible.”

I understand that in today’s world, falsification of documents is a big thing. I understand that. I do. But red-tape seems to go above and beyond the logical requirements for proof of identity. Obtaining a UK Visa for a non-EU individual is a process of amazing depth and complexity. As a non-EU spouse of an EU citizen, my wife qualified for any one of FIVE different EU visa categories. Each visa would allow her entry, but only one of those would allow her to remain in the UK indefinitely. They are all similarly named, and all work around the theme of “EU Family”. Last time we tried for a visa for her (for my sister’s wedding), we applied for the wrong one. And we had to stand at the embassy computers filling out another form. An eleven page, MASSIVELY detailed form, I might add. This time, we thought smart. I phoned ahead, and we filled out the right form. As you might imagine, there is a lot of detail demanded, and we made use of the “save and return” feature that they offer on the online application. (Incidentally, in a master-stroke of bureaucratic thought, you fill out an ONLINE application, then PRINT IT OUT and hand it in in person. Gah.) When we arrived… we found that our application was out of date. By a day. Because even though we had “submitted” the application three days earlier, we had BEGUN the application more than a month before. Apparently, there is an expiry date involved on ones name and date of birth. So once again, we stood at the embassy computers making out a new form.

And here is the kicker. One of the stipulations of application is that you furnish the embassy with every trip made in the last ten years. EVERY trip. Do you know how many trips and holidays we have made in the last ten years? Considering that we live in one country, and each of our families live in another? That we lived in a fourth country in the interim? Thirty-seven. Thirty-seven international flights that we had to document with a date, reason and duration. Who the hell remembers the exact day that the went ANYWHERE ten years ago?

It seems to me that red-tape has been instituted to protect the company or country involved. Just as an insurance company can take refuge in the hundreds of fine print conditions before reluctantly paying out on a claim, the red-tape behind air travel and immigration, behind visas and studies and exports… all of this works against YOU. For 99.9%  of travellers, red-tape is a stupidity that must be endured. Unfortunately, life is not like a license agreement for computer software. I wish it was. For the 99.9%   of us that are genuine souls, we could just hand in our passports and other paraphernalia, click “next” and be on our way. But we can’t. We have to sit and sift through pages and pages of legalise normally remanded to badly designed web-pages, and get more and more frustrated. And it is “We” the users, the travellers and the tourists that are allowing the systems. And we’d love to organise a complaint and a response… but can you imagine the paperwork?

Stress is for the week…

I’m not going to be rocking any boats or rattling any cages when I observe that we live in an increasingly stress-filled world. (Apologies about the mixed metaphors… I love using them, it’s like having my cake on cloud nine.)

So it seems that our lifestyles are out to get us. I look about my collection of friends, some of whom are relatively well-adjusted, and I see a lot of tired faces. A lot of tired and stressed out people. And it is all our fault. Like the scene from Trainspotting, we choose life. We choose the job, the mortgage and the big-screen TV. We choose massive amounts of credit and we choose to live beyond our means. What they don’t show in the movie is that going straight and living a life of “Joneses” means accepting a giant dollop of stress with every scoop of living. And the vast majority of that stress comes from our jobs.

People (and by people, I mean men) like to say how marriage is an unnatural institution, that staying with the same mate for longer than seven years is somehow counter-evolutionary. And there is a fair amount of debate both ways about that. But what we never consider is the naturalness of reporting to a dimly cubicle in uncomfortable clothing and shoes, there to sit for basically all the hours of daylight. We’ll spend upwards of forty years of our lives working. Forty years! In our instant culture, it’s a number that really has no meaning. How are we to judge at the age of twenty five what will suit our sixty year old selves? I’m in my thirties now, and I STILL haven’t the slightest idea what sort of work I would like to be doing when I retire. What I can tell you is the work that I would like to be doing now. And this I think is the way forward.

We need to plan for the future financially. No mistake about it. We’re living longer and longer, and nobody wants to be a burden to their children. I’m happy to accept that I need to save today for tomorrow. But aside from the financial aspect forward planning is pointless. When I was at school, I was constantly told that I absolutely HAD to do Mathematics, absolutely HAD to study Science, that the skills and logical thought I learned at school would stand me in good stead for the rest of my life. And it’s GARBAGE. It is tripe of the most trite and sanctimonious sort. To this day I have not yet been forced into a situation where trigonometry or calculus have saved the day. I have yet to use ANY of the Chemistry I learned. Mr Ball, Mrs Mendelski… I could safely have made it through my life thus far without your classes.

