Guy Fawkes vs. The Prince of Lanling: How a Silly Search for Music Videos Explained Why People Reject Masks (Part 1)

Writing this was supposed to be fun, not give me an Awful Realization.

I didn’t expect putting together a music video post to make me at long last understand why so many people reject masks.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still pro-mask. Unless masks give you medical problems, keep wearing them around people outside your household.

Still, having this switch finally flipped in my head is odd. For over a year, I’ve been scratching my head: why are people so powerfully opposed to having cloth over their face? It’s not really about politics, since every political group in the United States has its share of passionate anti-maskers, and international news articles suggest that this is also true in other countries. It’s about something deeper than politics, something so deep it appears in pop music.

I also saw how we can counter mask resistance, but the solution is difficult.

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Young Fujianese Woman Excels at Daoist Magic, Swears Sisterhood with Other Women, Saves a Kingdom, and Vanquishes Fiends: a Review of The Lady of Linshui Pacifies Demons

I dimly recall encountering shrines dedicated to the Lady of Linshui when I lived in Taiwan, but I never paid them much mind. The many temples dedicated to Guanyin and Mazu were much more conspicuous.

Mazu got my attention. She’s one of the most popular deities in Taiwan (and San Francisco – she has two temples in this city, including the city’s oldest continuously operating place of worship dedicated to a non-Abrahamic deity). She’s also a prominent female role model who became so good at Daoist magic that she became a goddess. One book about Taiwan compares her to Hermione Granger. Mazu overshadows the folk religion of the South China Sea region so much that I didn’t notice that Lady of Linshui was also a young prodigy of Daoist magic who turned into a goddess… until I read the newly published English translation of The Lady of Linshui Pacifies Demons (臨水平妖傳).

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What Does Being Jewish Have to do with Liking Wuxia/Xuanhuan/etc.?

Ten years ago, if you had asked, “Will you still be into wuxia ten years from now?” I would have blanked at trying to imagine anything about myself ten years in the future said “probably not.”

Nowadays my taste for wuxia has expanded into a taste for xuanhuan and other Chinese-themed fantasy (personally I don’t consider wuxia to be ‘fantasy’, but it’s a trivial hairsplitting of genre definitions, I will not argue with people who say that wuxia is a subset of ‘fantasy’). I don’t spend nearly as much time reading traditional wuxia as I did, say, eight years ago. Yet it’s still clear that, even today, I am much more excited about reading/watching wuxia/xuanhuan/etc. than European-inspired fantasy.


I don’t think there is One True Answer… but a partial answer is ‘I’m Jewish’. Or more precisely, ‘my specific experience of being Jewish, which is not necessarily the experience of other Jews.’ Continue reading

To Understand Voters, Understand Where They Grew Up

A few weeks ago, I communicated with a Chinese woman in Thailand who was shocked that most Chinese-Americans support Trump. I was shocked that she thought most Chinese-Americans support him, since I had presumed that a majority of Chinese-American voters would choose Biden.

Curious, I found this (pre-election) survey. Their results were that 56% of likely Chinese-American voters planned to vote for Biden, 20% for Trump, and 23% were undecided. I was right to guess that a majority of Chinese-American voters planned to vote for Biden, but that majority was smaller than I expected.

In my research, I found that Chinese-Americans who immigrated as adults were more likely to support Trump than American-born Chinese (ABCs) or Chinese-Americans who immigrated as children. This did not surprise me.

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Does Availability of Hyperpalatable Food Increase How Much a Society Eats? Thoughts on the United States and Taiwan

According to The End of Overeating by David Kessler, a dramatic rise in ‘overeating’ began in the United States in the 1980s, which led to an increase people’s average weight and obesity. What caused the increase in ‘overeating’? Commercial sellers of food became more competent at making food ‘hyperpalatable’ by using new food processing techniques which made it cheaper to ‘load’ foods with sugar, fat, and salt and add a variety of appealing textures and flavors (provided by industrial chemical processing), while making food easier to chew and make it ‘melt’ more in the mouth so people can fill themselves with more calories before they feel full; this combined with improvements in ‘eatertainment’ which enable firms to entice customers to buy more and more (and then eat more and more). On top of all that, there has been a change in norms – whereas in France (and maybe previously in the United States, Kessler hints) people only ate during official meals, now eating outside of mealtimes has been de-stigmatized, with food being included in more and more workplaces/social events/etc., and people being more used to ‘snacking’ outside of mealtimes.

