Saturday, September 30, 2017

My thoughts on the viral Bubble Tea post

9/30/2017 Taiwan Explorer
A few days ago I posted a photo on my Facebook Page with a very simple caption, and it went viral. At this point it was shared over 3000 times, garnered over 700 comments, and reached nearly 600,000 people according to Facebook statistics (I believe it will reach a million in the next days). This may not be viral on a really large scale, but for Taiwan themed Faceboook pages something like this doesn't happen every day. This is what I posted:

I basically ripped off Ziya Tong's tweet who posted the same image and nearly identical caption. I just added #OnlyInTaiwan hashtag, to make it more directly connected with Taiwan (even though I knew the image was taken in Thailand). I also added [FAIL] to trigger some reactions (and it worked).


The poster itself is a ripoff of an artwork by an American artist named Meghan Murphy. The poster already went viral a few years ago (see Engrish.com), and it's basically just old recycled content on another platform. Meghan replied to Ziya Tong's Tweet and posted her original artwork:


Why the image worked?

If we compare the original artwork by Meghan Murphy and the image posted by Ziya Tong and me, we can quickly see why the latter went viral. It's a big improvement over the original artwork:

- 3 images instead of 4, easier and faster to digest
- It's a real world photo, not just digital artwork, hence more relatable
- The bubble tea cup better resembles the common bubble tea cup
- The bubble tea character is more obvious, more pronounced

Of course the key part of this small comic is still "suck my balls", a witty world play with sexual connotations. It's really well done, and I'm pretty sure it will be going viral in the future in some other parts of the galaxy known as the social media.

Why all this doesn't matter

While a once in a life time viral post like this is definitely interesting, it ultimately doesn't matter to me. The sad thing is that it shows what kind of content Facebook's algorithms actually prefer show to people, and it's the most banal trivial and hollow type of content. I shared so many more interesting things in the past, and it never reached close to that many people. A typical Facebook post of mine has a reach of 5000-6000 people, the ones who have a bit more reactions and comments reach over 10000 people (2-3 per week), those that get reshared a lot in the community usually reach 50000-100000 people (maybe 1-2 per month). My numbers were better in the past when I had more time for my page, and more focus, however I suspect that Facebook heavily limits the reach with its algorithm, pushing people to pay for more exposure. That's something I'm not willing to do, so the only thing that's left is to have a few more viral hits in the future, and hopefully with some good quality content. Yes, I know, it's wishful thinking.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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The iPhone X and iPhone 8 prices in Taiwan

9/13/2017 Taiwan Explorer
The iPhone X.

Another year is over, and Apple has just unveiled the new flagship iPhone X (pronounced 'iPhone ten'), as well as the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, two familiar looking models, that are more or less an upgraded version of the iPhone 7. The question of the day for everybody is what are going to be the prices, and for my readers specifically, what are going to be the prices in Taiwan.

Well, here is the shocker of the day: The 256GB version of the iPhone X will cost you a whopping 41,500 NTD! At the current exchange rate, this equals to 1383 USD! That is more than a lot of Taiwanese people's monthly salary. Nevertheless, I believe this phone will sell well in Taiwan, because people really want to have the latest and greatest, especially in Taipei.



When it comes to the iPhone 8, and iPhone 8 Plus, the prices are more "affordable". The 8 will start at 25,500 NTD, while the 8 Plus will start at 28,900 NTD. How much discount will the carriers like Chunghwa Telecom or Taiwan Mobile offer is not known yet.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.

I made this little overview of the prices for your reference, and easy understanding. It's obvious that the US prices are way lower than Taiwanese, if we convert them to USD with the exchange rate of 1 USD = 30 NTD. I'm not sure whether the taxes are added to the US prices listed on Apple.com. This is how it looks like right now:


These are the current global release dates for the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus:

Pre-orders: September 15, 2017
Ships: September 22, 2017

These are the current global release dates for the iPhone X:

Pre-orders: October 27, 2017
Ships: November 3, 2017

Whether these phones will be available in Taiwan at the time of the launch is a big question. I believe the iPhone X will probably be in short supply, so it could well be that we'll see it in Taiwan early next year. The fastest thing available will be iOS 11, which will have a free update on September 19, 2017.

