Finally caught up with BBC’s “Sherlock”

I know BBC started airing “Sherlock” in 2010. I know it made a Benedict Cumberbatch a much watched actor with a strong following. I know “Sherlock” has been well received. I just did not have the time to watch a single episode of the series. There’s only so much time in a day, and there’s so much out there to consume already. It was my pop culture blind spot. But it’s a blind spot no more, because I have now watched all three seasons.

To celebrate Sherlock’s 2014 Primetime Emmy wins, PBS announced it was streaming all episodes of Season 3 (until September 25, 2014). Thankfully I had time to finally experience the series. I found all three seasons on Netflix and started watching. It wasn’t until later I found out that even the episodes on Netflix were only made available recently. So I suppose I jumped in at the right time since “Sherlock” is now available where I can watch it.

I’m not sure when I first learned about the stories of Sherlock Holmes. I do remember my parents mentioning them when I was young. In Chinese, Sherlock Holmes is 福爾摩斯 (I know it sounds nothing like Holmes, but that’s for another post). I remember reading a few stories when I was young. I also remember watching some episodes of “Sherlock Holmes,” the series starring Jeremy Brett, on PBS. The only impression I have of that series is that it seemed rather dark.

I did watch some of the first season of “Elementary,” the updated Sherlock Holmes series on CBS. Unfortunately I lost track of it. Maybe the episodes will show up on streaming media so I can catch up. I did become a bit tired of the narcissistic version of Sherlock Holmes in “Elementary,” so it would be interesting to see how that developed.

I am completely enamored with “Sherlock.” It is witty and funny and a whole lot of fun. The actors and actresses are a delight to watch and really pull the audience into this particular world of Sherlock Holmes. I do like the socially awkward, but slowly becoming human, Sherlock Holmes. I also like the lively John and Mary Watson. I really like the caring, but still caustic, Mycroft Holmes. I’m completely terrified of the creepy Moriarty. This entirely updated version with modern technology is an absolute delight. I also really like the music and graphics. Ok, fine, I like it all.

“Sherlock” also gives me a glimpse of London. I was supposed to go to London on business around this time last year. The trip was canceled at the last minute so I didn’t end up going. Hopefully I’ll still be able to visit on my own at some point.

Now like everyone else, I’m waiting for Season 4. I’m not dismayed, as undoing this blind spot has given me a chance to go back and revisit Doyle and the original Sherlock Holmes stories. Digging through my books also resulted in a collection of Donne poems that I’m curious to revisit. It has also opened my eyes to the wonderful talents of one Benedict Cumberbatch. I’m particularly looking forward to “The Imitation Game,” which is scheduled for release on November 21, 2014.

I first learned about Alan Turing in my computer science courses. He is known for developing an early form of the computer and breaking the Enigma code. Although he died in 1954, his story continued this year when he finally received a royal pardon. I’m really excited to see his story brought to life through film.

Now, hopefully I have time to get through the first season of FOX’s Sleepy Hollow since all episodes are available on Hulu and a new season will be starting soon.

Yes, I know Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Mison (who portrays Ichabod Crane on Sleepy Hollow) were both in Parade’s End.

No, I haven’t had the time to watch it.

What is the real price of things in Taiwan (in U.S. dollars)?

I’m not an expert in economics, but I am aware of the economic differences between Taiwan and the U.S. Something that always concerns me is when I see people directly determining the price of an item in Taiwan by a simple exchange rate conversion. A shortcut for the conversion is that 1 New Taiwan Dollar (NTD) is equal to 30 U.S. dollars (USD). When someone buys a breakfast that costs 60 NTD, the common response is, “That’s cheap! It’s only 2 U.S. dollars.”

But that’s 2 U.S. dollars from the point of view of someone with an U.S. income and used to an U.S. cost of living. What does that 60 NTD breakfast really feel like to the average person in Taiwan? How do we figure out the price in USD so the average American would feel the same way about that breakfast?

