Friday, July 16, 2010

The Meeting, 赴會, FICTION by Taiwanese writer LAI HO, translation by Joe Hung, with rewriting by Dan Bloom

The Meeting

Part 1

“The train will be coming soon,” I thought to myself as I got closer to the train station. “I'd better hurry!"

I walked faster because I wanted to make sure I would not miss my train. Of course, I knew I had arrived at the station grounds about five minutes ahead of time, before the scheduled departure, but I wanted to make sure I would make it.

On this day, the station was crowded, and as you can imagine, it took some effort to
reach the ticket counter, where I promptly bought a ticket and breathed a sigh of relief. I was going to make it, after all. No need to worry now.

The gate to the
platform was still closed, however, and a bunch of people were milling in front of the gate, waiting to go in and board their train. Not everyone wanted to wait in a nice, orderly line, so the station clerk was quite busy trying to get people to queue up properly.

I guess I'm what you'd call "an educated person," at least I like to think of myself that way. So I was a bit hesitant of getting in the middle of all those people pushing and shoving their way in the line, that's not my style, so I waited patiently in the station lobby and entered the gate and then the platform only when most people were already on board their train, which was headed south.

I was going northward in a different direction to where most of the farmers and peasants were going. Their train, headed south, was going to be a very crowded train, for sure. Many of the passengers were on a kind of religious pilgrimmage to a local temple in Beikang. Many pilgrims were carrying bags of ghost money and incense sticks, and their
travel bags were festooned with banners and tiny bells as befits a traditional religious even like this in Taiwan.

It seemed to me, from my perspective, that most of these pilgrims were
farmers and agricultural workers. You could see it in their faces, in their eyes, in their clothes. Their faces were tanned from the hot sun of southern Taiwan and they looked the part. Religion was important in their lives, and going to Beikang to pray to the gods was more than just an outing. It was a true pilgrimmage. So what if it was all a bunch of silly superstition? It served a purpose in their lives, I knew that.

Me? I was going north, on my way to attend a meeting of the Taiwan Cultural Association. Unlike the noisy southbound train and its crowded carriages, my coach was quiet and there were few people on board.

I took a window seat, and began settling into my thoughts as the train
started up and moved out of the station. The scenes outside my window, the farm fields, the fish ponds and fences, the distant hills and mountains, it was all pleasant and comforting. But I remembered also the people
on that other train going to Beikang and I thought of how hard their lives were, working so hard for their Japanese masters in this colonized Taiwan. If I could help them, at this meeting I was going to, what could I do? Lobby the government to get rid of those silly religious superstitions? No, they needed that stuff, I guess.

Part 2

Ah, what about the issues in the past? Weren't quite a number of resolutions passed and many slogans coined at meetings of the cultural association in the past? Was there any resolution put into practice? Well, take superstition for instance. It wasn't abolished. On the contrary, it not just persisted but showed signs that it was prevailing. Alas, I didn't dare recall what had transpired in the past. Moreover, abolition of superstition per se doesn't seem practical. If it were really abolished, what could we offer those superstitious worshippers — like those backpacker pilgrims – to draw comfort from? My continued thinking of the riffraff at the railroad station made me self-abstracted and dejected. I was dull-wittedly sorrowful. Then I thought of my trip to attend the meeting of the association. Wasn't it just the same as the trek of those pilgrims to Bakkang? “Hey, there's a report of so-and-so association holding a meeting of its board of trustees at such-and- such town,” a gentleman-like Japanese talked to a gentleman-like Taiwanese. The Japanese let the Taiwanese have a look at his newspaper.

“Ha, at such-and-such town,” the Taiwanese said. “This Mr. Sai can really make a speech,” he added. “He is a real gasbag.”

“What the hell is the purpose of this association?”

“I am not quite sure. I've heard it demands that people be given their due rights.”

“Taiwanese?” the Japanese passenger asked.

“Well,” his Taiwanese fellow passenger said, “there's no rule limiting membership to Taiwanese. It stands to reason then that anybody who thinks he is deprived of his rights may certainly join.”

Absent-mindedly, I just happened to hear the conversation between the gentleman-like Japanese and Taiwanese fellow passengers of mine. But their conversation jarred on my nerves. I attentively lent an ear to their continued dialogue.