See also my last year's post for your reference: The initial prices of iPhone 7 and 7 Plus in Taiwan. I have also written the same post 2 years ago, you can see it here: The initial prices of iPhone 6s and 6s Plus in Taiwan. All price information sampled from Apple.com.





Wednesday, May 24, 2017

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I was wrong

5/24/2017 Taiwan Explorer
In one of my recent posts I have claimed that "The US relationship with Taiwan is about to change with Trump". Well, I was wrong. Nothing has changed, it was just hot air, that quickly disappeared.  Trump's 100 days in office were a disaster, and he quickly abandoned Taiwan for the sake of better relations with China, the same way that he abandoned most of his ideas during the campaign. This might be even worse for us than during the Obama administration, however it's hard to tell right now.

We will see.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Taiwan Explorer 2017 - The way forward

1/02/2017 Taiwan Explorer

It's been nearly two weeks since I wrote my Facebook post announcing the possibility of deleting this blog, my Facebook page, and my Twitter. I was on holidays for some time now, and I did a lot of thinking. I purposely kept distance to all these three platforms by deleting my iOS apps during this time, which made it harder for me to check them. I did occasionally log in, but far less than I used to before, and it really felt good. It was great to not talk about things like São Tomé and Príncipe, or a Taiwanese high-school's epic fail going viral. It also felt really good to be away from Twitter, the platform that makes me the most negative lately. I did however miss my Facebook page a little, especially after receiving so many encouraging comments from my followers (publicly and privately). Here are some of them as a reaction to my Facebook announcement:

Jordan Vannitsen: I fully understand your point of view and your concerns. However, I do hope you will keep going with your FB page (or at least with your blog). What I personally really liked was the fact that you would post about any subject, even touchy ones. This is the real freedom of speech. I hope people will understand that what you post does not necessarily reflect your opinion (and even if it does, so what?) and that you will get some recognition as one of the Pro-Taiwan voice. You gave the opportunity to many people living in or out of Taiwan to know what is going on here and bring the light to our lovely island. Keep going!

Daryl Flamm Taiwan Explorer, it's sad that it has come to this. Honestly, I am not surprised. I say this to anyone who shares their life on SocMedia, at some point you become a target. It kills the very thing you love. Just like promoting a favorite tourist spot. We want the world to experience the same enjoyment, but in the end we kill it with overexposure. I will be sad to see you leave / close the page, but you need to do what is best for you and your family. If you are not earning money from this, it is not worth it. My alternative suggestion is, go back to writing / sharing only the things you want to share. I can personally say I do not see 30-40 posts per week from you. Limit it down to a comfortable number. People will adjust.
Best of Luck!

Judy Lin I enjoy your posts a lot on my feed. I find the articles you post are relevant for people who live in Taiwan and for overseas Taiwanese like me! I like the discussion on here even if we do disagree sometimes and I think you are always respectful to different opinions and ideas. I do understand that your well being and your family come first though. Nothing else is more important. Have a nice break and a happy new year!

Alicia Miao Hope you continue to post - I think you post quite a bit and should consider cutting back to issues/articles/topics that you really care about. I'm ok with less information if the quality of info is good/more curated. I always viewed this as your personal blog (maybe because I've been reading since before the name change), so hopefully people learn to leave you the hell alone to make your own decisions in peace.

Benjamin Hsing TE, we have had some disagreements but I believe your posts about Taiwan including your opinions have been very informative and helpful to those who are interested in what's happening in Taiwan. I hope you will continue with this page.

Marcel Sauder Fully understand you.... Think about twice.... Maybe you find a new way to continue with a less personally approach... Hope so.... I allways appreciate your work!

Carrie Kellenberger I feel the same way. Can we all just go back to blogging? I have social media fatigue and I've stopped updating a lot because it's not fun anymore. Blogging was so much fun between 2007 and 2011! People do get very jealous, they lurk, there are trolls everywhere and these people spread really vicious lies. I totally understand where you are coming from. I hope you are able to get some rest during your hiatus.