We can compare incomes and find the price of that breakfast in U.S. dollars based on income. The median income in the U.S. is roughly 52800 USD. The median income in Taiwan is 39600 USD. The average Taiwanese earns 75% of what the average American earns. For 1 USD that a person in the U.S. earns, a Taiwanese person is earning 75 cents. Based on this income discrepancy, 1 NTD is equivalent to 22.50 USD. The price of that 60 NTD breakfast for the average Taiwanese feels like a 2.67 USD breakfast for the average American.

That probably doesn’t seem like a large difference, but that is based on median incomes. Now let’s look at a particular income bracket: college graduates. College graduates in the U.S. earn an average of 45327 USD a year. Taiwanese university graduates earn 26722 NTD a month, or 320664 NTD a year, or 10688.80 USD a year. Taiwanese college graduates earn on average 23.58% of what an American college graduates earns. For the 1 USD that an American graduate earns, a Taiwanese college graduate earns 24 cents. In this case, 1 NTD is equivalent to 7.20 USD. So to a Taiwanese college graduate, that 60 NTD breakfast would feel the same as a 8.33 USD breakfast for an U.S. college graduate. I’m sure most of you would think that that breakfast is rather expensive!

I know I’m probably missing some things. Maybe I should be comparing amount of disposable income instead of salary. I’m only comparing the price of breakfast, and not taking into account other items that contribute to the total cost of living.

It’s important to understand the local economic situation and not just base price comparisons on the exchange rate. Just because one thinks something is cheap relative to the exchange rate does not mean it is affordable to the average person in that country. Of course, when you’re on vacation, you can spend what fits in your budget, but some awareness of the value of items to locals may help you better understand a place.

Spotify playlist: Taiwan indie – love of the land

I wrote a post about this playlist on my Tumblr, but I figured I would write about it here as well, since I just covered music from Taiwan on Spotify in a previous post. Feel free to check out the Tumblr post for links to lyrics and bands, and some explanations.

The playlist consists of fourteen songs from independent artists from Taiwan. I’m really glad these artists are available on Spotify, because it really shows the diversity of artists in Taiwan. Some songs are definitely commentary on political and social issues. Other songs are purely about locations in Taiwan and gaining insight from those places. The diversity also shows in the language. The songs are in Amis, Hakka, Taiwanese, and Mandarin. There are also different genres: ballad, rap, rock, simple guitar, and songs that mix genres.

Even though I like the arrangement and songs on the playlist, there were a few songs that came to mind that were either not on Spotify or not counted as indie.

一條命 (One Life), the most recent album by 董事長樂團 is not on Spotify, but music videos are available on YouTube. 美麗啊 and 家己的Formosa both speak to the beauty and problems in Taiwan. 美麗啊 specifically speaks about 美麗灣 (Miramar Resort) in 臺東, a construction project that threatens to harm the eastern coastline of Taiwan.


The album 我是‧海雅谷慕 from 張震嶽 won the 25th Golden Melody Award for Best Mandarin Album earlier this year. The song 我家門前有大海 (Spotify link) (lyrics from kkbox) is a catchy song about the beauty of 花蓮 on the east coast of Taiwan.

Another song that came to mind was 入陣曲 by 五月天 (Spotify link) (lyrics from kkbox), which I’ve written about before. It definitely summarizes the overall social and political climate in Taiwan.

島嶼天光 (Island’s Sunrise) by 滅火器 (Fire EX.) will always be a reminder of 2014. It was written during the protests of the Sunflower Movement. Although it speaks to that particular moment in time, it also reminds us to continuously stand up for what we believe in and be 勇敢的台灣人 (courageous Taiwanese people).

How to help with Kaohsiung’s explosion disaster 「81氣爆」

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I haven’t had the heart to write at length about the disaster in 高雄, especially since it happened soon after the plane crash in 澎湖. Here’s some information about making a donation to the Kaohsiung Social Affairs Bureau, which will directly help those needing assistance recovering and rebuilding.

