Notes from Taiwan, A Personal Adventure

During the great Taiwan Internet outage in the Lin household yesterday, Y sent me on a lone mission to the nearby Starbucks. We needed to get in touch with her junior high school friends who we are meeting tonight for dinner. Unfortunately, Y had been using social media as the singular means of communication. Y hoped that Starbucks would have free wifi like in the States, so I walked down there while she stayed at home to help Ma.

Y’s folks have a great location in Jhongli. They are essentially a few blocks away from everything–the train station, McDonalds, Starbucks, shops, drug store, market, Sogo (a very large Japanese-based department store–I bought some Muji business cards and notebooks there to bring home), etc.

I set off with both of our iPads in my Timbuk2 bag to Starbucks. To get there, you go out Y’s door, take a right, turn left at the big road, and continue straight past another big road until you see the Starbucks sign poking out from many other business signs. The barista spoke a little English and was very friendly to me as a non-Chinese speaker. I ordered a “tall black coffee,” and sat down to try their wireless. Consequently, their wifi is part of a coalition of ISPs that offer free access to their customers. However, it costs $100NTD for everyone else. Y had told me that this was too much over the phone, so I walked back toward home via McDonald’s to see if they have free wifi.

While I was checking outside McDonald’s door, a pretty, young girl walked up to me and asked “can I be your friend?” It was Y playing around with me. She had finished her chores and met up with me on the street. We walked together to the library for another failed attempt at getting online.

Notes from Taiwan, More on Food

Y, her family, and her friends have all been introducing me to many wonderful foods during my visit in Taiwan.

Yesterday, Y and I joined her high school friends at a popular vegetarian restaurant between Taoyaun and Jhongli. This was a very peaceful setting for our lunch, because it was a traditional style house imported from China. The owner loved the house so much that he bought it, had it disassembled, and then reassembled in Taiwan complete with Buddhist statues. There is no menu at the restaurant. Instead, they prepare a number of different courses each day. Much of the food was spicy including a tiny salad with wasabi and spicy cabbage that we ate with purple rice. I particularly enjoyed the sweet and raw tofu.

After a visit to a local temple where I took many photographs, we all visited Anita’s flat in Taoyaun. After snacking on peacock cookies and shrimp flavored crisps, Anita brought us snacks from a local restaurant. This was my first time eating pork intestines with noodles, stinky tofu, chicken ass, chicken heart, and other fried chicken parts. Besides the smell of the stinky tofu, I loved it all. I am amazed at how we don’t enjoy these kinds of food in the States. There is much that we waste that we should eat. The Taiwanese do not waste their food–not because they are necessarily trying to be efficient, but because these American neglected food parts are so damn good.

Notes from Taiwan, Three Versions of Home Guy and Japanese/Taiwanese Otaku Differentiation

Today, Y and I met up with her best friends from high school for a vegetarian lunch followed by a temple visit and then hanging out at Anita’s home. During the day, I had a wonderful conversation with Y’s good friend Amy Yau, who is an editor of computer and design books in Taipei, about science fiction fandom, otaku, and “home guys.”

I wrote about the Taiwanese “home guy” back in 2009 here. In that earlier post, I wrote about people in Taiwan who are technology and video game enthusiasts who in the States we might call nerds or geeks: “Home guy (阿宅) is a term that was originally reserved for folks who majored in computer science in school, but now the term has an expanded meaning that encompasses someone who is shy, plays video games, and reads comic books (girls are a marginalized minority in this group but there are definitely some out there)” (Ellis par. 4). I also wrote about the home guy movement’s self-proclaimed spokesman or leader, 朱學恒 (Xuei-Hen Ju).

I am a novice when it comes to Taiwanese fandom, and I am glad that I had a chance to speak with Amy today to further develop what I wrote earlier about home guys. She provided me with additional information about different kinds of home guy, and she pointed out a very important distinction between Japanese and Taiwanese otaku.