John Murn you foster important conversation here and your reach is important. respect. hope you find peace of mind or piece of mind, whichever suits you better. and i, too, hope that you will continue with the blog.

Michelle Moorman love the pulse you keep on the island. overall, your addition to my feed makes me more comfortable talking to my taiwanese relatives because your page gives me much needed context. because whether I agree with your posts or not, context is vital to understanding!

This really felt good and gave me confidence, especially because a lot of them often vigorously disagreed with me on various issues related to Taiwan. These comments did have an effect on my decision.

Taiwan Explorer 2017 - The way forward

At the end I decided to not delete Taiwan Explorer (yet), but instead make some big changes. Since so many people appreciate what I am doing, and I invested many years into "Taiwan Explorer", I might as well keep it going a little bit longer, but correct its course. Here's what I'll try to do:

1) I will try minimize my personal Twitter activity, and mainly use my Twitter to cross-post from my Facebook page. This is something I am already doing for a while, but now this will be the main reason for continuing my Twitter account. In case something major happens related to Taiwan I might personally tweet, other than that I won't be active there. I will also delete the account from my Twitter app, and not enable any email notifications.

2) I will generally try to post less on my Facebook page, but with more depth, unless something major happens related to Taiwan (natural disasters like typhoons or Trump tweets). Unfortunately Facebook algorithms punish such approach, and my posts will most likely be less visible to people, but I'm ok with that. I'm not sure how well this works, but you can enable update notifications for my page, and set 'see first in your newsfeed' by going to my page and click on the 'Following' button:


3) I will try to blog more this year, but that often depends on my private life, and the free time I will find next to a busy job and family. I would like to blog more about Taiwan travel this year, as well as art and culture, and less about social issues and politics, but I'm not sure I will succeed in that.

4) I will stay away from instigators trying to drag me into possible controversies like so often in the past year. During my time off I realized how often I was forwarded a polarizing story with an attached opinion, which I then hastily posted, and got a lot of heat for it. Don't get me wrong, I don't blame anyone who forwarded me such story, I blame myself for not being more selective and thoughtful. Everything I post is 100% my own responsibility, but from now on I will thread carefully in this regard. I was also an instigator myself from time to time, and I do regret a few posts that were pretty off, but it is what it is now. I can only make it better in 2017.

5) I'm more and more into photography as a hobby, so I'll post more on my Instagram. To be frank, I don't like where Instagram as a platform is heading (becoming more and more a Snapchat ripoff), but I have a fairly large audience there (10k+ followers as of today), that appreciates my Taipei snaps. Part of me would like to focus on Flickr, but that platform's future seems to be bleak, or at least more uncertain than Instagram's.

So long, 2016

I hope I will succeed in everything I set myself for 2017, and it's really a lot this time as compared to previous years. I have already started with some changes, so it looks promising. I want more time for myself, and my family, and I want my "Taiwan Explorer" hobby to be fun again. If I succeed in that, this blog will stay for some time. I wish all my readers a happy and healthy 2017. Thanks for sticking around for so many years, here's to another one. Cheers!

Sunday, December 04, 2016

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The US relationship with Taiwan is about to change with Trump

12/04/2016 Taiwan Explorer

John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the United Nations and a possible candidate for the future US Secretary of State, went on Fox News today and talked about Trump's call with Taiwan's President Tsai, that threw the US mainstream media in a huge frenzy, as well as the relationship with China, that is about to change. This is my transcript of the conversation with the host (watch the video here):

Host: "If you've read all the headlines last night that were coming out, Donald Trump accepting a phone call from the President of Taiwan, congratulating him on becoming President could upset decades of diplomacy between the US and China."

Bolton: "It's ridiculous that a phone call could upset decades of anything, but I do think it's important that people understand, the President of the United States should talk with whomever he wants, if he thinks it's in the interest of the United States, and nobody in Beijing gets to dictate who we talk to. My view has been for some time that we should be upgrading our relations with Taiwan, and I know this is gonna cause heartburn in Beijing, but it's a reality. This is a nation of over 20 million people, they have a democratic government, a free press, a free market, they meet all the customary international laws of statehood, so when a democratically elected leader calls the President of the United Utates, I say you bet he takes the call."

