The Atheist Delusion

“Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Mohamed flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him as a serious journalist.” Tweet from Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, New Atheism’s High Priest, made this comment about Mehdi Hasan about a month ago. I should have written about it in the days that followed but I am nothing if not procrastinatoryful. Hasan is a journalist who writes for the New Statesman. For those who aren’t aware, The New Statesman is a “left of centre Labour shit-rag”. If you’ve ever wondered who the leader of the Labour party is, pick up The NS, they have no choice but to cover him no matter how pointless he continues to be. So it’s largely worthless with the occasional brilliant article, a few of my heroes write for them (Noam Chomsky, Mark Thomas, John Pilger) so I check in fairly often.

Mehdi, who is Milibland’s biographer, often writes articles about Islam. Issues involving Muslims are never in short supply and if the magazine’s senior political editor is a Muslim, he will be tasked with writing about them. Needless to say, this is a highly educated man at the forefront of political journalism and his articles reflect this. At the same time, they often reflect his beliefs as a devout Muslim.

I’ve been an atheist since I was about 11 or 12. I was a prick about it from 14 until embarrassingly recently. A convergence of people, books and the fading of my youthful exuberance has allowed me to see my combative response to people’s beliefs for the childish, macho bullshit that it was. I wanted to know why I became so intolerant towards religion and Dawkins’ idiotic tweet helped me to do that.

I realised that the central problem with my hostile attitude was that it was shaped by the experiences of others. Many of the artists I admired as a kid had problems with the institutions of religion: the opposition to Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the televised debate which I highly recommend, Bill Hicks’ stories from travelling on the bible belt of the US and Marilyn Manson’s battles with the Christian right. All of these situations left my team: the funny, talented and rational lot, looking much better than the reactionary idiots who opposed them. From then on in my under-developed mind, I stopped separating religious people in general, from their crazy, swivel-eyed activists.

Reading Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great and Dawkins’ The God Delusion I was able to become a better equipped and informed, yet still intolerant, atheist. Trying to prove that people’s beliefs were false using history I could barely remember and science I barely understood. I think where my particular brand of atheism was flawed was in the desire to talk about it incessantly. (Instead, why not write a self-indulgent 700 word blog?)

If you’re an evolutionary biologist, as Dawkins is, I’m sure there are occasions to debate people, who disagree with your subject based solely on an interpretation of an old book. However, he doesn’t have the right to throw his intellectual weight around wherever he pleases, as Dawkins does. If you’re a Saudi women’s rights campaigner, I imagine the lack of control you have over your own body based on an interpretation of an old book, really gets on your tits. I think teaching creationism as a scientific theory is imbecilic and I think a woman’s body is her own fucking business but I have never had to have these arguments with creationists or oppressive regimes. My ‘debates’ have been with reasonable people who happen to believe in God and the straw men arguments I constructed were usually dismantled with an easy intellect I couldn’t show myself.

If one lived in a place like Alabama, Jerusalem or Costa Rica then maybe the church has the kind of influence over people’s lives that could make an atheist angry, but my experiences don’t reflect this. I quite like ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’, no matter who made them all. Churches and cathedrals are some of the most beautiful buildings in the UK. And as a group, atheists have never offered me tea and toast when I needed it most: in the rain, drunk at 3am.

So this is my penance. I intend to be a better atheist in future.

Obituary – Lord Anthony Charles Lynton Blair

March 19, 2033

tony_blair

Our green and pleasant land has been graced with only a few great Prime Ministers since the title was bestowed on Sir Robert Walpole, but none have been as unequivocally successful as Tony Blair. Following his death yesterday a nation is in mourning. Now is a time to grieve, yes, but also a time to celebrate his life. After we have paid our respects he will no doubt, be accepted into the pantheon of the greatest leaders that England, Europe and The World have ever known.

A day of internet silence was called for and impeccably upheld by the nation, save for a handful of so-called ‘lefty’, so-called ‘comedians’ who felt it appropriate to excrete bile-filled character assassinations towards the dead body of one of the greatest men these isles have spawned. Scum, sub-human scum.