The three types of home guy are more nuanced that I originally described in my earlier post. According to Amy, the first kind of home guy is what the media has constructed from existing stereotypes. The media home guy is a man who stays at home, plays video games, wears t-shirts and lousy clothes, avoids showers, and most imporantly, is very shy.

Counterposed to the media home guy is the actual home guy, who is a technology enthusiast, comic reader, and video game player. Amy considers herself a home guy in this regard. She is a successful young person with a promising career who enjoys a technology and new media lifestyle. She goes out with her friends regularly, and I can attest to the fact that she a kind and outgoing person who does not fit the less pleasant aspects of the media home guy. She and many other home guys break the stereotype that the media continue to promote here in Taiwan.

Finally, there is the third type of home guy or what I call the Lucifer Home Guy. Xuei-Hen Ju is the self-proclaimed leader of Taiwanese home guys or what you can call the “Home God.” In his formulation of the home guy, it is a person who enjoys new media and technology but also goes out to do things socially, especially in groups. He wants to bring people together to do things. These are generally good things, because they are also breaking the media promoted stereotypes. However, there are two concerns about his assumption of the home guy leadership if any such thing is even needed. They are: who elected him to Home God, and his problematic promotion of other home guy stereotypes.

First, Xuei-Hen Ju has become a spokesperson of sorts for home guys through his blog and his organization of home guy social events (including the one that I wrote about before here). Amy said that he should not be the representative of home guys, because he does not really represent all home guys. He is one person among many, many home guys with different levels of home guy participation. Imagine home guys as a spectrum that involves not only involvement but also different kinds of fandom (technology, comics, video games–supposedly fringe or marginal entertainments and engineering that are in fact mainstream now). Xuei-Hen Ju is one among many home guys, and he should not be emblematic of the group as a whole.

Second, Xuei-Hen Ju participates in some media home guys stereotypes such as wearing too casual clothing and t-shirts. He may be attempting to reach out to home guys who do appear that way, but he clearly wants to create his own home guy stereotype. Why not challenge the most obvious signifier of the home guy: what they wear? However, there are some things that he does that Amy lauds such as his translation work that brings Harvard and MIT lectures to Chinese speaking people for free.

Regardless of the differences of opinion between home guys and Xuei-Hen Ju’s version of home guy, both groups do not like their portrayal by the Taiwanese media. In this at least they are united.

The second part of our conversation, Amy told me about the core differentiating characteristic between Japanese otaku and Taiwanese otaku. Otaku is from Japanese and it means an obsessive enthusiast, particularly someone who enjoys manga (comics), anime (animation), or video games. Taiwanese otaku is another way of saying home guy. What makes these two groups different, at least concerning men in both groups, is that Japanese otaku obsess over and actually fall in love with virtual girls while Taiwanese otaku or home guys only like real girls. Evidence for this can be found by regularly reading Danny Choo’s website (his website here is a portal to Japanese otaku). Virtual girl fetishization seems to be a way of life for young men in Japan: body pillow cases, virtual girl friend games including Love Plus, female figures and action figure toys, etc. On the other hand, Amy claims that male Taiwanese otaku do not fall for virtual girl friends. For example, Xuei-Hen Ju favors posting images of real girls rather than artistically created virtual girls on his website here.

Like my earlier post about home guys, this is only a quick sketch of a term endeared by some and reviled by others. Amy helped me develop a more nuanced approach to the home guy phenomenon, and she helped me understand some imporant distinctions that I was not aware of before.

Notes from Taiwan, Food, Business, and Taipei

Today’s notes from Taiwan concerns food, business, and Taipei.

First, food is obviously an important part of any society, but food in Taiwan is so much more than just eating. It is enjoying, savouring, and experimenting. Instead of having a meal of a main dish and some sides, our meals have several dishes. There doesn’t seem to be any side dishes. The vegetables are on the same level as meats. Tofu holds it own as well.  Fruits are celebrated and in many more tastes, textures, and colors than anything you will find back in the States. Rice is integral to most meals and it generally comes in a plain white variety. However, Ma and Ba mix their own rice concoction with purple rice, couscous, and oatmeal–it is very hearty, but also uniquely yummy. I have also been drinking the best green tea that I have ever had. Ba calls me the “Tea King,” because I drink so much of it.