Host: "Why the hysteria then? Why the mainstream media in the left saying he's shaking up the relationship?"

Bolton: "Honestly, I think we should shake this relationship up. For the past several years China has made aggressive, I would say, near belligerent claims in the South China Sea. They've declared it to be Chinese province, the've established a provincial capital. And what that means is they're taking a vast amount of water out the international waters, or waters where there is a right of international passage, and making it Chinese territorial waters. They're trying to put their hands around the throats of the economies of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and others. It has a direct impact on the United States. They also think Taiwan's a province. You wanna talk about provinces, China? We'll talk."

Fox News and Bolton suddenly appear moderate and well-balanced here. As a liberal, I have never thought I would say something like that, but it would be a lie, if I claimed otherwise.

US liberal media fail

The US liberal media, still not over the fact that Trump won, threw a collective hissy fit after yesterday's phone call between Tsai and Trump. The shameful reactions were exposed by seasoned Taiwan commentator and expert Michael Turton. Just like him, I am also a progressive and not a Trump supporter, but very disappointed with Obama's policies in this part of the world, and his treatment of Taiwan. I love this quote by Turton:

Hey, American progressives! The future President of the United States called the head of a state that directly elects its president, which has a world leading national health insurance program, no guns, and may soon legalize gay marriage. Check your values: which side are you on here?

While media elites sit in their glass towers in New York and Washington and predict doom and gloom after a mere phone call, those of us who live in Taiwan in the past few years have observed a more and more assertive and aggressive China, that is systematically cracking down on people in Tibet and East Turkestan (just a week ago they started to confiscate passports of Turkmens, where was the collective media outrage then?), suppressing Hong Kong's democratic movement and making critics disappear (remember the disappearing booksellers?), constantly threatening Japan and Taiwan with the use of force, supporting North Korea, and literally annexing islands and huge bodies of water and proclaiming it its own territory in the South China Sea. I'm really tired of the so called "China experts" treating the Communist Party like a small kid, that shall not be angered, otherwise it will throw tantrums. It's time for China to grow up. It's time for the media to check which side they're on.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Taiwan #1: List of the best things about Taiwan

10/29/2016 Taiwan Explorer
My photo of Hualien Port, August 2011

The longer I live in Taiwan, and the deeper I get integrated in the society here, the more nuanced and critical I have become of things that I experience and observe every day around me. That's reflected in my blog in the past years. A lot of times when I see statements by newcomers of sorts "Taiwan is the best in this and that...", there's always a footnote in my head, because things are much more complex than they seem on the outside. With that said, Taiwan still is great in many aspects, and I think it's about time for a critic like me to acknowledge this. In this article I'm going to list the best things about Taiwan that I believe are true, either based on empirical data, or just subjectively for me. The focus is on things that make Taiwan truly unique and remarkable, either in the world, or in East Asia. The numbers are not representing a particular order, these are all great things on their own, and should be seen as such, the numbering is random. Here we go:

1. Small country of many superlatives

With a little over 36,000 square km in size, Taiwan (a country consisting of several islands), is a tiny bit larger than Belgium (30,000 square km), and a tiny bit smaller than Switzerland (41,000 square km), Denmark (42,000 square km) and Netherlands (43,000 square km). Below is a visual representation of this data.

Image from TheTrueSize.com

Despite its small size and limited political presence on the global stage, Taiwan is a country of many superlatives. Here are just some notable examples:

- Taiwan is the most populous non-UN state and the largest economy outside the UN (source)
- Taiwan is the 5th largest economy in Asia (source)
- Taiwan is the world's largest supplier of contract computer chip manufacturing, and world's largest LCD panel, DRAM computer memory, and networking equipment manufacturer (source)
- Taiwan is the world's largest orchid exporter (source)
- Taiwan's Giant is the world's largest bicycle manufacturer (source)
- Taiwan is number 5 in the world when it comes to foreign-exchange reserves (it has more than USA, Britain and Germany combined, source)
- Taiwan ranks 5th globally in the number of patents acquired in the U.S. (source)
- Taiwan has the best press freedom index in Asia according to Reporters Without Borders (source), while neighbor China has one of the worst in the world