For the youth of today it might be hard to imagine political life in this country pre-Blairism. It seems ludicrous now to have tens of different political parties each representing opposing interests. I am baffled as to why we ever shared power in the house between two main parties. This was to be Lord Blair’s Magnus Opus: The unification of British politics and the abolition of apartheid in the House of Commons. He smashed the barriers between left and right reinstalling the uncontested, free-market liberalism that made this country great.

young_tony_blair

It was no surprise, for those who had tracked the young Mr Blair’s career, that he became such a unifying force. His ability to switch seamlessly from extolling Marx one moment, to declaring that “Margaret Thatcher is perhaps the politician I have greatest admiration for” the next, helped him to overcome the divisions between the parties and become all things, to all people.

Political dissent was also a major feature of life in the early years of the century. Leaders of today have ample opportunity to tweak or change policies by throwing them out to the electorate via facebook.gov and responding to the ‘dislikes’ and ‘likes’ they garner. However, in the run up to the invasion of Iraq over a million people physically went outside and actually marched through London to oppose the Prime Minister. In an unflinching display of political will, he completely ignored them. The courage to defy the largest mobilisation of protesters since Lady Thatcher, peace be upon her, was remarkable. We will not see a public figure with as little regard for the (incorrect) demands of the public for a very long time.

blair2

A look back at Britain during Blair’s tenure shows a nation with unparalleled power (among the former empire states of Western Europe). Permanent membership of the UN Security Council, an active nuclear deterrent and a military that was still capable, are indications of why the rest of the world looked to Mr Blair for guidance and protection. And in turn, Blair looked to God for protection and instruction. Ruling by public consensus has long been possible through mass communication tools providing national referendums within the hour. Without these tools though, Blair turned to his faith to guide him on a righteous War on Terror that saw him ignore and dismantle democratic processes, all in the noble pursuit of spreading democracy.

Blair’s war in Iraq allied us with George W. Bush’s United States of America in the event that came to define his premiership. The war hero (and he was a hero), Tony Blair liberated the people of Iraq from the evil clutches of the tyrant Saddam Hussein in a matter of weeks, instantly giving a nation back its freedom. His empathy and compassion influenced him to keep or forces in the country for the next decade to oversee a smooth transition from tyranny to freedom. To the best of my knowledge the people of Iraq are eternally grateful.

blair1

Blair was not only concerned with international affairs though. The British people could be proud of their leader travelling the globe, improving the lives of foreigners, but that doesn’t win elections. Anthony Blair was the last Prime Minister to preside over a growing economy. He declared an end to the boom and bust economy, and he was right! In 2007, when he left office the nation’s finances were in great shape and any issues that followed would’ve been unforeseeable at the time.

For the remainder of his career, Lord Blair carried out his position as Middle-East Peace Envoy selflessly and dutifully. One cannot blame Tony for the region’s stubbornness and failure to heed his advice, which I’m certain; would have brought peace to the region. After all, he wasn’t doing it for any personal recompense.

Early reports suggest that the streets will be lined in anticipation of the funeral days before the event itself, creating a festival atmosphere which, I’m sure, he would have claimed to enjoy. The supporters will no doubt honour the emperor of Cool Britannia in true Blair style: grab a guitar, some regular guys and play some classic Oasis. But, don’t look back in anger.

blair3

By thelostartofconversation

iFailed

It is easy to have convictions when no one tests them.iBox

I have spent a not insignificant amount of time in the last 5 years telling anyone that I hate their Apple phone/pad. It’s difficult to pinpoint when I started to dislike Apple. I had a 40gb iPod, the first one with the wheel I think; broke it. I had a 32 gb next, the first colour one I think; lost it. I had another 32gb one; it was stolen. So, it might be that Apple was taking up too many of my birthday and Christmas gifts and I wanted to start buying and losing Creative ZENs instead. This may have planted a seed but the bitter Apple tree bloomed on arrival of the iPhone.

The first group of iPhone users were a curious breed. A largely harmless group of posers (David) and techies. Yes, they were annoying (David), but by completely ignoring one of my closest friends I was able to pretend they didn’t exist. When the iPhone reached mainstream adoption, I would guess at the second or third gen phones, they really started to get on my tits.

The monopolisation of pub conversation was the first major annoyance. If iPhoners were a majority in the group you were doomed to an evening of distorted pictures of faces and ideas for new apps, the only escape from which was to amble outside for a fag and hope that it might kill me quicker than advertised. The cultish response to the endless stream of slightly altered new products confirmed in me how stupid everyone else was and how great I was for seeing through the con.