Today, Ma and Ba took Y and I to a Hakka restaurant down the street from their house. We had at least seven dishes on the lazy susan that we shared: roasted pigs feet, pepper beef, fried shrimp covered in mayo and sugar sprinkles, clam soup, boiled chicken, stirfried tofu (the softest that I have ever had that was stirfried), and stirfried vegetables. After dinner, we had a cold tofu dessert and we picked up some pastries for later.

The thing that I like about business here in Taiwan is that there are few corporate conglomerate department stores. Everywhere you go whether in Jhongli or Taipei small businesses rule the roost. Here, there is still a sense of entrepreneurship. A person can run a small business that specializes in a single thing or theme and make a living from it. I am impressed about how every street seems to be lined with businesses that cater to every need imaginable without there needing to be soul-sucking places like Wal-Mart or Target. I believe that there is a greater sense of dignity for people who own, manage, and work at many of these businesses that serve the same needs that the mega-department stores attempt to do in the United States.

Counterposed to the small retail businesses are the large manufacturing companies in the industry and science parks around Taipei. Within smartly designed, immaculate looking structures, much of the cutting edge electronics and industrial work is being done. The number of businesses in these parks is awe inspiring.

Today was my first visit to Taipei. Y and I took the TRA train line into the city for her optometrist appointment this morning. Afterwards, we stopped by the Nova electronics marketplace (one building, but many many different stalls owned by different people who offer different kinds of electronics goods) and the toy shops: Hot Dog Toyz and Paradise. I am amazed at how many people there are in Taipei, especially on the trains and subways.

Unlike in Jhongli where I haven’t seen any other Caucasians, I saw several in Taipei. They were young and old, male and female. I wonder what brought them here, and where they are from originally. They all seemed much surer of their surroundings than I am, so I also wonder what makes them stay. Y and I have talked about the possibilities of jobs–Taiwan, the United States, and elsewhere. It will come down to where we can find work, but I can say that I am increasingly interested in Taiwan and what it has to offer.

Notes from Taiwan, Taiwanese Newspaper Report on Tron: Legacy’s Strong Opening Here

The Taiwanese Newspaper Liberty Times (Dec 28, 2010) has this to say about the theatrical debut of Tron: Legacy in Taiwan:

Science fiction film Tron: Legacy is number 1 at the box office for the Christmas period. Last weekend at Taipei, Tron: Legacy accounted for TWD$ 17, 680,000 and TWD$ 35,000,000 for all of Taiwan. The audience was mostly male and many technology enthusiasts asked each other to make a “pilgrimage” to the film.

I have already made two pilgrimages to see Tron: Legacy (Y and I saw it in IMAX 3D, and Bert and I saw in Brunswick in Disney 3D), and I hope to trek to some of the large technology stores in Taipei later this week. We shall see what kinds of goodies I can find there that I cannot find back in the States.

As I’m writing this, scooters zip past the front window front of Y’s parents house like blurs of light–Tron light cycles made ubiqutious in the physical world.

Don’t forget to catch my positive review of Tron: Legacy in the next issue of SFRA Review.

Notes from Taiwan, and Blog Post 700

For my 700th post on dynamicsubspace.net, I wanted to include my initial notes on Y’s and my trip to visit my in-laws in Taiwan.

We flew Continental from Jacksonville to Houston to Narita, Japan to Taipei, Taiwan. I particularly enjoyed the flight to Narita, even though I was very tired at the end, because we flew on a Boeing 777 Dreamliner. We got back row seats (only 2 wide) and it was comfortable and relatively quiet–at least compared to the uncomfortable short leg room and noisy 747 between Narita and Taipei operated by United. I liked the individual on-demand video system on the 777. I got to watch The Crimson Rivers with Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel, and I watched part of the second Nodame Cantabile movie with Y. Also, I was pleasantly surpised by the quality of the food on our flights. We had beef with rice, chicken enchiladas, and a delicious egg breakfast. There was also a midflight desert of Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream.