Much of this wasn’t news to me, but there were details I wasn’t aware of before, and I hadn’t seen it presented in this particular way before. In particular, I hadn’t encountered the insight that it was improvements in food processing technology which allowed companies to produce more ‘hyperpalatable’ foods at lower cost.

This calls to mind something Lucy Worsley says in If Walls Could Talk – that for most of British history, the upper class tried to eat the most processed food possible, and went to great lengths to get more highly processed food, as well as novel flavors (hence the high price of imported spices). Back then, food processing was very labor intensive, and thus expensive. According to The End of Overeating, it’s only in the past few decades that increased mechanization of food processing has allowed restaurants and food retailers to overcome ‘chopping disease’ (i.e. the labor costs of hand-processed food) and make highly-processed food more widely available. Continue reading

Remembering Jiaming Lake and the Southern Cross-Island Highway (Part 4)

This is a photo taken on the Southern Cross-Island Highway – I’m guessing that’s the Xinwulu river

Continued from Part 3.

When I wrote the emails in 2013 about my trip on the Southern Cross-Island Highway, I promised at the end that I would an email about Wulu Gorge, which I never did. Thus, unlike the previous parts of this blog post series, this entire post was written in 2020. And instead of being able to copy and paste a bunch of text I wrote shortly after the trip, all I have to rely on are a few photos and memories which are more than six years old.
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Remembering Jiaming Lake and the Southern Cross-Island Highway (Part 3)

A little after sunrise, with one of my companions in the lower left part of the picture.

Continued from Part 2

Actually, hiking at 3:30 in the morning wasn’t as bad as I expected, and it meant that we got out of the forest right around sunrise, which was nice, and that we had plenty of daylight in the part of the trail with the best views.

We hiked up Xiangyangshan and then … well, there are two trails to Xiangyangshan. The recommended route is the western trail for both the ascent and descent, so I assumed that we would only use the western trail. Well, they headed off onto the eastern trail, and I figured that joining them on the worse trail would still be safer than going alone on the better trail.

In fact the eastern trail was … not as bad as I expected. Sure, it’s in worse condition than the western trail, but it has different views, and actually isn’t any worse than some of the trails around Taipei. In fact, I’m grateful that they decided to do the eastern trail, because I probably would not have dared on my own.

There are two of my hiking companions

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Remembering Jiaming Lake and the Southern Cross-Island Highway (Part 2)

This is continued from Part 1.

I should note that the eastern section of the Southern Cross follows the Xinwulu river. The river originates from Guanshan, Xiangyangshan, and Sanchashan i.e. the mountains I summitted during this trip (except Guanshan, which I didn’t summit). The Xinwulu river flows down into the east rift valley, where it flows into the Beinan river, which eventually flows into the Pacific Ocean at Taidong city.

I started this trip by taking a train to Guanshan (the town, not the mountain), and spent the first night there. Guanshan is a town in Taiwan’s east rift valley, at the southern end of Taiwan’s ‘rice bowl’ (i.e. prime rice-growing region), and relies on the Xinwulu river for much of its water. The next morning, I got on a bus, which went up to the Southern Cross-Island Highway. The bus passed through Chulai, about 300m above sea level, which is where the mountains meet the valley and is the last place along the highway where rice-farming is feasible. After going through Chulai, the next settlement was Xiama, then Wulu, and then Lidao, where I had breakfast.

Most of the road was in good shape, though there were a few rough patchs, and a flooded tunnel where the bus literally had to drive through the water. [UPDATE 2020: A year later, in 2014, bus service to Lidao was cancelled, which does not completely surprise me given road conditions and lack of population. I don’t know whether bus service was ever restored, or if there is currently bus service to Lidao].