About a month ago I won an iPad mini in a raffle at a New Year banquet. Obviously anybody with the feelings I’ve spouted off so far would welcome the extra £300 and sell that shiny chopping board straight away. This was my initial intention. With a table of envious colleagues annoyed by my apathy I told them I’d sell it tomorrow and get the drinks in… I did neither.

My resolve had wilted by the morning and I decided to leave it boxed for a week and make a more informed decision. So I spent the next few days researching what a tablet can do and how good the iPad mini is. The verdict was that the iPad mini isn’t that good, but it is small. And that a tablet isn’t that good, but it is entertaining. Throughout this process the box had been sitting on our coffee table, sexing me up with its minimal design and sleek lines. I was aware of this enough to comment on it but powerless to resist it. If I hadn’t opened it before the end of the week there was no telling what I would’ve done to the packaging.

So iFalied. I felt that almost everything I do on my computer I could do on the iPad but at one tenth of the size and weight. My first day as a Padawan I downloaded apps for The Guardian, The New Yorker and a number of puzzle games that I thought would test me. If I had lost my moral high ground I would at least use the iPad to drag me back up. Within a week I was playing Fifa while taking a shit. I took it on holiday to Vietnam, where I met my Suegrita, and sat at the breakfast table reading the paper. If we spoke a common language maybe I wouldn’t have done so but the fact remains, I did.

In a month I have become everything that once disgusted me. I’ve sat at a table ignoring conversation for the sake of the pad, I’ve taken it out mid-conversation to settle a discussion and I’ve used the phrase “Wait! I need the iPad.”

The novelty has worn off at this stage, I use my computer at home because I’m a bit slow and I don’t handle change well. I am a hypocrite, but one that still can’t admit he was wrong and so can’t enjoy it.

Sent from my chuffing laptop!

By thelostartofconversation

Made in Taiwan: Part Two – Hsinchu

In a further effort to show what my current living arrangements are, I’d like to show the second Russian doll in the series that decrementally charts my exact position, and describe my current city, Hsinchu.

This will by no means be an exhaustive document of all the delights and detritus that Hsinchu has to offer. There may be people reading this who have lived here for 5 years or more and any attempt to show Hsinchu in its entirety will fall woefully short. I will, however, do what I usually do: select photos that go well with ready-made sneering, snarky observations and try to pass this off as wit.

Hsinchu is tiny. After a year spending all of my free time in Shanghai (population: 23 million) and working in the relatively small Chinese city of Wuxi (population: 6.3 million) Manchester felt pretty small in the summer. Gone are the days when a sheltered faux brummy walked around the Big Joke lost in its vastness. London is no longer big. Taking all this into account, Hsinchu is still tiny (population 415,000).

There is one major city centre (or ‘downtown’ as I am loath to call it) with city centre stuff: traffic, good coffee and the seemingly ubiquitous shop selling some variation of £10 tops, electrical items and cute, plastic, soon-to-be-in-the-bin shit. On the opposite side of the city there is an area that plays the role of a secondary centre with much the same stuff (worse coffee, cheaper food) built up around the point of Hsinchu’s being, Hsinchu Science Park.

Science park

This is the back-end of the world’s largest independent semiconductor foundry, TSMC, located in Hsinchu Science Park (HSP). Yes, you might swoon and gasp at the outrageousness of an independent semiconductor foundry but it’s not all glitz and glamour down at TSMC. Having no knowledge of semiconductors at all I guess they help to make those phones you all need as an excuse to not make eye contact with strangers, because heaven forfend you might have a real human experience. If you were going to do a tourist trip around the significant places in Hsinchu, this would be the beginning and end.

As much as I deride it, the HSP is the reason I have a job. My school’s unofficial name in the American Eagle system is the Science Park Kindergarten and the majority of the parents work in or around it. As I mentioned previously, the area surrounding HSP and my school is quite busy, I wouldn’t go as far as to say vibrant but you can get a lot of good, affordable food. In a previous post I mentioned a surprisingly friendly French man who runs a crêpe place.

Crepes

I haven’t seen this Eiffel Tower outside before or since and I just happened to be here to take a photo of it on the day it appeared, honestly, he isn’t that much of a cliché… It is called Uncle FiFi’s everyday though. The crêpes are great and cost about £1.60 but they quiver and shrivel up like a crisp packet in an oven at the sight of this colossus…

Indian

Those of you with a wide knowledge of geography and world cultures may have been able to spot the subtle references to the country of origin of this man and his food. No chicken tikka masala or mushroom balti here I’m afraid, this is Indian food. We’ve given up using the menu now after previously ordering one curry and the chef’s special each time and always being a bit disappointed with our choice. We just ask him what he wants to cook and let him get to work.