I have been eating very well at Y’s parents’ house. Ma and Ba make excellent food, and they are determined to make us gain weight. I have had the most excellent tofu, fish, and chicken as well as tasty vegetables and fruits that we cannot find back in the States.

Y’s parents’ house is located in a very nice part of Jongli outside of Taipei. We There are bakeries, department stores, a huge library, and 24 hour convenient stores everywhere. There are people everywhere and so many scooters. I wish that I could take a scooter around the city even though I would have to be very careful with how aggressive drivers here can be. I made a point of asking Y to show me around a 7-11 store around the corner.  It is so fascinating! Good food, many conveniences at much more reasonable prices, no dust on the goods, and video games for sale in the store (World of Warcraft Cataclysm is only about $2.50 here–I will have to find out what the subscription rate is). Also, you can order digital photos and pay your bills from the store.

Since my iPad died shortly after we arrived to Taiwan, I used Ba’s computer to rewrite my review of Tron: Legacy for the SFRA Review (my verdict: go see it before it leaves theaters despite some of its gendered stereotyped misgivings found in much cyberpunk).  In exchange, I wanted to super charge their older Acer Dual Core Pentium based computer. It also gave me an opportunity to work in a Traditional Chinese based install of Windows XP.  After completing a draft of my review last night, I did these things to their computer and I am amazed what a difference a little tuning did:

  1. uninstalled outdated Norton AV
  2. installed Microsoft Security Essentials
  3. ran scan–all okay
  4. updated Windows XP several times–lots of security updates
  5. uninstalled proprietary Acer software (except drivers)
  6. uninstalled all versions of Flash Player
  7. installed Firefox
  8. installed latest Flash Player
  9. installed latest nVidia driver
  10. moved all Desktop files to My Documents
  11. moved all Desktop shortcuts to Quick Launch Bar
  12. installed optional Windows XP updates including .Net Framework 4 Client
  13. made Desktop icons large
  14. disabled ADSL connection, configured through wireless Netgear router that Y and I brought with us to use with our iPads
  15. installed Internet Explorer 8
  16. installed AUSLogics Disk Defrag
  17. defragmented primary partition last night and rebooted this morning

After dinner last night, Y and I took a stroll around the neighborhood and through the park. We also picked up some slippers for me to wear in the house.

This morning I finished editing my review of Tron: Legacy and emailed the final copy to Ritch Calvin. Now, I am typing these notes of our visit on my blog.

I am looking forward to the rest of today. We are visiting a university that has a connection with Kent State University through its TESOL program for Ba’s work. I will have my camera with me, and I will post many pictures when we get back to Ohio.

Greetings to the Home Guys in Taiwan

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I would like to welcome Mr. Xuei-Hen Ju (朱學恒) and all of the home guys (阿宅) from Taiwan who are stopping by DynamicSubspace.net today in response to my previous post: Fandom, Otaku, and Home Guys in Taiwan. I hope that my reporting of the home guy phenomenon is accurate, and I would welcome future discussion regarding fandom in general in the United States and Taiwan. Unfortunately, I can only speak English at the moment, but I will learn Chinese as soon as I am finished with my PhD.

Above picture: Mizuho Kazami (Please Teacher!) figure casts a shadow on my wall.

Fandom, Otaku, and Home Guys in Taiwan

Last week in Taipei, Taiwan, 朱學恒 (Xuei-Hen Ju) recently hosted a big get-together for fans and readers of his blog, 朱學恒的阿宅萬事通事務所 (Xuei-Hen Ju’s Home Guy’s Guide to Everything–I’m not sure about this translation–it could also mean “everything is good”) called 725阿宅反抗軍千人誓師大會 (July 25 Home Guy’s Resistance Army–1000s Show Your Commitment).