Lidao is a Bunun village (every settlement past Chulai is a Bunun village) about 1000m above sea level, and is the last place with flat land. The people there apparently feel they don’t have enough farmland, so many of the mountains around Lidao have terraced fields. The Boss (I explain who he is in Part 3) claims that the people have taken the terracing too far. Continue reading

Remembering Jiaming Lake and the Southern Cross-Island Highway (Part 1)

A view seen near Yakou on the Southern Cross-Island Highway in Taiwan

I recently read the novel Yushan Spirits (玉山魂) by Husluman Vava. In the preface, he describes the incident which inspired the novel. He was traveling on the Southern Cross-Island Highway in Taiwan. At Yakou, the highest elevation point on the road, he was feeling the effects of the altitude change, so he decided to take a break at a parking lot, where there were two multi-story buildings. This is at the border of Kaohsiung and Taitung counties, so passengers going between Kaoshiung’s bus system and Taitung’s bus system would transfer there. Husluman Vava saw an old man waiting with other bus passengers who seemed to be looking at the mountains in a particular way. He addressed him in the Bunun language, asking him if it was going to Taitung. The old man answered that yes, he was going to Taitung to visit his daughter.

They got into a conversation, and eventually, the old man said (note: I’m translating this from Chinese, which was translated from Bunun, and I’m also abridging this, so the accuracy is questionable) “When I was young, I often went hunting here with my elders.”

“Here, in this parking lot?” Husluman Vava replied.

“The mountain forest here was originally our village’s hunting ground … I once shot and killed a deer in this area – just about there! There was originally a giant rock there, the smart deer would duck behind there to get out of our sight … it was rare that we hunted down such a big deer,” the old man continued as he basked in his old sense of glory.

“What? Inside that multi-story building?”

“Yes! But someone who doesn’t understand mountain forests, who doesn’t understand hunting, put a building in a place which belongs to deer … this place has changed, there are more and more things which don’t belong in the mountains. Sometimes when I pass by here, I wonder whether the things I remember actually existed.”

Husluman Vava was really struck by this comment. He pondered what would drive someone to stop believing their own memories were true, and what it meant when it happened to a whole culture. That was the starting point for the novel.

I myself have been to Yakou, in 2013, and I recall looking at the buildings mentioned in the preface. However, at the time I was there, there was no bus service; I had to hitchhike to get up there. The buildings were closed and not in use. When I was looking down at that, I also felt like they looked really out of place in their setting. Continue reading

Notions of Hygiene Come from Culture (If Walls Could Talk Series)

This is part of the If Walls Could Talk series

People generally get their notions of hygiene from their culture, and tend to overestimate how much their ideas about hygiene agree with science.

This is something I first came to understand when I lived in Taiwan. It turns out that what a Taiwanese person thinks is hygienic may not seem hygienic to an American, and vice versa.

One example of a habit which is normal in Taiwan but which many people from other societies (including the United States) find gross is putting used toilet paper in the trash rather than flushing them down the toilet. As I said in this post:

I have read various tracts by non-Taiwanese about how the Taiwanese habit of putting toilet paper in the bin is so ‘unsanitary’ and is ‘bad manners’ but instead of presenting scientific evidence of how Taiwanese practices help spread disease or cause more environmental damage than putting toilet paper in toilet bowls, their argument seems to be that it goes against their own non-Taiwanese cultural norms, and thus the Taiwanese are wrong.

I still have not encountered any scientific evidence that putting toilet paper in a bin instead of the toilet itself causes more disease transmission. Perhaps it does – but the point is, I haven’t seen the people claiming that this habit is ‘unsanitary’ refer to any scientific evidence, which means that their opinion is based on culture, not science.

An example of a habit which is unremarkable in the United States but is considered unsanitary in Taiwan is: eating raw vegetables. Since I didn’t have a kitchen in Taiwan (just a sink and a rice cooker that didn’t work very well), I ate out for most of my meals. Once in a while, I was invited to a Taiwanese home for a meal. I noticed that Taiwanese eateries and homes rarely offered anything with raw vegetables. I’ve also had multiple conversations with Taiwanese people like this:

Taiwanese person: I went to Canada.
Me: Did anything about Canadian culture surprise you?
Taiwanese person: (amazed) Canadians eat vegetables without cooking them.

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