There are limits to Hsinchu’s culinary delights though.

Scottish delight

As the eagle-eyed (or Scottish) among you will have realised, this is a battered sausage, but not just any battered sausage. This is a very cheap, rubbery frankfurter that has been battered once in cornmeal to make a corn dog. While many would have stopped at this point considering the masterpiece perfect, beyond improvement, this guy didn’t. Just to batter again would have been child’s play, to batter it again and stick chips to the side of it… Inspiring. It is a shame that they are fries and not proper chips but I’ve come to terms with it. Would you tell Michelangelo, upon completing the Sistine Chapel, that he missed a bit? Just sit back and admire.

I haven’t tried one, I vomited a bit in my mouth when I saw it.

Sorry to reference a previous post again but, as some of you will know, I have been cooking quite a lot recently. Becoming a veggie has forced me into it and I’ve learnt a lot about creating my own flavours and not relying on jars or meat to provide it for me (instead I rely on the internet). In my quest to feel confident in the kitchen this place makes my life much easier.

Costco

But its being here makes all of our lives much, much worse. We don’t shop here too much though as the two of us struggle to get through two loaves of mozzarella before it goes bad.

My conscience buys its food here.

market

It has wandered through the market on many occasions and has found the best vendors for particular fruits and vegetables. Sometimes it has to go to particular people for an item as it knows theirs is best and/or cheapest. It feels at home in the marketplace and people know it. Simultaneously it knows that in shopping here, it is doing a good thing for the local area and people and the planet as a whole.

I shop here,

RT Mart

and my conscience doesn’t fucking shut up about it!

The aforementioned tour of the significant parts of Hsinchu would not include the city’s only museum.

Glass museum

This Hello Kitty monstrosity is the Hsinchu Glass Museum. I enjoy a good museum just as much as the next person (providing the next person enjoys museums) which is why I haven’t been here. I can tell you nothing more than that there is currently an International Glass Festival taking place that I have on good authority (me) is vapid shite.

I hope this hasn’t seemed too negative about Hsinchu as there are things that I love about it. The city isn’t special in any way. The food is ok, bars are plentiful but average and the people are a mixed bag. The surrounding countryside is beautiful though. I’ve been up into the mountains on a few occasions but at those times, I was without a camera as I left my charger in Birmingham.

Hsinchu mountainsThis was taken within a mile of my school on an overcast day. It may not blow you away but I hope it serves as representation of the possibilities surrounding the city.

By thelostartofconversation

Gym? What’s a gym? ……….. Oh, a gym!

I am not at home in the gym… literally. I do not, and I never have, lived in a gym. Sorry for using that archaic meaning of the word and not the new, I-need-a-word-to-make-this-boring-story-sound-a-bit-more-interesting usage. I literally pissed blood out of my eye socket the first time I heard the word literally misused.

I am not at home in the gym… figuratively. I’m not at home in the gym, at a summer house in the gym, not even at a B & B in the gym. I think the only place of residence I could stretch to would be a midday stay in a pay by the hour hotel; where I would be over-charged for something that I don’t know how to get full use out of, in the gym.

Having said that, last week I joined a gym.

In the past year I’ve given up cigarettes and meat, so laziness is next on my list. Soon all I’ll have left is booze and flatulence. One of which is ever increasing since becoming veggie. There are many obvious reasons for me joining a gym. Being overweight for 20 years and smoking for about half of those hasn’t caused any signs of ill-health yet, (sharp stabbing pains near the heart are normal aren’t they?) but it’s only a matter of time I suppose. The main reason though is that I want to spend a period of my life without breasts, or ‘moobs’ as the moobless amongst you so callously call them and my window of opportunity is shrinking everyday.

I’ve been to gyms before. A couple of false starts in Coleshill Leisure Centre lasted about 4 visits until the towel was eventually taken home, washed thoroughly, tumble dried by mum and then ‘thrown in’. I’ve always had what I assume is a common complaint of feeling out of place at a gym. Not being a happy-in-my-own-skin kind of chubby person surrounded by a range of reasonably fit to buff as fuck types makes me feel like I don’t belong. This is quite obviously cod’s bollocks! The gym is the exact place I should be until I’m no longer soft as rotting fruit.