You may be wondering why I’m writing about this event. You may also be wondering what the heck is a ‘home guy.’

Xuei-Hen Ju is a Taiwanese blogger and translator of English language SF and fantasy novels including Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, but he originally majored in electrical engineering. He is considered a ‘home guy’, originally because of his education, and later because of his passion for what we in the States would consider geekdom.

Home guy (阿宅) is a term that was originally reserved for folks who majored in computer science in school, but now the term has an expanded meaning that encompasses someone who is shy, plays video games, and reads comic books (girls are a marginalized minority in this group but there are definitely some out there). Home guys are aligned with geekdom, fandom, otaku, and other marginal groups who are passionate about some aspect of pop culture, SF, fantasy, etc. Due to these cross cultural connections, I wanted to mention the Xuei-Hen Ju’s work and the home guy phenomenon to an English language audience.

Xuei-Hen Ju uses his blog to promote his own kind of ‘homeness.’ In many ways, he encourages other home guys to break out of the reductionist and stereotypical boxes that have in the past confined and stifled social acceptance of home guys. Through his blog, books, and the 725 event, he promotes a socially aware and proactive sense of what it means to be a home guy.

Like an otaku Tony Robbins, Xuei-Hen Ju inspires other home guys to follow their passion and tap into their enthusiasms, not as a cross to bear but as a marker for their sense of self. Also, he tells others that anyone, despite their educational background or personal condition, can achieve personal happiness–that it is up to each home guy to achieve what it is that he wants. He connects masculinity to his vision of the home guy by rallying others to maintain social justice (e.g., if you see someone abusing a dog, it is the home guy’s duty to call that person out) and do something with passion. The subtitle of his site is 熱情從來不是被找到的,而是奮戰努力才能獲得的!(Passion is never to be found, but gained by fighting!).

His idea about what it means to be a home guy may be skewed toward men more so than women. During his posts, he does occasionally insert pictures of attractive girls during an otherwise non-girl related post just to pause or breakup the flow of what he may be talking about.

However, he is conscious of respect for women when he threw the 725 event, because he warned the other home guys to not hit on girls in attendance (but they could do what they wanted to outside the event). If you click through to the 725 event post with pictures of the event, you will see a number of girls in the audience, and some of the Star Wars cosplayers were women, so there are home girls/gals, too.

More about the 725 event: I definitely recommend you clicking here to read (if you know Chinese) and see the pictures of the extremely successful event. There was music, Star Wars cosplay and demonstrations, presentations, and video game play on the 400″ screen. There are men, women, and children in the audience. And, the audience beat out an earlier torrential rain storm that killed power to the adjacent movie theater and shopping mall. Folks from all over Taiwan converged on Taipei to go to the free event, and they were determined to go come hell or high water (literally).

I liked the idea of the event being free, and I don’t exactly know how it was pulled off. Perhaps there was corporate sponsorship, or Xuei-Hen Ju used his own money to pay for the space and the setup. Directly, he didn’t get any money by hosting the home guy get-together, but he did sells some copies of his popular book, which he would personalize for attendees (and those not there–but by saying “loser, why didn’t you come out?!”). Also, there are the Home Guy Army t-shirts that are in some of the pictures. Oh, and the event itself wasn’t advertised anywhere else, except on Xuei-Hen Ju’s blog. Essentially, he told his blog following, home guy friends to “Come here on this particular day and let’s show everyone what we can do.”

You should definitely check out Xuei-Hen Ju’s blog, and if you know Chinese, you should find out more about home guys and Taiwan fandom. From talking with Yufang (who was sweet to tell me about the 725 event, and who I asked to help me with the translating and descriptions), Taiwanese popular culture is an amalgamation of cultures from surrounding countries. It seems that much of the culture consumed in Taiwan comes from other places, but I suspect that there must be a local flavor to the way that other cultures are interpreted, consumed, and enjoyed by home guys and every other Taiwanese person. I think that more work should be done on SF fandom in Taiwan, because that country and its people are more unique than many due to their position as a cultural crossroads.