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Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Ancestors in Taiwan

Maori meet the Aboriginal Formosans

Back in February, at the Taipei International Book Fair, something amazing happened.

Over the last ten or so years, geneticists have confirmed what linguists and archaeologists have been guessing for more than fifty -- that there is a clear link between modern day Polynesians, including New Zealand Maori, and the people who lived on the east coast of Taiwan five thousand years ago.

Taiwan is where the great migration that discovered and settled every island of the Pacific began.

Their aboriginal people -- the original Formosans -- are the ultimate ancestors of the people of the Pacific. As Dr Geoff Chambers, biologist at Victoria University and an expert on the great migration, says, it started 5,000 years ago, when people now known as the Austronesians set out from their homeland, spreading first into the area about Mindanao in modern Indonesia, then to the Philippines, and beyond.

After about 2,000 years of exploring, island-hopping, and settling, they moved into another major area, now known as Papua-New Guinea, where they settled and intermarried with the locals.  this genetic mix produced the ancestors of the modern Polynesians,  These were the people who ventured out in their outrigger canoes, and gradually explored the entire Pacific, from Samoa and Tonga to Tahiti and the Marquesas, and as far as Rapanui (Easter Island), Hawaii, and Aotearoa (New Zealand).

And, at the book fair, a New Zealand Maori party and indigenous Taiwanese, like the delightful girls at the Council of Indigenous People pavilion, right next-door to the New Zealand pavilion, met and interacted.

Most modern Taiwanese are of Han Chinese origin (like the youngsters with the Maori performers, at the top of this post), but about half a million Taiwan people (like the girls in their colorful dress) belong to one of the two dozen indigenous tribes.  And, when they got together with the Polynesian party, they called each other cousins.

"I feel at home here," quipped iconic Maori writer Witi Ihimaera (Whale Rider), "because someone asked me for directions in Mandarin."

The similarities were indeed striking. Not only do they look much the same as the girls, boys, men and women -- Samoan, Tahitian, Tokelauan, Cook Island and Tongan, as well as Maori -- that we encounter every day, but they share a lot of words. In New Zealand, we say, "Tahi, rua, toru, wha, rima" (one, two, three, four, five), while in Taiwan, they say, "Cecay, toso, tolo, sepal, lima."

And they have the same challenges in preserving their culture.

Two people allied by their genes and their ancient past.  No wonder this was such a deeply significant occasion.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lan Yu "canoes" -- my guest post at Old Salt Blog

Today, I had the privilege of being invited to write a guest post for OLD SALT BLOG.

It is about the Lanyu canoes I studied at museums in Taipei, and the local experts I interviewed.

Here I am with one of those experts, the charming Liao Hong-ji, a fisherman, author, conservationist and adventurer.

The whole conversation was in Chinese (except for my answers to translated questions, and my questions, also translated) -- and we were talking about the Great Migration, and Tupaia's canoes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gunboats at the Evergreen Maritime Museum

Since there has been such intense interest in Taipei's Evergreen Maritime Museum, I have decided to tell you more over two or three more posts.  This one focuses on three fascinating models of steam-powered boats that plied Chinese waters in the nineteenth century.

Ping Yuan -- cruiser.  Launched on January 29, 1888, and originally named Long Wei, this was the first steel-armored cruiser built in China, her design based on the French Acheron-class gunboat. In 1890 she was transferred to the Beiyang Fleet, and renamed Ping Yuan.  The Ping Yuan fought in the Battle of the Yalu River, damaging the Japanese flagship Matsushima (of which there is a model upstairs). Captured in the siege of Weihaiwei in 1895, she became part of the Japanese Imperial Navy.  In 1904 she met her doom, hitting a mine in Pigeon Bay, west of Port Arthur.

