By DS, Aug 3 2015 04:27PM
There's no doubt that Taiwan has got its perception of London absolutely spot on!
This is an ongoing blog documenting events and observations from my time living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
I may also throw in the occasion post on the challenges, and of course joys, of being a first time father.
I try to avoid writing about politics or football on here. But sometimes I just can’t help myself!
Comments are open to all, but please be nice if you can!
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There's no doubt that Taiwan has got its perception of London absolutely spot on!
The BBC’s Taiwan correspondent, Cindy Sui has written an important and timely article about safety here in Taiwan.
It comes off the back of a number of high profile disasters the country has experienced in the past year including two plane crashes - both seemingly caused by pilot error - a huge series of explosions here in Kaohsiung caused by unmaintained commercial pipes running through residential areas, and most recently a catastrophic fire at a Water Park concert in Taipei where coloured powder being sprayed on the audience ignited and caused injuries to more than 500 as well as several deaths.
She highlights some of the crucial factors that have caused these major disasters and countless others. Failure to enforce laws at both a local and national level is common-place.
Looking out of my window here I can see at least three illegal structures on the tops of buildings which should, by the letter of the law be torn down. They have been there for many years though, and will doubtless be there for many more.
As a relatively new democracy, politicians are paranoid about taking any actions that might upset voters, which means that voters can get away with doing many things they shouldn’t.
Almost all politicians at both a local and national level have ‘close’ (lets avoid using the word ‘corrupt’) relationships with businesses, and will therefore not pass legislation that might impact on their interests, and won’t enforce laws that are already in place.
Cindy highlights one of my great bugbears about Taiwan. Despite being one of the safest countries on earth, with one of the lowest burglary rates on the planet, many people still insist on having bars on all their windows. This is case with almost all houses, and also many flats, even if they are located on the 23rd floor.
Not only is this massively dangerous in the event of a fire, and the cause of numerous deaths, but it also contributes to many people living in prison-like conditions.
A paranoia about exposure to the sun, and a fashion for pale skin, as well as a desire to keep homes cool in the blazing hot summers, means many homes are kept in near darkness. A dark, dingy environment with barred windows is not a great environment to bring up children, or indeed for anyone to live in, and it is little wonder that many young people here have both poor eyesight and an addiction to their smart-phones and computer games rather than an interest in playing sport or getting outside.
She also touches on the failure to enforce or adhere to seatbelt rules. This is true, as sadly it is in many parts of the world, but the point should also be expanded to cover the blatent disregard for almost all traffic laws.
Speeding is commonplace on all roads and when you drive on a motorway you expect to be both overtaken and undertaken, as well as tailgated by any vehicle which can’t get past you.
Traffic lights are all too often seen as optional with many drivers of cars and scooters believing its fine to turn right on a red light, and quite frequently, that its fine to go straight-on at a red light too.
There is no evidence of any efforts by police or local authorities to put a stop to this, and hence aggressive illegal driving has over the past decade become the norm here. The result: when you go out it is now more common to see a crash than not to see one, and whilst I don’t have the stats to hand, I can only imagine that road traffic injuries and deaths has gone up considerably.
Safety, and in particular enforcing safety laws properly, is an area where Taiwan badly needs to get its house in order. Major events like those highlighted in Cindy’s article damage the reputation of the country, and will have an economic impact as well.
And for ex-pats living here, and overseas visitors as well, the sight of barred windows and reckless driving gives an impression which simply does not tally with the Taiwan I have experienced living here, and the Taiwanese people I meet every day.
Bread is a big deal here in Taiwan.
The coffee shop revolution which has hit every high street in the UK has taken hold big time. With no pub culture to speak of, it is common to see groups of young adults gathered together on a Friday and Saturday night at the local Starbucks, Donutes, or one of the many other local coffee shop and bakery chains.
Alongside this, bread has gained a foothold in the day-to-day diet of ordinary Taiwanese people for probably the first time.
My sister-in-law is one of many who has invested in a bread machine and regularly gifts us loafs laced with red beans, banana, mango, and many other slightly outlandish, yet weirdly delicious fillings.
The coffee shops themselves also produce a wide range of cakes and breads, with fillings sweet and savoury, many of which would never see the light of day in a UK equivalent.
Little surprise then that someone has come up with the idea of Watermelon bread then. Although a fair bit of surprise that the Daily Mail has picked up on it and run a story. Taiwan is a country which lurches from one food craze to another, with crowds queueing outside 7/11’s to be the first to taste their new flavour of ice cream, before swiftly moving on to the latest hot trend.
The massively overcrowded blogosphere here seems to lead the trends. Should the Mail be so inclined, I suggest hiring a mandarin speaker to monitor them. They are guaranteed at least 2 or 3 stories a week.
For now though, I’m off to Crown Coffee to buy up whatever colour-dyed bread they have in stock, just in case it’s the next big thing.