There is a gym 200 metres from my front door which means it takes a matter of seconds to ride there on my scooter. Before Bertha and I went to join I felt more confident than on any other gym induction I’d had previously. I’ve spent around three years being surrounded by Han Chinese, some have been fantastic, some awful, most have been polite, a few have been beautiful and fewer have been communists but basically none have been physically domineering. Wuhan and Chongqing are relatively poor places whose residents don’t have a great diet or paediatric care so are mostly short and skinny. Shanghai and its surrounding cities are full of cash, this has manifested itself in the bellies of the blokes, of course the women are still slim but they don’t eat. There are of course lots of physically fit Chinese, but one never experiences that feeling of walking along a street and having to blurt out “He’s a big lad.” to make sure everyone else in the group knows you aren’t threatened by the tank coming the other way. So I felt that this gym might be a nicer place for the psychologically feeble like I.

On arrival this hope was taken from me, screwed up, positioned effortlessly between two perfectly sculpted arse cheeks and obliterated. The head personal trainer of the gym was there to meet us wearing the uniform of the vapid. NB: I dislike checked shirts. There is nothing wrong with them per se, they look good at a rodeo or on a lumberjack, but they are now synonymous with large groups of overly perfumed, barely coherent men wearing basically the same shirt in a club and whenever I see one I assume that person has a WKD side.

Well this fella’s checked shirt was cut off to the shoulders.

And his English name was Rico.

He was as I imagine most personal trainers to be: Relentlessly upbeat to a point which was unsettling. I’ve always been uncomfortable around anyone unilaterally positive and I found his encouragement very discouraging. It seems to work though because surveying the scene I could see the same awkward gait of the overly muscled one can find in gyms at home too.

After gasps of surprise about my derisible weight and percentage body fat (I have tits and a penis, what did you expect?) every preconceived notion I had of gyms had surfaced. I wanted a beer, a cig and a kebab.

Perhaps due to the vicinity of the gym to my home, or my very supportive partner, or an increased mental toughness I’ve been there 6 out of the 7 days since we joined and I’ll be going again tonight. It is actually a really nice place. Modern machines, friendly instructors and a cinema room with loads of cardio machines instead of chairs that I haven’t ventured into yet but when I get the desire to watch Twilight and build up a sweat, I’ll be sure to… do that, probably.

P.S. After writing this I looked up literally on a couple of online dictionaries and it turns out:

lit·er·al·ly/ˈlitərəlē/

Adverb:
  1. In a literal manner or sense; exactly: “the driver took it literally when asked to go straight over the traffic circle”.
  2. Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.

There a few things more annoying than a pedant, one of them is an incorrect pedant. However, I had an OED to hand which, below the real meaning under the heading ‘Usage’, described it thus.

“In recent years an extended use of literally has become very common, where literally is used deliberately in non-literal contexts, for added effect. This can lead to unintentional humorous effects and is not acceptable in standard English, though it is widespread.”

Some may find contradiction in the fact that I’ve quoted the dictionary and highlighted the relevant section to try and make my pedantry less annoying; well I literally couldn’t give a shit.

P.P.S. Part two of ‘Made in Taiwan’ will surface at some stage but with torrential downpours all week it was looking decidedly less picturesque here in Hsinchu.

By thelostartofconversation

Made in Taiwan

During my summer abroad in the UK it became clear that, except for those who’d travelled in China or around its fowl borders, few knew much about Taiwan, my current hat stand. The questions I was asked were based mainly on a confusion between here and Thailand, or an outdated view of Taiwan as the world’s workshop. So I thought I’d try to paint a picture of where I live. A picture of letters, spaces and punctuation coexisting to create sentences that will transform into images inside your face. They say a picture paints a thousand words, ergo, 1000 words can write a picture. You should view this rambling, babbling introduction, shamelessly designed to bulk out the piece, as the sky of a watercolour or the paint aimlessly flicked at the canvas of a “Modern” “Art” piece.

This poorly researched and even poorlier proofread background to Taiwan will borrow its format from Russian Nesting Dolls. I’ll begin with the largest definable area and work to the interior, separating each doll into a different blog so I don’t have to think of a new subject next week, to give as detailed description as I can.

Our Universe is over 13 billion years old and current theories believe it came into being by

Planet Earth is 4.5 bil

Asia is the most populous continent with

Begrudgingly I’ll limit it to three areas: Taiwan, Hsinchu, my apartment.