This lovely model is is of the Jing Qing, another cruiser.  She was a composite (wooden planking over an iron frame), and fitted with a ram bow. Built in the Foochow Naval Yard, she was launched on December 23, 1885, and joined the Nanyang Fleet, based in Shanghai. At the end of the Qing Dynasty she was transferred to the Yangtze river fleet, and in 1918 she was decommissioned and converted into a commercial vessel.

And here is the steamship Wan Nian Qing, China's first wooden-hulled, steam-driven vessel to exceed 1,000 tons. Launched on June 10, 1869, she was not a gunboat, per se, but served as a transport between Taiwan and Fujian,  She sank after a collision with a British steamboat in the East China Sea (near Shanghai) on January 20, 1887.  Since then, her name has been given to a chemicals tanker .... 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Evergreen Maritime Museum

Finding an entry ticket for Taipei's maritime museum as a bookmark reminded me that I haven't written a post about this amazing, little-known maritime museum, tucked away in a city suburb well away from the sea.  There was a great deal that was marvelous about this find, and a few things that were mysterious.

First was the entrance gate.

"Evergreen" seemed such an odd name for a maritime museum, but then I forgot this for the moment, as we went into the truly amazing ground floor.

This is looking down on it from above.  Though it is dominated by an enormous model of a dhow, the vessels around it grab the attention.  First, there is a Lanya canoe (indigenous Formosan), complete with equipment

Based on a dugout keel, this carvel-built canoe was made on Orchid Island (Lan Yu), off the southeast coast of Taiwan. The natives who build in this style are Taos, an aboriginal tribe predating the Han Chinese who mostly populate Taiwan now.  This specimen consists of 27 pieces of wood, with four tiers of strakes surmounting the keel -- according to what I learned at the Aboriginal Museum (near the famous National Palace Museum), this means that it is crewed by four paddlers. Both bow and stern are raised, but appeared to me to be identical, though there were eyes painted at one end. The decorations are most impressive, representing waves, and -- I was told -- ancestral images.  No outrigger -- which I find fascinating, when it is considered that the Austronesian migration that populated the Pacific came from Taiwan, 5000 years ago.

Elsewhere in this grand foyer are the huge model of a dhow, three models of gunboats, and an exhibit dedicated to the great admiral Zheng He, who led an expedition to the Indian Ocean 1405-1433 AD.

As well as a model of his treasure ship, there are warrior-type models of Zheng He flanked by two military officers. 

Cameras were banned in the higher floors, but of course we wanted to explore.  After buying a ticket for 100 New Taiwan Dollars (about $3 US, the whole of which goes to charity), we put away our cameras and took an elevator to the fifth floor, as instructed.  This was dedicated to the History of Ships -- but to our surprise, the wonderful models were all of European ships.  

The fourth floor had another great display of models -- of ocean liners, 20th century war ships -- and modern cargo ships, where I found out why the museum is called "Evergreen."  The cargo ships were all container ships, owned by .. guess what ... the Evergreen Company, the sponsor of this wonderful maritime museum. 

As the brochure told me, the Evergreen Maritime Museum was founded by the Chairman and Founder of the Evergreen group, Dr. Y. F. Chang, who supplied most of the artifacts, and gave it a place in the Chang Yung-Fa Foundation building. So, it is understandable that there should be a generous space devoted to Evergreen container ships.  There were some great interactive displays, where I found out more about loading, sailing, and docking a huge container ship than I ever expected to learn. 

For a historian, the third floor was even more interesting, as it focused on Taiwan and the sea, covering the East India Company, the opium trade, and the story of Taiwan's prominence in modern maritime trade -- from the point of view of Evergreen, of course.

The third floor held another surprise -- an exhibit called The World of Maritime Paintings ... mostly European maritime paintings. There was even one by Geoff Hunt, who created the covers of the Patrick O'Brian series.  Interestingly, though, there were also many pierhead paintings -- ship portraits made to order for clipper ship captains -- or created in the hope that they would buy them. While the artists were not named, they were probably Chinese.