But the push to advance subjects continues at university. From the moment you enroll, lecturers push for their subject. Psychology teaches valuable life skills, History teaches research techniques and reasoned arguing. And unfortunately, most of the Arts subjects are really rather worthless in the real world. (I’m speaking as a Bachelor of Arts myself.) Any one of the teaching subjects are utterly useless for 99% of the people graduating, unless of course they intend teaching. The Commerce subjects tend to have a higher relevancy to real life, but let’s face it… who wants to study Commercial Law? No… honestly. You might like practicing law, but studying it is a pain in the ass.

And so it is that we emerge newly minted degreed job-seekers, the end product of lots of advice, and with hundreds of hours of “essential” instruction under our belts. And almost immediately, we become barmen and waiters. Besides basic arithmetic and some social skills, we’re doing something your average nine-year old can do. And it doesn’t end there. Eventually, we prevail upon an interviewer that our degree, whilst not really practical in the real world, DOES mean that we are at least “trainable”. And so the forty year office cycle begins. While at work, we will be told to study various courses, to further our qualifications. Do they have real-life applications? Honestly? No. But now we are in the rat-race. We’re jostling with our cohorts, fighting for that promotion, for the corner office. We’re lurking around the water-cooler, we’re drinking crappy coffee and we’re taking orders from someone who has in all likelihood not received the same education we have.

For people from my father’s generation, and the generation before, there was such a thing as company loyalty. This was a two-way street where every employee was taken care of, where the company appreciated the sacrifice of its minions. Sadly, the grey suits and bottom-liners have taken over, and that is not really the case anymore. My generation changes jobs more often than any other. We flit from job to job, company to company. We do two years here, three years there. And this gives us the best opportunity for a chance at life.

(See… I do eventually come to the point.)

If you are unhappy in your work… If you find yourself talking, wondering and worrying about your work on the weekends… If you find yourself on edge at home because there is something going on at work… For the love of yourself, change your job! Find another career, or find another position. But don’t ruin your Real Life for a paycheck. If we work to support our lifestyle, what point is there in allowing our work to kill our lifestyle? Without a life, is there any need for a high-stress job? No. Leave the work at work. Stress is for the week! And the week stops at my front door. When I get home, I change out of the clothes of the oppressor, and into casual home clothes. I don’t bring work home with me. Not because I don’t care about my job, but because I care about my wife and my life more.

Hunched shoulders and last-minute reports are for work-time. Your family and your life are waiting for you when you get home. More than half of your life is given away to the companies and the suits. Why volunteer more? And remember… like every other authority figure in your entire life, your boss does not have “Truth”. Your boss has “Opinion”. And just like every other authority figure in your life, your boss is going to use his position to further his ends. (Think about it…when last did you hear any teacher say the words, “My subject? Nah… you’d be better off taking something useful”. )

At the end of my day, and at the end of my life, I want to look back on my work and be able to smile. Not because I got the promotion, not because I got the plaque on the door. I want to be able to be happy with myself because I did good. Because my job supported my life, and not the other way around.


Friends, Enemies and the Little People…

When I was a kid, I remember reading something along the lines of this. “Only a fool can go through life without making enemies.” I remember thinking at the time that there was something fundamentally wrong with the statement, and that it was perfectly possible to get through life without making enemies. Of course, I was in my teens, and could reliably assume that I knew everything. (Some things haven’t changed, I know.)

Flash forward a decade or so, and I know different. I’ve made some enemies, and made even more “fucquainances”. Thankfully, I have more friends than those categories combined.

You’re wondering what the hell a “Fuquaintance” is…. and I guess that I owe you an explanation. I’m quite sure that I am not alone in stating that there are some people on this planet that seem put here by a higher power. A higher power with a malevolent bent, and a penchant for testing my patience. Fuquaintances are those people that you meet during your day, the other half of the random encounters that define our lives. You’ll know them when you see them. YOu’ll smile in greeting and prepare to exchange banalities and small talk, and you’ll be cringing inside. For whatever reason, fuquaintances are disliked, encounters with them are dreaded and any contact with them is barely tolerated. The sins of a fuquaintance are legion, and petty. They pick their nose in your house. They eat far too much garlic. They stand too close. They always talk to you when you’re late. You know who I mean. Fuquaintances are a fact of life.