Part 1: Taiwan

Firstly to address the misconception of Taiwan as the world’s workshop (and to add a couple of hundred words) we need to go way, way, way, way, way, way, way way way, waaaaaay, way back to the industrial revolution and the economic entrapment of the North of England and subsequently, the world. As year 5 history and Al Murray taught us we were the first, the bloody first, us! We can all take credit for it because it was only a British achievement and we contributed directly to us, the BRITISH being the first and bloody best of the industrialised nations. Faster production, cheap labour and a military that could enforce trade on smaller nations meant that British exports and production increased dramatically and gave us the title ‘Workshop of the world’. This lasted a couple of decades and since then production has shifted wherever cheapest. In the 1970s and 80s this was Taiwan. But now, whatever the boot of Buzz Lightyear tells you, it isn’t. It is currently still China but Indonesia is next. The most common things you’re likely to see made in Taiwan now are HTC phones and Acer and Asus computers, Taiwanese companies that came into being by copying the Dell, Apple and HP computers that were made in Taiwan a few decades earlier. Taiwan is by no means an innovator but it is far above a sweatshop.

Taiwan is the Republic of China. Not to be confused with the People’s Republic of China, which is China. Although the People’s Republic of China don’t recognise the Republic of China (ROC) and believe it is all part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Or in their words “只有一个中国” “Only one China”. This is quite plainly bullshit. Taiwan has its own currency, government and military (armed and previously financed by the Americans, until they went broke). China has over 1000 ballistic missiles targeting Hsinchu, Taiwan’s Silicon Valley. It is the equivalent of us parking a couple of nuclear subs in the North Sea and threatening Holyrood with destruction if the SNP don’t drop the independence bid. The validity of our union is rightly debated, but it clearly exists (I look forward to the name Formerly United Kingdom). China and Taiwan are not the same country. The poor relations between the two is not only the fault of the Chinese though. When Taiwan faced a weaker China than today and were backed by a seemingly infallible American military, pre-Gulf War II, they too claimed to be the only China. This charge has only recently been dropped in the hope of not being flattened by a barrage of exploding dumplings or a giant firework.

It’s a lot easier to say what Taiwan isn’t rather than what it is.

Taiwan’s population of around 24 million is 96% Han Chinese and only 2% aboriginal. This is due to a combination of a number of mass migrations from mainland China and several occupying nations’ attempts to “civilise” the natives. The ancestors of the aboriginal Taiwanese are thought to have walked from modern day China, across what is now the Taiwan strait, around 10,000 years ago and settled in Taiwan.

130km at its narrowest

Chinese migration to Taiwan is recorded as early as the 13th century, back when it was known in the imperial court as ‘The Gate of Hell’ as many men ventured out to Taiwan, but few returned. A dangerous voyage it may have been, but most probably stayed and settled on the “Beautiful Island”. Portuguese sailors first named the island Ilha Formosa meaning “The Beautiful Island” in 1544, but failed to institute a controlling power there. The Dutch and Spanish occupied different parts of the island in the 17th century trying to establish an eastern base for commerce, evangelising and slaughter. In 1642 a combined Dutch and aboriginal force expelled the Spanish. With the Spanish gone they went on to try to domesticate or murder the rest of the natives.

The Chinese did actually have control of the island from 1685 but much like the government’s exile to Taiwan after defeat by the communists in 1949, this was a result of trying to hold on to a modicum of power following the end of a dynasty. So the incoming Qing Emperor Kangxi took control of Taiwan in order to put a definitive end to the Ming. Similarly to the way we keep Gibraltar to piss off the Spanish, China wanted Taiwan so as to maintain dominance over its neighbours. To the all-encompassing Chinese empire, Taiwan was “a ball of mud beyond the sea, adding nothing to the breadth of China”.

At this stage of reading the leading scholar of Taiwanese history, Mr Wilbur Isosceles Kipe-Dia (henceforth W.I. Kipedia) I was quite happy to read about various exploits of Empire from different European nations without coming across something along the lines of “Well this is a jolly good country, I’d be eternally grateful old boy if you’d make me a cup of tea, otherwise I’ll have no choice but to give you a terribly deadly blow with this awfully loud rifle”. It was nice to not have the pang of guilt I get whenever reading about Burma, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Australia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Iraq, Iran, Kenya, South Africa, etc, etc, etc.