Originally posted on Taiwanvore:

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For detailed views of the scenes of disaster, click on the picture. (photo courtesy of super720.com)

Without going into a detailed coverage of the recent explosion disaster which physically and emotionally rocked the city of Kaohsiung, I thought I’d make a quick post in case some foreigners are wondering how to help out.

Ways to donate money to help with the Kaohsiung explosion disaster.

At the moment, financial donations are mainly sought for. This can be done by wiring money directly to the City of Kaohsiung, or more conveniently at any Family Mart or 7-11.

At those two convenient stores, get the attention of a sales clerk, tell him/her your desire to make a donation, in most cases he/she will gladly walk you through the process of filling out the donation form to get the donation receipt printed, you’ll hand in the money, and voilà! You’ll have done…

View original 219 more words

Listen to music from Taiwan on Spotify and iTunes Radio

I’ve been waiting for kkbox to expand beyond Asia, but it looks like I’ll have to settle with Spotify and iTunes Radio for now. There’s a lot of music from Taiwan that is available on Spotify. iTunes Radio is currently only available in select countries, but there are also plenty of artists from Taiwan available through iTunes.

I like to look at the rankings for Taiwan to see what’s trending. I turned off “Hide Unplayable Songs” so I can see albums that are not available in my current country. Then I can try to find if there’s a compatible version available. In some cases artists, albums, and songs are also listed under an English name. I’ve also found some tracks listed in pinyin, which makes it impossible to tell what song it is.

At the same time, there are some surprises. The soundtrack to 九龍變, which is a 布袋戲 (glove puppet show), is available. 布袋戲 is quintessentially Taiwanese in culture and language. There’s quite a bit of modern Taiwanese music too. I’m not familiar with Hakka and aboriginal music, so I don’t know if they are well represented.

I’ve made a gigantic Spotify playlist of music from Taiwan. It’s really more of an library. I wouldn’t try to listen to the whole thing, it’s currently more than 500 hours of music. But if you put it on shuffle, you might find something you may not have heard before that you’d like. There’s rock, pop, indie, hip-hop, Taiwanese, and live albums. There might be duplicate albums because I noticed some albums became unavailable while an identical album would become available. My guess is some albums might have a Taiwan or Asia version and an international version. But I can’t tell which is which anymore because Spotify now tries to replace an unavailable song with an available version.

I’ve tried both Spotify radio and iTunes Radio, starting with one artist and then telling the radio my preferences. My experience is that Spotify will play the artist I start with, whereas iTunes Radio doesn’t and (on the variety setting) will quickly deviate from what I was expecting. I’ve given up trying to teach both services the difference between Mandarin and Taiwanese (that would be an awesome but complex machine learning algorithm). It actually worked on Spotify for a while, but then deviated and I couldn’t get it back. With iTunes Radio I was able to get a station with indie artists from Taiwan. This is definitely not a comprehensive test since I didn’t keep track of the variables. But it seems that both services have a large enough library of music from Taiwan that the radio settings will provide a good selection of music.

Book review: “Why Taiwan Matters” by Shelley Rigger

I started writing this post a year (or two?) ago, and have picked it up time and time again, trying to add to it. I want to preserve these different starts. The book was originally published in 2011 and Taiwan has gone through significant societal events since 2012. Even though the book it did not cover up to current events, I still believe it is a significant book for anyone who needs an introduction to Taiwan. An updated version of the book was published in 2013.

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I’ve had this post sitting as a draft for at least a year now. At some point I completely forgot about it, until recently while I was helping some friends plan their first trip to Taiwan. Between conversations about food and landmarks, I kept feeling that something was missing. Taiwan is not just about what is there now. To understand Taiwan and to truly appreciate Taiwan is to know its history and know how it became the Taiwan of now. Then, I remembered my copy of “Why Taiwan Matters” and immediately lent it to my friends.

