Monday, October 27, 2008

A Sign

I had a wonderful experience yesterday.

Lately, I have been going to a local bike shop (Hersan's Bike Shop) to get tune-ups and whatnot's for my bike. The patrons mentioned that they go on weekly rides early Sunday morning, led by Hersan himself. I decided to join them this past Sunday, not really knowing what I was getting into.

Starting at 6:30AM should have been the first sign. Usually at 6:30, I have been sleeping soundly for about 4 hours and looking forward to another 5, not rudely waking myself up for a ride. However, I told myself that I would join this tour, as it were, and try to gain some biking experience.

When I arrived at 6:30AM (I was told promptness was imperative), they were pulling away from the storefront. They, decked out in full lycra gear, riding road bikes, looked speedy and zoomy. I, on the other hand, was wearing surf shorts, straddling my mountain bike. Sign two.

They started through the roads and I was keeping up. Little did I realize that I was keeping up due to the red traffic lights. Sign 3: you don't actually see the people you are riding with. Once we hit the river trails, they were gone. Literally out of sight, I was left thinking, "It's 6:45AM and these guys left me. What am I doing?! I'll head back home and back to sleep." But for some masochistic reason, I continued on. Hersan, possibly used to newbies' slow pace, fell back and urged me on. I think there was another guy behind me, but when you're playing catch-up on a bike, you're not really thinking.

Luckily the group stopped (out of pity?) every once in a while to rest and consolidate (and to take pictures of the laggards for their album of laughs, I'm sure). We rode on past through Muzha, past the zoo, to a hive of biking activity. I'm not sure exactly where it is, but it is an intersection marked with a 7-11 and road signs that should read "steep hills, it's too early, go home." Instead, it says, Pingshi and some other far off destinations. Bikers of all sorts congregate here, as it is the starting point for the challenging and fun rides on bicycles as well as motorcycles.

By this time, we had been riding for about an hour and I was tired. Little did I know that we had just begun the ride. Uphill we went for what seemed like eternity, my legs and back and ass hurt, as did my pride. I mean some of these guys were pushing old age, and they could lap me in their sleep. Hersan must have been able to sense that I was a weak link.

I am not proud about what I am about to say, but Hersan (or Heman) actually pushed me up the hills. On his bike, he rode at about my 8 o'clock, right arm on my lower back, forcing me up the mountain of hell. Another skillful rider, who would switch with the push-the-bitch-up-the-mountain duty, sometimes worked in tandem with Hersan to push me up. I felt like a fool and at times wanted to get off and walk.

But I thought to myself, "These guys are pushing this fool, whom they don't even know, up a mountain and probably hate this fool, but aren't giving up, so how can this fool give up?" "This fool," being me, also had thoughts of wanting to die, to ride off the cliff, and other escape tactics the self-preservation voice usually keeps you from doing. I think that voice was tired.

The uphill was only 5km. But it felt like forever. After every turn, I would see more up, a turn, then more up. Occasionally I was able to peek at the beautiful scenery but would instantly feel guilty taking pleasure in the sights while these Taiwanese Sherpas pushed my ass up the inclines.

"Almost there," Hersan kept on saying. "Almost there."

I kept on pedaling, moving my feet in small circles hoping to get up and over this climb.

"Only 4 more km," he would say. "3km."

Then it was two, and then one. Then it was, even, I mean level road which at this point, still hurt to ride. Eventually, we ran into the others, gleefully sipping their water and eating crackers, almost falling asleep waiting for us. I did not feel shame. I did not feel self-conscious at all. I did not feel a thing.

Except the burning in my ass. Struggling up that hill was torture and the repeated motion had been effectively grinding my ass into my seat.

But from what I collected, we would now have the dessert: downhill. All that time going up, naturally we must go down, and down we did go. Zooming down on early morning mountain roads is a cool rush after such an ordeal as I have just described. I felt high, zooming past small shops that I now had the consciousness to notice.

People seemed nicer, nodding to me as I passed them, as if somehow I had gained champion status by coming down as they were on the way up, as if, knowing that I had made it to the top before them, I was a hero in their eyes, as if they knew the joy of coasting down after a long ride up, as if we shared, if for a moment, the bond that bikers share, as if they didn't know I had been pushed up by my faithful leader. Which of course they didn't, so I waved back as if I was the champion they thought I was. What a way to end a ride!