Part 3

With the support of the great masses, the cultural association could go on campaigning for a better life on Taiwan. The situation, however, is not quite favorable. The reason is simple. Most of the members of the association are college graduates who have returned from Japan to their homeland. They are bourgeois intellectuals, who have been roused to action by the tide of the times. Not so strongly resolved to serve the public, they are not ready for a vehement struggle against the Japanese rulers. All they do is to hold a lecture meeting from time to time to tell people what their civil rights are. Beep. Beep. Beep. My train was whistling into a station while the two fellow passengers of mine, one Japanese and the other Taiwanese, were still talking to each other about the meeting of the cultural association I was scheduled to attend. The train came to a stop amidst the hustle and bustle on the platform. I got off, and was jostled out of the station in the crowd of passengers at the end of their journey.

I had to change trains to get to my destination. So I went to a smaller railroad station next door to take a smaller train. There I met a comrade of mine, who held a first-class ticket for the smaller train. I was traveling third class, and as we couldn't sit together, we exchanged greetings and got aboard different cars of the smaller train. The third-class carriage was very much crowded. Practically all the passengers were farmers and laborers. There wasn't anybody looking like an intellectual.

I was a little disappointed, because I thought I was not going to listen in to a conversation similar to the one I had heard between the two gentleman-like Japanese and Taiwanese. My attention was diluted, of course. I felt sleepy. It was with luck that I could find a window seat. Soon I felt my eyes heavy. Somnolent, I heard an idle talk between my fellow travelers. It was a very unpleasant talk. I opened my eyes.

“F-k his mother,” one of my fellow travelers cursed. “I've got nowhere to tell my woes!”

“How many hectares you have to till?” the other asked.

“One hectare and two fifths,” the first passenger replied. “I had to reclaim the land more than three years ago. I could start planting rice only this year.”

“Did you go ask for help from anywhere? Those in your village couldn't think of a way to help? What those Noso guys tried to do for you?*”

“They've got nowhere. My paddies were taken over (by my landlord). Once done, there's no recourse. It's not easy to revoke that (government) decision!**”

“Didn't they tell you something still could be done for you?”

“F-k his mother,” the complainant cursed again. “He (one of the Noso guys) would come to me like an ogre, ordering me about. Isn't that even worse?”

*Noso (農組) is an abbreviation of Nomin kuminai (農民組合), a farmers' association.

**A farmers' association, organized in a sub-district by the Japanese, was supposed to help tenant farmers. The complaining tenant farmer started clearing the land for rice planting for a landlord, but could not get help to avoid paying a ghastly rental.

Part 4

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Alaska Dryrotta, by Leinad Moolb, circa 1981, still in print in 2010

An Interview with Don Solosan, a frequent contributor of roadside photos to Bill Griffith's popular ZIPPY comic strip in newspapers worldwide

The July 2 strip, above, and Don Solosan's three photos sent in to the Zippy website earlier in the year.
Did we say FREQUENT contributor? In fact, since 2006 when Don first started sending in photos to the Zippy strip, he has seen a total of 90 Zippy strips based on his submissions. In 2006 alone, he had 56 photos accepted as volunteer guest reader submissions! His latest photo contribution [appearing in the July 2 strip above] was accepted earlier in the year and used
this month. Don's next contribution -- his 91st! -- is due to appear in a few days, on July 9 !!! .....Here's some background on what the "tips" that appear in the strip are all about......

NOTE: The ''tips'' are sort of hidden in the strips, usually along a frame line (as you can see on the left side of the second panel of the Shrek strip, above). They're the equivalent of that old custom of tipping your hat; Mr Griffith sometimes refers to them as "tips o' th' pin" as well. In Internet parlance, think "hat tip"....

BY THE WAY, I never met Don Solosan before, although I  -- as a longtime Zippy reader in far away Taiwan (where the strip appears daily in the Taipei Times expat paper here) -- had seen his name in the hat tips notes
now and then over the past few years. But I don't know him and he doesn't know me. We just met this week via Bill Griffith's FACEBOOK page, where legions of Zippy fans, young and old, come to chat and
talk things over. I noticed Don had a part to play in the recent Shrek strip, and that got me to thinking: it might be interesting to learn more about how Don in California submits his ideas and photos to Mr Griffith in Connecticut and what these hat tips are all about. So I contacted Don by Facebook and asked if I could interview him informally. He said sure. I asked Mr Griffith if we could do this interview, and he graciously said "Sure!" So here it is. ENJOY! And thank you Don Solosan for your time and insights!

[webposted on July 4, 2010; interview conducted by email by Danny Bloom in Taiwan, with Don Solosan in California]

QUESTION: How long have you been a fan of the Zippy comic strip? When did you first begin reading it?