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After reading the original version of “Why Taiwan Matters” by Shelley Rigger in English, I browsed through the Chinese translation. For those interested, the title is 《台灣為什麼重要?美國兩岸研究權威寫給全美國人的台灣觀察報告》. The translated version has a separate Chinese preface (which can be previewed at the books.com.tw site). Rigger explains that for the book to be translated into Chinese and sold in Taiwan seems a bit awkward, but her friends reassured her that Taiwanese would not read the the book to learn more about Taiwan, but to understand how other people see Taiwan. I wholeheartedly agree. She also mentions that it is possible for people to disagree with parts of the book and some people may not recognize the Taiwan she describes in the book, but she has written what she knows about Taiwan, what she experienced and saw. Taiwan flows with different ideas and opinions, and it is great for Rigger to recognize that.

“Why Taiwan Matters” by Shelley Rigger is an extraordinary book about Taiwan. Rigger has done an incredible job organizing the facts about Taiwanese history. But I think more important than that is Rigger’s ability to understand really describe the feelings of the Taiwanese. Rigger clearly states the identity issues surrounding Taiwanese. Especially at points in the book where attitudes and emotions of Taiwanese people are described, it was very clear that Rigger understands the Taiwanese people.

From the very beginning of the book, from reading the preface, I knew this book was different. Unless a person had lived through the martial law era or experienced the educational system mandated by the KMT, a person may not be able to understand the conflict within Taiwan. Spending time in Taiwan or living for a time in Taiwan does not mean a person can understand the deeply felt issues with being Taiwanese. Unless a person experienced the unfair situation that the World Health Organization placed upon Taiwan, one would not understand the Taiwanese people’s constant fight for international recognition. But Rigger has done that. She has chosen quotes and interview excerpts that reflect these aspects of Taiwanese life.

In slightly over 200 pages, Rigger really does cover it all. The book explores Taiwan’s history, industry, politics, culture. Three chapters are devoted to exploring cross-strait issues: economics, identity, and interference to international recognition. The examples in each section really do serve the purpose of showing the reader how Taiwanese live with these concerns and what some people are doing about it.

I think what separates this book from other (English) books I have read about Taiwan is that it is not meant to be an academic book. The facts and analysis are based on academic works, but there are not pages and pages of footnotes to sift through. Even the sources section at the end of each chapter is written in a narrative form. The sources do point the reader to more academic works for further reading.

This book is a must-read for anyone who will be going to Taiwan to visit, to study, or to work. Anyone who will spend any time in Taiwan needs to be handed this book. Hopefully the book will be a starting point to understanding Taiwan’s past, present, and future.

It’s best to rely on news sources from Taiwan for information about Taiwan. Unfortunately most are not in English. Two sources in English are Taipei Times and Thinking Taiwan. Austin Ramzy has been reporting for the New York Times from Taipei, so the NY Times Sinosphere blog has seen an increase in reports about Taiwan. Social media sources include Taiwan Voice on Facebook (in English) and Sunflower Movement 太陽花學運 on Facebook (not always in English); both update on social-political issues.

Do you know the World Cup country names in Chinese?

Since the world is now focused on World Cup events, it’s a great time to learn some World Cup related words in Chinese. Unfortunately, the FIFA website is not available in Chinese (traditional or simplified). The next best place to check out scores would be google Taiwan. Clicking on the World Cup graphic of the day will lead to the scoreboard, entirely in Taiwan Mandarin.

分組 gives the group standings. Country names can be tricky because they are typically transliterated, unless there’s an historic name. These standings are no longer valid, I took the screen shots after the June 18th games. If you’d like to review the phonetic symbols, you can take a look at my post on 注(ㄓㄨˋ)音(ㄧㄣ)符(ㄈㄨˊ)號(ㄏㄠˋ).