In 1840 the British invaded as part of the first Opium War… Fuck-crumpets!

The Japanese defeated the Chinese in 1895 and ruled Taiwan until their defeat in WWII, when it was ‘given back’ to the Chinese, by Churchill and FDR, who are of course renowned for their fair, even-handed diplomacy when it comes to the destruction of Asian nations. As mentioned above, the Kuomintang (KMT) who lost China to the communists in 1949 moved to Taiwan and thus began the dual claim for the sole title of China. This was not the heavenly liberal democracy versus the evil communist dictatorship the States would have you believe though. Taiwan was a brutal dictatorship also, but was recognised by the west as the sole government of China, because they could: a) make a lot of cheap plastic toys for Christmas, and b) they weren’t frickin’ commies! Pro-democracy movements of the 70s and 80s brought about universal suffrage and in 96 the first full presidential elections were held.

So, to summarise: Taiwan is not China, but the people are Chinese. I can’t tell you exactly what Taiwan is yet though, I’ll try again in a few months. At the beginning I found myself comparing it to China too often; the people are ethnically very similar and I couldn’t help it. It’s much easier to live here than in China. Local government bureaucracy does not infiltrate most aspects of life, which is nice. However, a lot of the Taiwanese resent foreigners and are pretty racist out of feelings of superiority, much like the English. This differs from the Chinese who are generally racist due to ignorance and curiosity.

1400 words. If you’ve somehow read it all you’ve received much more than a picture. It’s more like a topographical map and a postcard, you are welcome!

Come back next week for a slightly smaller and much more photo based picture of my current city, Hsinchu.

By thelostartofconversation

I Knead Dough

Howdy.

There isn’t much time to dramatize, satirize and criticize this week. I’ve been very buzy writing a revizion document for my students’ mid-term so haven’t had much chance to color my thoughts with British English. Still, I’m having an awesome time. Awesome like a foot long hotdog!

Any spare time has been reserved for food. I’ve been doing a lot of real cooking this week and it’s destroying my funds. In the area surrounding my school we could eat nightly at a range of moderately priced (£2-£3) restaurants including, but not limited to: a veggie Buddhist buffet, really good Thai food, pasta, pizza, A French staffed crêpe place and Chinese food. But I bought an oven a few weeks ago and it stares accusingly at me when I walk through the door, so I have to use it.

I’ve made (using your powers of imagination add the prefix vegetable to each of these dishes): Lasagne, another pasta dish and pizza. For the first time I have attempted to make all of these from scratch which has meant eating between 10 and 12 at night but it looks like you can really cook when you sit down to eat and the kitchen is covered with flour (even the Americans include the ‘u’ in flour). Making pasta and pizza dough has helped save money on the hypothetical, “one day I might”, never going to happen gym membership but each meal has cost £15-£20. Which leaves us in a quandary: We could eat out each night, sample a variety of cuisines that taste great, are very cheap and take no preparation from me. Or spend 5 times as much, have my evenings taken up by cooking and sit down to eat, an admittedly more nutritious meal, at 11pm.

Fresh food is so expensive here that it makes one wonder how it is possible to run a restaurant so cheaply. It is possible to buy a savoury crêpe (apparently called a galette) with an array of fillings and a sweet crêpe with a much wider choice of innards and a coffee from a surprisingly friendly French man for the same price as a butternut squash. The squash is great, but it isn’t a meal and when you consider the home-made pasta sauce, mushrooms and broccoli, on top of the time and energy spent punching, stretching and kicking fresh pasta into existence, you’ve spent a week’s eating out budget and a whole evening on one meal. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I wish I had the money to cook my own food every night.

P.S. Virgin Trains ticket collectors have been absolved of all their many misdemeanours and sins after refusing to let Gideon stay in first class on a standard ticket. For one day at least, I salute you!

By thelostartofconversation

The Party’s Over

At the end of a season there is a certain hollowness that lies within every faithful fan. Something that took a not insubstantial role in your life has been taken away and a small indefinable absence is left in its place. Not so for the party conference season. This season-end emptiness results from the game itself.

In truth I wasn’t fully engaged with the entire season. I don’t think anyone saw the Lib Dem conference as surely everybody concerned had this on repeat for four days. I read about the leaders speeches for the Greens and Labour because at that time I had an episode of The Thick of It to re-watch all week. Coinciding with the Tory conference was a break from “our man Ian Ucci’s” show (for a Beatles doco, because nobody knows anything about those 3 boys from Manchester) so I found myself being drawn into the melee.

