DigitalFriend Blog

Year 2001

Day 1

A Visit to Taipei - with Agents in mind...

2001, Sept 20

Official purpose of the visit: To deliver a research paper (regarding the Shadowboard agent architecture) to a workshop at the 7 th International Conference on Distributed Multimedia Systems, running from the 26 th to 28 th September 2001, at Tamkang University, Taipei, Taiwan. But we are here for two weeks in total, lapping up a bit of the local culture.

DMS-2001 Conference Venue


Photo 1: Circular seating in the main theatre used for the DMS-2001 Conference.





It's Cs hometown, so she was more than happy to return after nearly five years away. She says it has changed a lot in that short time, but what follows is my first-timer western perspective (with a hometown girl's corrections and edits), of a city that has a reputation abroad as a vibrant, hi-tech industrial centre, producing most of the world's computer monitors and memory chips, and devising new gadgets at a frantic pace.

Taipei is a city in transition, since Taiwan's second democratic election in 2000, in which incredibly, power moved from the old guard (the KMT party - the party of Cheng Kai Chek, who founded modern Taiwan, as he, his fellow republicans and their army fled the mainland and the Chinese communists in 1949), to the new (the DPP, the long and suffering opposition to the KMT - e.g. the current president and his wife spent time in jail as opposition luminaries, before democracy finally prevailed); from the throbbing heart of high-tech manufacture and trade, to a city of "urbane lifestyle", mushrooming numbers of coffee shops and restaurants (seafood predominates), with ample parks and tree-lined boulevards, and a brand new public transit system grafted upon it.

[Note 1: In 1996, Taiwan became the first Chinese country in history, to embrace democracy. Note 2: Taiwan considers itself a country, but China and the United Nations, don't agree with it - i.e. apart from The Vatican, which is not a very large land mass, Taiwan is now the only country not in the United Nations]

Photo 2: The Cheng Kai Chek memorial - grand in scale

Photo 3: Looking from steps of Cheng Kai Chek memorial, back to the entrance gates

Cheng Kai Chek Memorial Gate to Cheng Kai Chek Memorial


The public transit system is new - different lines were done in different stages, but now enough of them criss-cross the city to offer an excellent service in both time and on the budget. e.g. For $2 AUD we travelled right across Taipei, from the Taipei Zoo in the South East of the city, to Tamkang University in Tamsui at the end of the line in the North-west - that's one fifth of what it costs me to travel by train into the centre of Melbourne from the outer suburbs where we live! (Australia was once rumoured to be a social democracy.) What public transport in Australia (and much of the west) used to be, it now is in Taipei: cheap, efficient, safe, for the peoples' use and pleasure. It has been built as a common asset for the citizens of Taipei and its visitors to share, at a fair and reasonable price. It hasn't yet been turned into a privatized slug in the hip pocket. While Taipei is the home of many transnational corporations like ACER Inc, they are all busy inventing and marketing 'new' products and 'new' services, not locking up and cartelling the public assets accrued with the sweat and toil of earlier public-minded generations - as has happened in Australia in the last decade, be-jesus!

In the central part the transit lines are underground - indeed some of it got flooded in the worst Typhoon for over 90 years just days before we arrived - but on the outer sections, the tracks are largely above ground and you look over the suburbs as you head out to Tamkang. I am amazed how quickly the city got back up and working after the typhoon. Two days ago there were 40,000 cars submerged in underground car parks, while there are still signs of hoses pumping water out of many of those basements, the power is back on everywhere we went, and there is little sign of the earlier flooding.

2001, Sept 21

Today we are going off to have lunch with C's old boss, when she worked as a Research Assistant for the New Party, back in 1996. He is Long-bin Hau, a Member of Parliment for the New Party. We had a pizza in Lai Lai Sherton in downtown Taipei. He was a very nice fellow, and spoke near perfect English so I was able to have a full conversation - no translation by C required. He has a brother with a software company which is interesting. Taiwan seems to have a thriving software industry. They certainly recognise the value of it, and the need for intellectual protection. Although, like the Europeans, they tend to embed software in some hardware device, to get return on investiment on such intellectual property.

Long-bin got us two passes into parliment, into Legislative Yuan which was sitting and was discussing the recent typhoon damage. A female opposition member got up to the podium to challenge the government member responsible for the Taipei infrastructure. She attacked him as incompetent, blamed him for effectively causing the submerging of the 40,000 cars and peoples' houses in some low lying areas, by not having adequate flood mitigation measures in place. This woman seemed to be a good actress - she went from tears to smiles, from a loud angry voice to a quiet and articulate deliberation, all supported by a power-point presentation up on a very large screen. All the time that she verbally blasted the minister, he stood silently behind another podium, not flinching a bit, very relaxed. When it finally became the ministers turn to answer her accusations, he simply called for one of his senior public serrvants to come forward, to address the womans questions, and didn't answer anything himself! C tells me this is a pretty quiet day in the Yuan, which can get quite heated, with the throwing of glasses of water upon an opponent from time-to-time, and even the occasional upturning of tables and fist fights! That's robust democracy for you, in this newest of democracies... all in the house, definitely better than coupes and revolutions. It really very interesting seeing a new democracy in action. People we talked to seem so much more into political issues than back in Australia. The Taiwanese seem to be really soaking up the full spectrum of what democracy offers to people. It crossed my mind what a great place it would be, at this point in time, to study democracy in action. It would make a great PhD study for a socio-political student.

2001, Sept 26

Today we went to Tamkang University where the conference is being held, to check in. We walked up through a narrow commercial street to the steep stone steps that lead up to the University. There is a Naval Museum with scale models of many of the famous ships from much of naval history. The museum is in the shape of a ship bow, and the upper story is the modelled as a ship (controls). They have an impressive array of sjip models in here - if you are into this sort of thing, which I'm not, I wouldn't be surprised if it was amongst the best of the collections of such models.