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A 組 Group A
巴(ㄅㄚ)西(ㄒㄧ) Brazil
墨(ㄇㄛˋ)西(ㄒㄧ)哥(ㄍㄜ) Mexico
克(ㄎㄜˋ)羅(ㄌㄨㄛˊ)埃(ㄞ)西(ㄒㄧ)亞(ㄧㄚˇ) Croatia
喀(ㄎㄜˋ)麥(ㄇㄞˋ)隆(ㄌㄨㄥˊ) Cameroon
B 組 Group B
荷(ㄏㄜˊ)蘭(ㄌㄢˊ) Netherlands
智(ㄓˋ)利(ㄌㄧˋ) Chile
澳(ㄠˋ)洲(ㄓㄡ) Austrailia
西(ㄒㄧ)班(ㄅㄢ)牙(ㄧㄚˊ) Spain

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C 組 Group C
哥(ㄍㄜ)倫(ㄌㄨㄣˊ)比(ㄅㄧˇ)亞(ㄧㄚˇ) Colombia
象(ㄒㄧㄤˋ)牙(ㄧㄚˊ)海(ㄏㄞˇ)岸(ㄢˋ) Côte D’Ivoire
日(ㄖˋ)本(ㄅㄣˇ) Japan
希(ㄒㄧ)臘(ㄌㄚˋ) Greece
D 組 Group D
哥(ㄍㄜ)斯(ㄙ)大(ㄉㄚˋ)黎(ㄌㄧˊ)加(ㄐㄧㄚ) Costa Rica
義(ㄧˋ)大(ㄉㄚˋ)利(ㄌㄧˋ) Italy
英(ㄧㄥ)格(ㄍㄜˊ)蘭(ㄌㄢˊ) England
烏(ㄨ)拉(ㄌㄚ)圭(ㄍㄨㄟ) Uruguay

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E 組 Group E
法(ㄈㄚˋ)國(ㄍㄨㄛˊ) France
瑞(ㄖㄨㄟˋ)士(ㄕˋ) Switzerland
厄(ㄜˋ)瓜(ㄍㄨㄚ)多(ㄉㄨㄛ) Ecuador
宏(ㄏㄨㄥˊ)都(ㄉㄨ)拉(ㄌㄚ)斯(ㄙ) Honduras
F 組 Group F
阿(ㄚ)根(ㄍㄣ)廷(ㄊㄧㄥˊ) Argentina
伊(ㄧ)朗(ㄌㄤˇ) Iran
奈(ㄋㄞˋ)及(ㄐㄧˊ)利(ㄌㄧˋ)亞(ㄧㄚˇ) Nigeria
波(ㄅㄛ)士(ㄕˋ)尼(ㄋㄧˊ)亞(ㄧㄚˇ)與(ㄩˇ)赫(ㄏㄜˋ)塞(ㄙㄞ)哥(ㄍㄜ)維(ㄨㄟˊ)納(ㄋㄚˋ) Bosnia and Herzegovina

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G 組 Group G
德(ㄉㄜˊ)國(ㄍㄨㄛˊ) Germany
美(ㄇㄟˇ)國(ㄍㄨㄛˊ) USA
迦(ㄐㄧㄚ)納(ㄋㄚˋ) Ghana
葡(ㄆㄨˊ)萄(ㄊㄠˊ)牙(ㄧㄚˊ) Portugal
H 組 Group H
比(ㄅㄧˇ)利(ㄌㄧˋ)時(ㄕˊ) Belgium
韓(ㄏㄢˊ)國(ㄍㄨㄛˊ) Korea
俄(ㄜˋ)羅(ㄌㄨㄛˊ)斯(ㄙ) Russia
阿(ㄚ)爾(ㄦˇ)及(ㄐㄧˊ)利(ㄌㄧˋ)亞(ㄧㄚˇ) Algeria

淘汰賽 are the elimination games. Unfortunately fans in Asia have been staying up until dawn to be able to watch these games.

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