It is rich, full bodied, sweet like honey, and smooth all the way down. I'm no connoisseur, but it would have been rude to have turned down the chance to taste just a wee dram of what is officially the best SIngle Malt Whisky in the world.
Don't believe me? Take a look for yourselves.
The Scots may excel at nationalism, but it seems when it comes to whisky, they are losing their touch!
So having been somewhat removed from the endless General Election campaign, but had the pleasure of watching the results rolling in at a rather more civilised hour than most, I thought I would take the opportunity to share some thoughts on the General Election. I appreciate I am adding one small voice to the cacophony of commentary in recent days but this is as much to get a few things off my own chest as in any way hoping to influence the debate.
Firstly, and with the benefit of hindsight, I think the outcome was probably the best result for every party, bar UKIP. The Conservatives have their majority, but it is small enough that if (when) they try and force through bad legislation (we can expect the Snoopers Charter to make a reappearance I fear!) it will theoretically only take a small rebellion to defeat it.
This also gives a fair bit of power to all backbenchers, new and old, because at times their votes will be vital!
Labour are shot of a catastrophically bad leader and have the chance to move back to the centre ground again after another failed dabbling with the left. It is clear now that no-one, even within the Labour ranks saw Miliband as PM material. He was completely unstatesmanlike and lacked even the basic leadership skill and personality traits that become a leader on the world stage.
Sadly for them a drawn-out leadership battle with Harriet in change will get this Parliament off to a pretty shocking start for them too, and allow the Tories to push a few less popular things through while the guard is down. The big question is whether five years is long enough to regroup enough to recover a 100 seat deficit, with the expected addition of about 25 more if the boundary changes proposed last term are now passed. Plenty of pundits see another ten years in the wilderness ahead, and at present there isn’t a lot of reason to disagree with them.
The Lib Dems have taken a mullering, but they are still there, and if they can get back to what they do best, grassroots local campaigning, then they will rise again. I feel sorry for them, and Nick Clegg in particular. They had no choice but to go into Coalition with the Tories, or they would have lost all credibility as a political entity, being seen as one not interested in actually governing when the chance came along. Coalition means compromises, and whilst the Tories compromises have been forgotten, the Lib Dems ones remained all too vividly in the publics mind. This is partly a failing in their media management, and partly naivety, but they have been punished far more than they deserve, and some good principled politicians have been unceremoniously thrown out of office.
The SNP are obviously now a major political force in UK politics. The long term question is whether they can maintain the ground they won in elections to come. Much of the onus is on Labour to rebuild their shattered and complacent Scottish operation, which remains to be seen. There have to be big question marks about whether the hapless Jim Murphy is the man to lead this resurgence. But the nationalists won’t be thinking too much about that for now. They will make their voices heard in Westminster, but I suspect they will soon realise that as the third party, the real impact they have on policy and legislation will be far less than I think they are expecting.
UKIP for me were the big losers in the election, despite a high vote-share. A single seat is a catastrophic return for them, and let’s be honest Douglas Carswell was elected because he is Douglas Carswell not because he was the UKIP candidate. If Farage chooses not to stand as leader in the autumn, I think we will see the party go into a sharp decline. They were and remain a one-man party based solely on the personality and charisma of Farage. Without him, they are nothing more than a ragbag collection of embittered Tory cast-offs and extremists. If Carswell can take the reins and turn them into a political reform party there might be hope. If not, the decline starts here.
A brief comment on the Green Party, who are the very definition of shambolic to my mind. Totally incoherent policies, bizarre extreme left wing candidates, and the kind of political strategists that decide to field their party leader in a totally unwinnable seat, sums up why they will never be more than a fringe party in the UK.
In my part of London, I was pleased to see David Burrowes re-elected. He is a good local MP, and whilst I don’t agree with his stance on plenty of things, I know he will keep working hard for the area and hold the erratic Labour-run council to account. Appalled to see the excellent Nick de Bois ousted by the expenses-scarred Joan Ryan in Enfield North though. How someone with her track record is allowed to even stand again is beyond me. Her election brings almost as much shame as the antics of the dreadful George Galloway, another individual who has no place in an open democratic system.
Delighted too for my good friend Chris Green, who triumphed in the marginal seat of Bolton West. He is a fiendishly hardworking local champion who I know will be a strong voice for his constituents, and also brings a much needed scientific mind into the corridors of power, a skillset which is hugely lacking amongst our elected representatives.
Always good to see DD back where he belongs too, but I don’t think that was ever in doubt, given the sterling work he does on both local and national issues.
Saving the best moment til last though, the highlight of the night has to be the demise of Ed Balls. As one of the architects of the economic crisis that has shackled this country and its hard working people for the past seven years, and as someone who has shown no shame or remorse for his mistakes, and not even considered accepting that perhaps he got some things wrong and should apologise, it is proper and just that he should lose his seat and pay the price, as everyone else in the country has had to, for the profligacy of his economic policies.
Here’s hoping he is one face who doesn’t make it back to the house, in any capacity!