Whilst Miliband went to the labour stronghold of Manchester, Cameron went on the offensive taking the fight way, way, way up the M1 to the simple, pleasant northern town of Birmingham. The last time I worked in the city the Tories were conferencing, why Brumingham? Is it the central location? Well, yes, but indulge me. Is it the “thick, clumsy and sexually unattractive” accent of the natives? At least partly. Or is it that it displays a perfect microcosm of Britain at large. A bland industrial centre made vibrant through an influx of different ethnicities, and now with its industry all but dead has nothing to boast of except for its curries, average sports teams and Frank Skinner (who’s from West Brom).

George Osborne got all the early headlines with his predictable swipe at the working class, insisting that “Britain does not need a Plan B” and later that “There is no Plan B!” His obvious disdain for rap aside, how can he deny the existence of a man who released a film this year? The answer came, to those eagle-eyed among us, a few days later. Ozzy was obviously trying to clear a path for his home(counties)boy Big D. Cam’ron subtly dropped the line “Aspiration Nation” into his closing speech, a clear sign he’s trying to enter the hip-hop game. Now Osborne’s attack can be seen as it was, a threat. A threat that with their control of law and order and finger on the trigger of a military attack, the Coalition rolls deep!

Cameron’s speech was of course largely bullshit: “The compassionate party”, “The party of the NHS”, “We don’t preach about one nation but practise class war.” His contempt for the public is astounding, as if we haven’t been paying attention for the past two years. The only people that could have believed his lies are probably still convinced of an American plan to bring democracy to the Middle East. I did agree with his self-description though – “I’m not a complicated man”. True.

At the end of a season there must be a winner. When it comes to pleasing the plebs (with his hi-jinks) and the party (with his popularity) there is only ever going to be one winner. The political colossus on his unimpeded rise to the pinnacle of British power is of course, Boris. BoJo stole the show, as he always does, with a few pop culture references the self-deprecating humour that defines us and his one-of-us public persona. I’m quite worried that to many people this makes him seem electable as PM. Boris Johnson is to politics as X Factor is to music: Entertains millions and seems like harmless fun but is driven by a predatory cynicism and demeans us all.

The Thick of It is back tonight, fictional horrible bastards are much easier to tolerate than the real thing.

By thelostartofconversation

One Last Push

It has been said before. Countless times. After every long period away from blogging the few of you who have read them all have witnessed many examples of, ‘The Comeback Blog’. Well chalk up another one for the collection.

At this point I am the boy who cried Wolfe. I don’t blame you for doubting me, if you do believe me I’d advise you to be a bit more incredulous in future as I do have the form of someone who is at best, delusional, and at worst a liar. That being said, I will try one final time to be a blogger.

One last push that will hopefully bring forth into the world (wide web) a life form. My intention, as with everyone’s offlings, is for it to be healthy and fully-functioning, have lots of acquaintances that drop by often and maybe even make a valued contribution to society. But alas, as with most, it will likely be a good-for-nothing little urchin that is only barely loved by its creator, with worrying social and physical deformities and a future laden with mediocrity and overwrought metaphors.

A disclaimer: The format I’d like to adopt is one of regular updates and very little planned content. This will most likely result in a lot of stream-of-consciousness rambling with little point or punch line. But what has kept me from posting in the past has been a fear of standing on a soapbox with nothing to say. Allow me these hopefully occasional journeys into the formless babble of a Boris Johnson TV apology and maybe we can alight on the other side of content and wit.

If anybody is reading me for the first time, welcome. I am a kindergarten teacher with a beard but luckily I no longer live in a country where this is illegal. For an example of what my life is like: Today I fished excrement out of a urinal.

I have my own method of motorised transportation! For the first time in my life I don’t travel on the moral high ground of those who don’t drive a car or a motorbike. I no longer wait at the bus stops and railway platforms of the environmentally conscious and I am forever saved from… having to get lifts everywhere with mates. The words car and motorbike were thrown in there as a dead herring. I live in a busyish Asian city, therefore I am a scooterer. At16 I thought that not even considering owning a scooter was a sign of my maturity, over the trials and tribulations, ups and downs and lazy clichés of the last nine years I have moved past this. It’s true, a university education and experiencing other cultures truly does open the mind.

This is basically it. Every week. Thanks.

By thelostartofconversation