But it wasn't over. After kilometers of refreshing turns and cool mountain breeze drying my hard-earned sweat (and I'm sure the sweat of the hands that aided me), I was riding past Wulai and into Xindian, brought back down to reality and pedaling for motion again. Hersan told me the others would be separating on their way home. He invited me to join them next time. I thanked him genuinely as he rode off into the sun.

The heavy weight that reality gave to my legs kicked in the search for other options of getting home. Being familiar ground, I knew that Xindian had many MRT (subway) stations that I could conveniently dip into and ride on home. Again, I had no shame; no embarrassment. Nobody knew what happened up in those cold lonely mountains, two sweaty chest-heaving men, sometimes three. Pride no longer a consideration, I wanted to travel path of least resistance. I paid my 80NT, hopped on the train and was home bound.


Today, I feel fine, legs a little sore, and so is my pride. But I realized some things.

One, I am not as in shape as I thought or should be. Boy was I mistaken when I thought I was good at biking. I have much to learn and loads of endurance to gain. I am a shame to myself.

Two, Hersan was willing to help someone he barely knows. Not just help, but physically push them up a mountain. I can see no reason except a pure love of what he does. He has such passion for biking and therefore the people that bike, that he does so much for them. When I go to his shop, he will do repairs for nothing. I offer money, but he refuses.

Three, signs come in many shapes and forms. Whatever package, if you are paying attention, you get the message. Hersan's kindness and selflessness has shown me than I too, should try to help others.

Four, that if the world has people like him, then all is not lost. That it is worth working for. For every person doing intentional harm to others, there are those fighting the good fight, in their own way, be it stopping corruption, finding ways to lessen CO2, working in a food kitchen, providing aid to disaster sufferers, or pushing some clueless waiguoren up a mountain on a Sunday morning.

P.S. If you are ever in Banqiao, I highly recommend you visit his shop (if you read Chinese, go here) His shop is listed on Formosan Fat Tire, a foreign-made Taiwan bike website.

P.S.S. Hersan is in the forefront in the white jersey in the above picture. I am near the dog, leant over seeing if my balls are still intact.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

19th Floor Garden: One month later

It's been a little over a month since I began my series on gardening, by way of my 19th floor garden. Several updates: as you can see, the tomatoes and basil have flourished. The thyme, which was in the forefront in the pics of the first post, have perished. I have never had luck growing thyme. Lots of sun or shade? Lots of water or little water? I am not sure.

I have just received my copy of Gaias Garden: A Guide to Home-scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway, and as much as I feel weird admitting it, it excites me. I have read alot about Permaculture online, watched videos on YouTube, visited websites and on-location experiments. Most give a summary of Permaculture philosophy and tenets. Few actually give concrete steps (of which I am a fan) of what to do, how to do it, and how to fix it if it goes wrong. I was able to download a copy of Bill Mollisons A Permaculture Design Course from This was actually very helpful. I learned applicable techniques. I recommend this if you too are interested in the topic. But eventually you will feel the need to learn more and move onto a piece of land to implement all these wonderful skills that you have aquired. As I mentioned before, I really can't do that while here in Taiwan.

Which brings me to another point. I will be moving back home to Maui to live with my parents. As loser-ish as this may seem, I don't care. I want to commandeer a portion of their yard to carry out my botanical experiments. In the process, I hope to repair the soil, bring wildlife to their yard, fill the bare ground with fruiting plants and trees, provide food for them, and build a welcoming envrionment. I am now formally against lawns and ornamental fixtures in a yard. I believe it is a waste of time and space. We are always complaining that our food isn't healthy, medical science is lacking. We have the potential in ourselves (by extension of our yard) to provide some of the healthful things we need to be stronger, live longer and happier. We as a society can do so much more with this land.