DON SOLOSAN: Actually, I don't remember when I first saw Zippy. The first solid memory I have of ''Zippy'' was his appearance in a documentary called "Comic Book Confidential" (1988). But the thing is, I'm pretty sure I recognized him, so I must have seen him in National Lampoon magazine or something. It's just that I didn't really connect with him yet.

Flash forward to Los Angeles, 2002. I bought a digital camera and was getting back into photography. I'm interested in styles of architecture that really flourished in LA, like programmatic (giant objects like the Brown Derby cafe), and Googie (space age coffee shops and car washes), and spent a lot of time researching places to visit and shoot. I was in my early 40s at that time, and working in survey research at a think tank based in Santa Monica.

I'm still in Los Angeles, doing freelance video work. In my spare time, I volunteer with the Los Angeles Conservancy, which is devoted to saving and preserving historic buildings, and the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, which focuses on saving LA's movie theaters.

QUESTION: When did you first start sending in photos of roadside signs and other sightings to Mr Griffith?

DON SOLOSAN: I found a website run by a guy named Chris Jepsen ( about Googie architecture, and he had included some Zippy strips based on his photos of local LA and Orange County buildings. He had a link to Mr Griffith's website, and I followed that.

So that's the first time I was aware that you could submit photos -- and that Bill would use them if they worked for his strip! In 2005, I was in a restaurant called The Parasol (building in the shape of a giant umbrella) and they had a Zippy strip with a "tip o' th' pin" to Chris Jepsen hanging on the wall. And that's when it clicked for me -- I had to try submitting something.

Late in 2005, I sent Bill photos of four places that I thought might interest him, and he responded that he was interested in three of them. So I sent him more angles on those three. A few weeks later, I got an "advance" copy of one of his scheduled strips in the mail featuring The Donut Hole, a shop with large fiberglass donuts on either end that you drive through.  It was published on February 17, 2006. A friend wrote me, "Your coolness factor just went up ten points!"

QUESTION: How can a reader submit photos to Mr Griffith and what address is best?

DON: I've always used email for my submissions, at the address listed on the Zippy website. And yes, he invites anyone and everyone to send him photos. No guarantee he'll use them, but that's the way it goes.


QUESTION: Did you ever get ''paid'' for any of your items?

DON: No, not unless you consider an advance "payment." Bill has sent me a few prints, one of his paperback books, and a Zippy t-shirt.

QUESTION: Did any news media ever pick up on your name when it appeared as a tip of the hat in your local newspapers? Did you ever hear from other readers who saw your name mentioned? Like high school pals or college pals?

DON: No, but you have to understand that Los Angeles is very spread out, a quilt of interlocking neighborhoods and incorporated cities. The only local paper that carried Zippy was the Los Angeles Daily News, located up in "The Valley."

When Bill did some strips based on stuff in their area, I sent the editor an email suggesting that they do a story, but never heard back.

There was a Valley hamburger stand that I shot, Bill used it, and their business went up as a result of the exposure. They put a sign outside thanking Bill and Zippy for the attention, and hung up a copy of the strip by the cash register. I stopped in to give them prints of the photos used, and got a free hamburger out of it.

(I've never reconnected with old friends through Zippy. You have to admit, the size of the print for the "tip" mention is pretty small when printed in a newspaper!)

QUESTION: What kind of roadside items do you keep your eye out for, in terms of Bill's strip?

DON: Bill tends to be interested in stuff related to popular culture. Recently, I was in Hollywood and walked past Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, where they had a huge Shrek figure out front. I shot it, Bill liked it, and the resulting strip was about Shrek's origins as book character.
He also loves diners, but the West Coast is pretty poor in those regards. But we've got lots of wild buildings and crazy signs, giant donuts, etc., out here.

QUESTION: What percentage of the photos that you have submitted to the strip have been used?

DON: Of the photos I submit, Bill tends to be interested in roughly two-thirds, and of those, about two-thirds of those end up in strips.
QUESTION: What are your favorite roadside attractions?

DON: Probably the Big Donut Drive-In locations; it was a small chain of donut stands featuring a 9.9 meter donut sculpture on their roofs. Randy's Donuts is the most famous (it was featured in the Hollywood movies "Iron Man 2" and "2012"). Anyway, other than Randy's, no one knew anything about the chain or the other locations. Their history was fading from LA's collective memory. So I did a bit of research to determine how many locations there had been, where they were, and which ones still exist -- and I've been spreading that information around.