- Taiwan has the 13th strongest military in the world, ahead of countries like Germany, Canada and Australia (source)
- Taiwan has the  highest social media penetration in the world (source)
- The best whiskey in the world comes from Taiwan (source)
- Taiwan holds the largest gay pride parade in Asia every year in Taipei (source)
- Taiwan had the world's tallest building from 2004 to 2009 - Taipei 101 (source)

2. High spirit for democracy and human rights

This could well be said for other countries around the globe, however if we put Taiwan's democracy in perspective, and look at the countries in its region, we realize that Taiwan's achievements in democratization, advancement of human rights and civil freedoms do stand out, especially next to countries like authoritarian China, which is one of the worst abusers of human rights in the world, and constantly ranks the lowest in press freedom in the world (source).

My photo of the Sunflower Movement, March 2014

From the establishment of opposition parties in late 1980s, to the Wild Lilies student movement in 1990 (that brought about a peaceful transition to a modern democratic country), and all the way to the Sunflower student movement in 2014, that fought against selling out of Taiwan to China, young Taiwanese won't stop fighting to preserve what their parents have so long struggled for. These values are (figuratively speaking) in the DNA of a lot of Taiwanese, especially the young ones.

3. Religious tolerance

Taiwanese people are in general very religious and superstitious. Buddhism and Taoism and some variations of these are practiced by the majority of believers, followed by various smaller religious groups like Christianity, which represent a very small percentage of the population.

Religious parade in Monga, Taipei, May 2015

One thing special about Taiwan is that a politician's personal religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) are usually not a focus of a political campaign. Similarly, Taiwanese usually don't separate themselves by religious association, religion is mostly seen as a personal matter. The only exceptions are Christians and some buddhist sects, who do occasionally put religion into politics, but that's a complex matter that would require a separate post. All in all, you will not find religious violence in Taiwan, in fact Taiwanese often believe in things that span across religions and superstitions, and temples are generally open to everybody. In a world where religion is often the root of violence and devastation, Taiwan is showing how it should be done.

4. Indigenous Taiwanese culture

Before European and Han settlers came to Taiwan in the 17th century, the majority of Taiwanese were of Austronesian origin, and have been living on the island archipelago of Taiwan already for 8000 years. Consisting of several tribes located in the flatlands and mountains of today's Taiwan, Taiwanese indigenous peoples form one of the oldest cultures in the world, much older than China, that often prides itself with "5000 years of culture" (which are in actuality 3500 years).

A sculpture of Indigenous Taiwanese, Wulai, April 2010

Unfortunately colonial powers from the West, Japan, and China have had a very negative impact on the indigenous population over the past 4 centuries - land grab, killings and forced assimilation have greatly reduced the number of tribes and its people, destroying ancient cultures and languages along the way. Today there's something above a half a million indigenous Taiwanese living in Taiwan, representing a little over 2% of the population. With that said, what is left is still very valuable and important for Taiwan, and the rest of the world: The cultures, customs, food, arts, the languages, and the music are real national treasures, and if you come to visit Taiwan, I highly recommend to experience some of it.

5. Violent crime is low

When it comes to violent crime, Taiwan is one of the safest countries in Asia, relatively speaking. Violent crime does happen, but usually among criminal groups, rarely are civilians dragged into that, the streets are very safe, also at night. There are occasional night club brawls and bar fights, but if we put all that in perspective, these occurrences are fairly rare, especially involving Westerners. One is much more likely to get hit by a scooter or car in Taiwan than be dragged into a violent conflict (check my Taiwan traffic survival tips), so while you can feel perfectly safe on the streets, be very cauctious when you're crossing a road.

6. People work hard

While Taiwanese are among top in the world when it comes to long working hours, foreign white collar workers who work in Taiwan often struggle with the general productivity of the working force, as well as with the often conservative hierarchical company culture. With that said, one also cannot deny that Taiwan is full of innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and manufacturing brilliance.