And so down to the mezzanine, overlooking the magnificent display on the ground floor.  Not many exhibits there, except a case that held, rather touchingly, models and wreaths made by crew of the various Evergreen container ships, labelled -- somewhat to my surprise -- as "Sailor Scrimshaw."

Oh well, never mind.  It was a great experience, highly recommended.  Taipei is indeed a city of surprises.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Eleanor's review from Historic Naval Fiction

From Historic Naval Fiction

At the height of the Napoleonic wars East Indiamen faced the perils of a long hazardous voyage and enemy privateers to bring the wealth of the far east back to England. Shortly after the war ended the The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, China, and Australia began a serialisation of the diaries of Eleanor Reid who accompanied her husband Hugh, the captain of the Indiaman Friendship, on one such voyage from Ireland to New South Wales, the South Sea, the Spice Islands, Bengal, and then back to Europe between 1799 and 1801. In her latest book Eleanor’s Odyssey, award winning author Joan Druett has brought to life this long forgotten manuscript.
Eleanor must have been a keen observer as she brings to life not just her time aboard ship at sea and in port but also the flora and fauna and the life of both the European and native populations in the places visited. Druett has enhanced what would have been an interesting read on it’s own by preceding each chapter with a well researched commentary of what is known about the ship, crew, passengers, events and places visited. A wealth of detail that brings the period to life for the reader. The book concludees with a chapter on what happened to Eleanor and her husband in the years following the voyage.
This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in learning more about life both in the far east at the time and aboard an East Indiaman. Highly Recommended

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Books and so forth

"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid": Jane Austen

"One machine can do the work of 50 ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man": Elbert Hubbard

"Not all chemicals are bad.  Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer": Dave Barry

"The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that, in a democracy, you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting": Charles Bukowski

"I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate": George Burns

"If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience": George Bernard Shaw

Friday, March 20, 2015


Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly neologism contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words.

The winners are:

1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.

6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle (n), olive-flavoured mouthwash.

9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), (back by popular demand): The belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.  

The Washington Post's Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

The winners are:

1. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

2. Foreploy (v): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

3. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for a  very long, sometimes indefinite period of time.

4. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

5. Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

6. Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

7. Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.

8. Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

9. Karmageddon (n): its like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

10. Decafalon (n.): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

11. Glibido (v): All talk and no action.

12. Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

13. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

14. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

15. Caterpallor (n.): The colour you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.

And the pick of the literature:
16. Ignoranus (n): A person who's both stupid and an asshole.   

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Queen Mary 2 misses Wellington

She is a magnificent ship -- or was, when new.  Actually, the Queen Mary 2 is rather well named, because she is showing her age, and badly needs her upcoming make-over.

We sailed on her from Hong Kong to Sydney.  As we live in Wellington, New Zealand, we did consider the option of sailing all the way home, but time (and money) dictated otherwise.

And now we are so pleased we left the ship in Sydney, as she has had a very strange cruise since then, courtesy of Cyclone Pam.

She did make it to the Milford Sound, but then turned up the west coast, not the east, so missed her scheduled call at historic Akaroa.  Instead, she moored in the Marlborough Sounds, and the passengers were shuttled to the busy little port of Picton.

After that, she was supposed to come to Wellington, but somehow she didn't make it.

As reported, she meandered, instead.

The 345-metre long ship was due into Wellington Harbour on Wednesday morning but, after a circuitous route across Cook Strait, the pilot aborted entry to the harbour at 5.10am because of a heavy swell and bad weather.
The Wellington leg of the cruise was cancelled and the ship is now heading up the North Island west coast to Auckland.
Ship tracking website shows the roundabout route the ship took overnight.
It left the Marlborough Sounds on Tuesday night and sailed as far north as opposite Palmerston North. It then looped back to near the Wellington Harbour entrance before again heading north to the sea off Kapiti Island and then northwards.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Typhoons and Filipino canoes

Some of you might remember Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated coastal villages in the Philippines.