We then went to the right building to register. C wasn't on the list, but they gave her a complimentary pass, which was very good of them, so were did the 3-days together. She knew of the keynote speaker Hsi-Kuo Chang (HK), and was very surprised to see him there at a technical conference, as she only knew of him as a writer of sci-fi - at which he was quite famous. Sure enough it was the same HK - the following evening at the conference dinner we got to sit on his table, along with the conference chair (Prof. Timothy Shih) and Jianhua Ma another very personably fellow from Hosei University in Japan.

I delivered my paper to the agent workshop. It ended up getting selected as 'Best paper' for the workshop, which was a very nice honour. I got instructed to be there later in the evening to get presented with the award. But I couldn't be there alas, which was really disappointing (unlikely to pickup one of these awards again, for some long time), as we had a scheduled family restaurant diner with C's dad, who I hadn't yet met, and this was to be the big evening - the father-in-law / son-in-law dinner, 5 years in the making.

The following evening we went to the Chinese bacquet which was the conference dinner. The food was fantastic and I leant the meaning of "gan bei, gan bei". The higher up the academic, the better the drinker it seemed to me:). I got a request from HK to take back to the University of Melbourne, to see whether we would be interested in hosting a future version of the DMS conference (for which I later got no support for in the dept, despite my keeness). He knew the city of Melbourne well, as his daughter had spent a year studying at the Uni of Melbourne. It turns out that Timothy Shih was a great player of the Er Hu (a two-stringed Chinese instrument/violin). He came to a fork in the road early in his choice of career between playing the Er Hu professionally, or embarking on the computing career he currently is well into as a professor. His students dragged him up on stage to do an impromptu performance, which was excellent.

Grand Hotel

Photo 4: The Grand Hotel - built by the wife of Cheng Kai Chek, recently refurbished.

2001, Sept 26

On the way back from Tamkang University on the last day of the conference, we got off at Chien Tan Station. C went to a course, with her mum, in the Chien Tan Youth Activity Centre (a part of the CYC) - some new product selling franchise. I walked across a motorway, then up through the grounds of the Grand Hotel, sat in a shop there and sampled some of the locally grown green tea. This place was built by/for the wife of Cheng Kai Chek - herself one of three famous Soong sisters from China, all of whom married into powerful dynasties. It has been restored relatively recently, as it was heavily damaged by fire. The foyer is wonderfully luxurious: both Chinese and modern western at the same time. While the marble floors echo many a western five star foyer, the columns and their designs and the proportions of everything about, are of classic Chinese origin in their design. In the gift shops there is a mingle of expensive jade sculptures, and the occasional prism of glass with laser beam etchings embedded deep in the heart of it. This hotel is the venue for the next PRIMA conference ... I've really got to get another paper accepted into that one!

Traditional Roof

Photo 5: The traditionally tiled roof of a shed in the grounds of the Grand Hotel.

Yesterday afternoon, we went on a day trip from the conference by bus to the National Palace Museum - it is set against and into a hill, that in some way reminds me of the Egyptian tomb of ___ and probably for similar reason: there is much treasure and antiquities in this place! The National Palace Museum houses the third largest collection of artifacts after only the Louvre in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Over 2 million individual items, another 500,000 scrolls of text and drawings. Every thing that is currently on display is there for one month only. They have enough artifacts to have a different collection on display each month for the next 20 years, without repeating the display of any item - and there is a hell of a lot on display!

Talked a bit to Mike Huhns, who I met yesterday, as he chaired the agent workshop. Another fellow on our bus, also from the DMS conference we attended in Tamkang University, is from Hong Kong University, but only went there after graduating in Beijing. He has been " longing, for 10 years, for this trip to the National Palace Museum - to see the jewels of his heritage ". He makes the usual Chinese comment (for a mainlander) that Taiwan "stole" this vast and priceless collection from the Peoples Republic of China! When Cheng Kai Chek boated across the Taiwan Strait escaping with his 800,000 strong army, from the victorious Mao. C gave him the standard Taiwanese reply: " Anybody that travels must take some pocket money with them to see their way in the world... Besides, if it was left on the mainland, most of it would have been destroyed or dispersed to the four corners of the earth, during your 'cultural revolution .' " - as was the case for many of those China's antiquities, which Cheng Kai Chek somehow didn't manage to get to Taiwan.

Photo 6: A side annex of the National Palace Museum, housing the 3 rd largest collection in the world after the Louvre in Paris, and the Metropolitan in New York City.

What strikes me about the National Palace Museum, its contents and its staff, is what strikes me most about Taiwan in general: while Taiwan is modern and frenetically productive, as say Japan is, it seems more 'Chinese' in tradition than mainland China does. It is a storehouse of the customs and rich artifacts, art, theatre, even the traditional Chinese writing system now used widely in Taiwan, were all swept away on the mainland by Mao inspired cultural vandals. Yes, if these things had not been brought across the straight and housed within this hill, most of these antiquities would have more than likely ended up either in the crude smelting pots of those peasant farmers forced to become low-tech metal workers heading rapidly for state-inspired starvation, or adorning the bedrooms of some party officials, or would have long ago found their way into the vaults of foreign museums or rich private collectors scattered across the globe... I knew why there was no animosity whatsoever in the face of our new acquaintance from the mainland, during our whole conversation. Yes, he too was more than happy to travel to Taiwan to see his own cultural history in its full, unpunctuated, uncensored, original state. One day the mainlanders will be openly thanking the Taiwanese as the custodians of this publicly accessible treasure trove of artifacts reaching back over 3000 years, rather than branding them as the thieves of their cultural heritage.


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