Construction workers in Taipei, February 2015

Taiwan used to be known as the global manufacturer of cheap consumer goods for Western markets in the 1970s and 1980s, but has since grown into a leader in many industries: From PC components, smartphones, to LEDs and bicycles, however still quite often behind a big foreign brand in form of ODM partnerships, supplying the design and technologies. But there are many famous exceptions: Taiwanese companies like Giant, TSMC, Asus, Innolux, D-Link, and TrendMicro are all leaders in their industries, to just name a few. This success did not happen accidentally.

7. Traditional Han characters

Taiwan is the only country with a Mandarin speaking majority, where traditional Han characters are preserved and used daily. Many Taiwanese are proud of that fact.

Lunar New Year calligraphy, January 2013

Traditional Han characters are in use for over 2500 years, and have had a great impact on the cultures and languages in the wider region, from Korea, Japan all the way to Vietnam and other parts of South East Asia. The communist regime in neighboring China has destroyed traditional characters with an aggressive simplification, Taiwan is the only independent and sovereign country, where they are still in official use today.

8. Breathtaking nature

Taiwan's nature, or what's left of it, is truly breathtaking. The Portuguese were right to call the Taiwanese mainland "Ilha Formosa" or "Beautiful Island" when they sailed by in the 16th century. That's how one of the nicknames of the country's largest island came to be.

My image of the sunrise above Alishan, March 2012

If you come to Taiwan, you should not miss to see places like the Taroko Gorge, Qingshui Cliffs, East Rift Valley and Yilan County, Kenting, Hehuashan, Alishan, Lalashan, Penghu, Green and Orchid Island, to name a few natural marvels of Taiwan. Taiwan is great for hikers, and offers some amazing views, as it has one of the highest mountains in this part of Asia. Similarly, the views on the Pacific Ocean are stuningly beautiful. If you're a photographer, you will love Taiwan.

9. Temples

Temples play a major role in Taiwan's public life, they're often the center of villages, towns and urban districts, commonly surrounded with shops and food markets, where many people flock daily for their divine blessings and to fill up their stomachs.

Longshan Temple in Monga, Taipei, December 2015

Temples are often the only historic buildings that survived the tumultuous past and the current culture of knocking down old buildings only to replace them with gaudy Art-deco styled apartment blocks that offer a quick buck to land owners, and massive profits to construction companies and real-estate moguls. If you want to sample the traditional part of Taiwanese culture, temples and the areas around them should be your first destination.

10. Internet connectivity

When it comes to internet and internet infrastructure, Taiwan is repeatedly among the top countries in the world. According to the latest research of Akmai Technologies, Taiwan was among top 5 in the world when it comes to average internet speeds (in Mbps, Q1 2016). You can download the report here.

Screen grab from Akmai Technologies video (source)

Taiwan was also in the global top 10 when it comes to 4G penetration (source), despite being late to the 4G game. In addition, Taiwan is one of the leaders in developing and implementing 5G technologies (source). Free wi-fi is found very easily in larger cities and towns, lots of cafes and restaurants offer it to their customers. If you come to Taiwan, you won't have a hard time to be connected, and to enjoy speedy internet.

In conclusion

A lot of similar lists mention the friendliness, the food, and the convenience stores as being some of the best things about Taiwan, mostly by people who only visited Greater Taipei. Here is why I have not listed them: Living here for many years, I see things as much more nuanced and complex. Friendliness towards foreigners and strangers is part of the etiquette. Taiwanese food, while not bad per se, is often bland compared to most South and South East Asian cuisines. The usually mentioned night market snacks are not very healthy, and they're overpriced. And as a concerned father, I can't just look past all the food scandals of the recent years. Convenience, as it is understood in Taiwan, equals to riding scooters everywhere, and having small stores with mediocre food being open 24/7 on every street corner. This results in a mentality where people use scooters for short distances instead of walking, adding to the noise and air pollution that is plaguing most urban Taiwan. The 24/7 mentality is also very unhealthy as a lifestyle, I don't believe the benefits outweigh the negative side effects here. However this is just my opinion, you're free to disagree with me.

You can leave your comment on my Facebook Page.