The good thing about a fuquaintance is that they are survivable. There is nothing really sinister about them, nothing calculated in their transgressions. There is a little old lady in my building that is a particularly dreaded fuquaintance. Her sin is that she is old, she lives several floors above me, and she takes forever to get into and out of the elevator. Oh. And she seems to keep the same hours I do. Whenever I am running late for work, whenever I am desperate need to get on with my commute, the elevator heads for the 13th floor. There it stays… slowly minutes ticking by in the winking floor indicator light. Finally, it descends, and I am free to step onto the elevator. The next problem of course is that we alight on the same floor. I stand aside to let her off first. I can’t help it, I’m polite that way. (Polite and weak!) This means that I have to walk behind her to the door, have to help her open the door, and have to wait while she shuffles through. An encounter with her adds a minimum of six minutes to my ten minute commute. And I’m a last-minute arrival employee. Which makes her a fuquaintance. You understand? Chances are that you have many fuquiantances, chances are better that you are someone else’s fuquaintance… it’s just an inevitability of life.

Enemies. These are different creatures entirely. Far from the pleasant/irritating banality of a fuquaintance, an enemy is an active frustration. My teen aged self thought it possible to get through life without making any of these. Of course, my teen aged self was an apathetic sort, more inclined to slink away from confrontation than to take it head on. But we grow up. And part of that process is the formation of opinion and principle. We draw lines in the sands of our psyche, lines beyond which there is no retreat, lines beyond which there is no compromise. When someone tries to muscle past those lines, confrontation is inevitable and lasting. There are certain things that to me are unforgivable… acts which resign the offending party to a lifetime of enmity. Speaking with the new-found wisdom of an impending mid-life crisis (I’m getting towards the “Harley Davidson and comb-over” stage.), the trick is to identify those lines before they are crossed, if only to maintain your dignity.

Making enemies is not a pleasant experience.  Nonetheless, I believe that it is vital to our growth, our mental health. Without enemies, we cast through life blindly, no principles to guide us, reduced to public opinion. Every enemy that I have made has been made for good reason. It’s human nature to believe that. Of course we were wronged, of course we were the just defendant, and they the aggressive party. I think the challenge in life is to accept that sometimes…. just sometimes… YOU are the asshole. Sometimes, it is your fault.

Enemies find their redemption in what they offer to teach us, what their nature shows us about ourselves. They are the darkened mirrors, the shadowed reflections of our inner selves. Think about each of them carefully. There is no point to an enemy that has taught you nothing. There is no point to an enemy for whom you have no reason. Identify what it is that they do or don’t do that riles you, and know yourself better for it. I know, thanks to Sarah and Frank that I have little patience for small people. Small of mind, that is. Petty politicking and shallow manipulation leave me cold. When they come from someone in a position of authority, they are worse. I know it now, and hopefully in the future, I’ll be able to head off any situations before they escalate into hostilities. My challenge to you? Make a list of your enemies. Figure out the core reason behind the altercation. Be honest, nobody else is going to look at your list. It may give you closure, it may give you growth. You may make the miserable bastards useful to you!

Lastly, the Little People.

Not dwarves or midgets or pygmies or gnomes… The Little People are the people that live around you, that work around you, perhaps even work for you. They are the often anonymous people that make your life possible. I spent a lot of time working as a waiter for a series of restaurants. And I was constantly amazed by the ignorant arrogance of a lot of people. (Normally wealthy white kids.) Any good waiter will tell you that the power in the restaurant is NOT the manager, is NOT the hostess or your waiter. Everything rests on the shoulders of the kitchen. Everything. Waiters with a good relationship with the kitchen staff were more successful than waiters who did not, or waiters that shouted. Later, when I managed a restaurant myself, it was obvious to see. Waiters who were polite, who passed on compliments, who said please and thank you, basically acknowledged the kitchen staff as humans and equals, they got great service from the kitchen. Wrong item ordered? Rush job required? No worries. The Little People are on it.

It’s a lesson that I have taken to heart. I go out of my way to acknowledge the receptionists, the co-teachers, the security guards, the “kitchen staff” in my life. Simple courtesy goes a long way. It’s a proven fact that remembering your waiter’s name and using it leads to better service. It’s not because they’re impressed by your memory. It’s because they are pleased to be acknowledged, to be given a face, to move from “Hey you…” to “Excuse me, John?”.  I am not advocating being polite to the Little People out of some desire for better service. The fact that their often menial jobs can have a direct impact on your life is simply a by-product.

I’m saying that being nice to the Little People is in and of itself a good thing.

And nobody wants to be a Fuquaintance.