But I digress. I hope soon that tomatoes will bear fruit soon as winter is approaching, with cooler shorter days. Not good for tomatoes which like sun and warmth. Winter in Taiwan isn't so harsh, no freezing or snow, but not conditions for growing great tomatoes outdoors. We will see how this all plays out within the next couple of months.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Save the Amazon: Grow a backyard garden

There are myriad data and stats thrown around all the time about the rate at which the Amazon rain forest is shrinking, due to land being consumed for crops and animals. So many feet per second, acres per year, football fields per day, and such. It's all very disheartening to hear about a large wonderful ecosystem like the Amazon being desecrated for the sake of soy and beef. I'm not much of a numbers guy so I won't add a digit to the orgy. But what I will do is offer a solution. And in this solution can also be found answers to many of our other societal shortcomings that become more apparent daily.

You will often hear proponents of organic foods say, "eat local." This means to consume food that has been grown within a predetermined range of let's say 5 to 10 to 100 miles. Some will argue the exact distance from farm to table, but the point is the closer the food was grown to where it is eaten, the better. Reasons for this are aplenty: it supports local economy/farmers; it's fresher; due to freshness, it tastes better; the foods ripen on the plant/vine; less chemicals are needed to produce nutritious foods; it has traveled less and therefore spent less fuel; it promotes healthy land development; ad infinitum. Another major reason is that is puts less strain on ecosystems/economies in far away lands, like the Amazon. You can trust that a tomato grown 7 miles from your doorstep has done less damage than one that has traveled hundreds or even thousands of miles.

But what about the beauty of a vine-ripened tomato that was grown 7 feet from your door? A sprig of rosemary clipped minutes before being added to a dish? An onion so fresh, clods of dirt still stick to its roots? Apart from the philosophical aspect of growing your own food, the practical benefits are endless.

No need to run to the store to pick up a bottle of thyme that was dried months (or years) ago in a farm where pesticides and fungicides and chemical bathes called fertilizer were used to "make" it grow. Forget tasteless lettuce, grown hydroponically in a hothouse thousands of miles away in the winter, apples that have sat "ripening" in a warehouse for months, or oranges with waxes and chemicals to make the fruit orange and plump.

You can have the best of all these plants right in your back yard. Unbeatable freshness, minus the enigma of where it actually came from. As a matter of fact, do you know where your food comes from? Honestly, I must admit that I too am not aware, which further proves the point that I don't know what has been done to it, and how it has affected its place of origin. For all I know the soy beans I pop in my mouth could have sprouted in the same place where mammoth trees once stood.

Another reason to grow your own food, is that it will lessen our dependence on fuels like oil. If you organically grow your own potato, for instance, there is little if any oil consumed in the process. On the other hand, if you purchased a potato that was mass produced in Idaho, petroleum based chemicals used as fertilizers and pesticides, gas used to plant and harvest, energy used to transport, separate, and ship, you have run up quite a high energy bill for a single potato. Growing your own foodstuff will greatly reduce our need for resources.

All it takes is a seed, in your mind or in the ground. It starts somewhere. And where you end up may be miles or steps from where you expected.

P.S I "borrowed" the above picture from, if you couldn't tell. I hope this frees me from liability.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

You and Your Company

We all hold companies to high standards of financial reporting. When it comes to the publichly held companies, they must have standard reporting practices such as quarterly statements and GAAP accouting. They are stringently judged by analysts, speculators, investors and the market in general. If they don't do well in a particular quarter, the stock often drops (which brings up another concern for another time). On the other hand, if the company has strong revenue, low expenses, good accounting practices and reporting, usually a company and its stock will do well.

What about You?

For all the time you spend analyzing charts, ticks and reports, do you put in the same time and emphsis in your own "company?" You are a small (or large) company in and of yourself. You have revenue (income), expenses (expenses), and budgets to keep track of it all. Or you should.

If a company spends more money than it makes and it doesn't change or get help, it will go bankrupt. If you spend more money than you make, you too will go bankrupt. If a company doesn't keep records of its activities, it will not know how much or little it makes or has. The same with you. If you don't keep track of what you make or spend, you will have no idea if you have money or not. Is this a good way to go about something that is so important?

A company may seem more important becasue it is bigger and makes more money, but you are your own company and are importatnt to yourself or your family. Run your finances like a company. Hold yourself to high standards when it comes to taking note of what comes in what goes out, and how it goes out.

This leaves us with some final questions. In what state are your finances? Are you an Enron or a Google (GOOG)? Would anybody purchase shares in your company?

Would you?