I'm big on the idea that to understand something unusual (like a restaurant in the shape of a bowler hat), you need to know its context. In the case of so much of the weird stuff in Southern California, it was designed to attract people who were driving by in cars. LA is one of the only major American cities built during the rise of the automobile, and that's affected the entire landscape. Once people understand that, hopefully they can learn to appreciate these buildings and signs.

QUESTION: Do you have a favorite roadside item that has appeared in Zippy but that was not submitted by you?

DON: Probably a strip Bill did of the coffee shop in the Linbrook Bowling Alley in Anaheim, because I realized I had eaten in the same booth that the characters are in!

****BLOG ASIDE: .....[ Zippy is usually drawn and inked about two months ahead of publication. ]

QUESTION: When did your very first ''tip'' appear in Zippy, and what was your reaction when you saw the ''tip''?

DON: The first strip based on my photos appeared in February of 2006. It was pretty cool seeing that first tip. It's still cool getting an advance copy in the mail from Bill because I never know what Bill's going to do with what I send him. It's pretty fascinating the directions his mind travels. Of course, things can backfire on us. I sent Bill a lot of pictures of the various "Big Boy" restaurant statues in Southern California, he started comparing the Big Boy to Satan, and it earned him a "cease and desist" letter from their lawyers!

Bill used my photos to create 56 strips in 2006. He's done a total of 91 strips based on my submissions as of this date. "My" next "tip o the pin" is due to appear in the July 9 edition of Zippy worldwide, so you can probably see in your local paper there in Taiwan, the Taipei Times, where Zippy has appeared for over ten years.

One of my friends has also gotten involved; he has a few strips to his credit. It's kind of fun to look in the book "Walk A Mile In My Muu-Muu" and see our stuff side by side. Other friends recommend stuff to shoot and submit.

QUESTION: Do you think most readers understand what a ''tip'' in Bill's strips mean? Or do they just gloss over that note and read the strip?

DON: I think that the vast majority of readers probably do not pay attention to "tip" notes. A small percentage probably think that it means the person gave Bill the idea for the strip -- but this is not the case. He doesn't solicit ideas -- just photos.


Don Solosan's YouTube channel:




Big Tips O' Th' Pin to all the dedicated field researchers who've sent in such great fotos over the years. Beyond-the-call-of-duty kudos to eagle-eyed photogs Don Solosan, Jennifer Mai, CB Rollins, Chris Jepsen, Richard McElroy, Tim Quinn, Ed Engel,
Conway Link, Julie Mangin, Grace Lopez, John Schwab, Tom Sakshaug, Vern Stoltz, Roger Steffens, Darren Olsen, Terry Boots and
John, Vin & Elliott Grabill.


BONUS ASIDE: From a Facebook chat the other day [early July 2010] between Bill Griffith and Don Solosan,
following Don's posting of the photo he sent in to Bill for possible use in the strip, and which resulted in the strip of July 2.

Bill Griffith: ......Don Solosan --- roadside photographer extraordinaire and winner of the most Zippy strip "Tips O' Th' Pin"!! Thanks again, Don!

Don Solosan:....... So tell us, Bill -- did you have something in mind with Shrek before I sent you the photos?

Bill Griffith:.......    Sort of. I always wanted to do something about the "real" Shrek (from the kid's book by William Steig) whose sensibility bares no resemblance to the Hollywood Shrek (big news). The whole thing makes me grateful that a Zippy movie was never made.

Taiwan birth slogan pile up for contest to create new slogan to encourage more Taiwanese couples to have more children

My entry, one of some 28,000 submitted, of which 2o will be chosen by a panel of 11 judges and then the top one of that best 20 list will be chosen by popular vote on the Internet, was


which is a Taiwanese saying that sort of means "You can catch two birds with one stone", but the story behind it is different than birds or stones. It might win!

The Ministry of the Interior is offering NT$1 million (US$31,000) for a catchy slogan to help boost the nation’s dwindling birth rate, one of the world’s lowest. “We are seeking a creative slogan that would appeal to the public and make everybody want to have children,” an interior ministry statement said. Authorities have offered various incentives in an unsuccessful bid to boost birth rates amid growing concern that a severe manpower shortage will trigger social and economic problems. The birth rate stood at 8.29 births per 1,000 people last year, the ministry said. That compares with a global average of more than 20 births per 1,000 people, according to UN statistics.