Well, we had some connections here in New Zealand.  Our friend Sarah Gaitanos has a brother who is a local entrepreneur.  And we made many Filipino friends during our four years as lecturers for P&O Australia.

Sarah organized a fund-raising campaign, and a good sum of money was sent over to help communities of fishermen and their wives.  The money was spent on construction materials, a generator, clothes, food, and canoes ....

Money so well spent -- see the happy faces.  Many of the canoes were equipped with motors, as well as fishing and boating gear.

Perhaps most rewarding of all was funding for the crafts that their women create and sell, while their husbands, sons, and fathers are out harvesting the sea.  "Out of everything we have done," said the local organizer, "Bantayan Crafts is the most meaningful – we have given 35 women the chance to help themselves through enterprise. They are all married mums who can’t depend upon their hubbies for a steady income."

Please follow Bantayan Crafts’ progress through its facebook page bantayancrafts

Monday, March 16, 2015

Queen of the Tearling

The book had been left on a table in a sitting area in Sydney Airport.  And it was ten in the morning, while my flight was not scheduled until five-thirty that afternoon.

Seven hours to fill in before boarding time.

I looked at the book.  No one seemed to want it, and looking at the unimpressive cover and unimaginative title, I thought I could see why.  When I finally picked it up, it was to find that it was bookmarked at page 180 before being abandoned.

I put it down again.  No one came rushing over to claim her book, and so it lay there, looking forlorn.  Seven hours to fill.  I picked it up again, and this time I looked at the back.  Bernard Cornwell, one of my favorite authors, had blurbed it. "A gripping read with an enchanting heroine, Erika Johansen has created a wonderful world and I can't wait to read more," he had written.

So I started the book.  And was gripped.  It lasted me throughout the wait and then throughout the flight, and next morning I couldn't wait to read the rest.

And yet, it is surprisingly derivative. Let's look at the plot, for a start.  Nineteen-year-old Kelsea, plump and plain and bookish, has been raised in a remote forest by two rather elderly foster parents.  On her birthday nine horsemen come to collect her, so she can claim her throne.  The trail to the city (called New London) is fraught with danger, as there is a price on the future queen's head.  She is rescued by a bandit named The Fetch who wears a harlequin mask, and it is then that we find that she wears a sapphire with magic qualities. After arriving in New London to supplant a fat and nasty regent, Kelsea takes on board the full challenge of her job -- the place is corrupt, her people are being sold into slavery (following a lottery to fill the quota) as a "tribute" to a really repellent neighboring monarch called -- also unimaginatively -- the Red Queen.  But Kelsea tackles all this with guts and gusto, aided by her Queen's Guard.  She is a female knight in shining armor.

Sound familiar?  Well, it should.  There is a lot of Hunger Games in there, plus Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, and Harry Potter. The author uses her sources openly and without embarrassment.  What saves this -- apart from the wonderful writing and narrative pace -- is another derivation, that of the Grimm brothers' Fairy Tales. All the elements are there -- magical artifacts, looming forests, a wicked queen, greedy nobles, downtrodden peasants -- and Johansen handles them beautifully. There is a certain amount of violence, but she certainly doesn't wallow in it.  The one or two swear words dropped into the dialogue are rather delightfully revealing of the main character's naivete.  There are also clever touches of humor. And, thank the lord, there is no bonking.

It's the first in a series, and, like Cornwell, I can't wait to read more.

Added notes.  I see that a movie has been optioned -- and the heroine is to be as beautiful as Katniss.  What a mistake!  What is particularly appealing about Kelsea is her plainness, with not a hint of a makeover in sight.

On Amazon there are some surprisingly virulent reviews.  Curious to know what the reviewers found so repellent, I had a look at the other books those readers had reviewed.  In the most vicious case the reviewer's five-star ratings were of (a) pregnancy books (b) raising toddler books (c) romances with plenty of graphic sex.

Ha! If Amazon reviewers only knew it, their lists of reviewed books are as revealing as their bookcases would be in their own homes.