First, I planned and executed a Mid-Autumn Festival barbecue near my apartment, which doubled as my birthday party because I knew I wouldn't have the energy, what with Delta Module 3 going on, to hold two parties in one month.
We hadn't noticed the sign that had been posted in our building, as there are a lot of notices and things that are usually irrelevant. So on the day of the party, we were upset to find out that maybe we should have read that notice after all: no barbecuing would be allowed in the main courtyard areas around where we live (which are perfect for barbecuing). The reason was not clear but usually it has to do with "smell and noise".
Two years ago, you could barbecue anywhere in this area. We barbecued in the small courtyard just outside our apartment. Then the next year, that was prohibited and you could only barbecue in the large courtyard further out. This year, they prohibited that too and we were only allowed to barbecue in a small, dark little area down by the wet market, and policemen constantly rode by on bikes making sure we adhered to that rule (this was the first year there was a police presence).
I can't help but feel that it's a slow, systematic attempt to ban barbecuing on Moon Festival in all urban areas, but to do it slowly enough that people don't complain much.
Then, I had a discussion on Facebook with Alexander Synaptic about this fascinating blog post of his about old "entertainment centers" in towns and cities in Taiwan. It's a coincidence, but a telling one, that he entitled it "Dreams of Empire". There's one in Sanchong that functions mostly as a string of pool halls rife with gangsters, and a closed-down one in Zhanghua.
I noted that while until recently, street-level commercial activity and entertainment was mostly-happily tolerated by local residents, and a proliferation of night markets and other "re nao" (fun) spots were allowed to thrive, which has given Taipei, at least, a sort of vibrant street life and sidewalk scene that Beijing and other cities in China are lacking - and which is a part of what makes Taipei a great place to live - that there seems to have been a culture shift.
This happened around the time that Brendan and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. We had wanted to go to Opa! Greek Taverna, which has hands-down the best Mediterranean food in Taipei (Sababa is good for falafel, but I make better hummus). Turns out their old street-level restaurant near Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall was closed, and they'll be re-opening in ATT 4 Fun at the end of the month.
Those old entertainment halls are now closed, but they're being replaced by glass monstrosities like ATT 4 Fun. Night markets (like Shi-da or Shilin) are being shut down (except for a few boring "fashion" and cell phone cover stores) or the food stalls relocated to indoor areas, which drastically reduces their appeal. Streetscapes are ruined as giant granite obelisks of luxury housing go up, leaving no room for shops or comfortable passage for pedestrians. Trees are torn down as a huge event arena is built - nothing wrong with Taipei Dome but those trees were a part of the street scape and we loved them. Restaurants are relocating to department stores. Street-level storefront rent is skyrocketing and only chain businesses can afford them, so interesting local spots are being crowded out. As ornery residents start complaining - which they didn't seem to do before - everything that was fun in some neighborhoods is either being shut down, or moving and often they end up in ATT 4 Fun or the equivalent.
Rather than go to Chun Shui Tang (which I know has been implicated in the recent gutter oil scandal) in one of their well-decorated branches which create street-level visual interest, I basically have to go to Chun Shui Tang inside Shinkong Mitsukoshi. One of my favorite Indian restaurants, Calcutta Indian Food, moved from a street-level shop on an interesting stretch of Kunming Street to a basement-level restaurant in a somewhat grody building called "U2". All the good places are slowly moving indoors, but the indoor spaces are expanding: walk underground from City Hall MRT through the basement of Hankyu Department Store to Eslite Xinyi, and it's a veritable food festival of eating options. All indoors. In the basement, even. Outdoors, you'd have to walk for awhile to find something decent to eat.
I don't care for this at all - and as a Taipei resident, I do believe that counts for something.
If I wanted to live in a city with dead streets, where you walked between huge edifices, some new and marbled, some old and marbled in a different way, and cars whizzed by on the road, and I had to walk inside some concrete magnate's wet dream just to eat dinner at a restaurant I like, which is no longer within walking distance because they couldn't afford the rent, I would live in Beijing.
I don't live in Beijing, because Beijing sucks. I do not fancy walking a mile along a sidewalk flanked by a wall and a six-lane highway, with one overhead crosswalk every mile, and big empty spaces dotted with steel monoliths that spear the pollution floating overhead, where people hustle in and out of sliding doors into slightly less polluted air conditioned buildings to eat, drink and shop. Beijing is one of the worst models possible for urban planning.
And I don't want Taipei to become just like it.
I feel like all of this is related. There seems to have been a spike in old-school, stick-up-the-butt Confucian values, more influence from China (which has a distinctly different culture from Taiwan, and to Taiwanese or those used to Taiwanese culture can seem a bit stick-up-the-butt although I realize it's not always), and increasingly authoritarian leaders telling the public to basically go screw themselves. To the point where I wonder, as Letters from Taiwan implies, if the recent deaths - I believe that's a plural deaths too - of various high-profile Sunflower activists were, ahem, accidents. It would not surprise me at all if the government, taking its cues from China as it tries to force the Taiwanese to accept the idea of eventual Chinese rule, decided to off them. People complain about noise and smell on the streets, and the city slowly morphs into Beijing's stepsister (I'd say ugly stepsister, but it's hard to get uglier than Beijing).
I feel it's related to the increase in gang activity - White Wolf not only allowed to return to Taiwan but to rub shoulders with Ma Ying-jiu's sisters. A gang fight resulting in the death of an off-duty policeman which raises many questions about what exactly he was involved in (it's fairly well-known that the police let the gangs run the clubs in exchange for kickbacks). The subsequent inevitable closing down of Taipei nightlife (so it can reopen later, under the protection of newly-strong gangs who give the police better kickbacks). I won't even get into what happens if you cross a gangster in a KTV.
Some other gangsters, deeply entwined in real estate development, convince local politicians to ignore laws about having to provide "green space" for every building they erect in exchange for letting those politicians buy units in the buildings before they go on sale. The politicians can later sell those units at substantial markups. This is all perfectly legal. And we allow it, because they are Our Leaders.
We like to think that the heyday of gang violence in Taiwan was the '80s and '90s, but it wasn't. It's as bad now as it was then, only now we have "democratic" leaders acting like dictators telling us they'll do something about it, when clearly they won't. They'll shut down a few nightclubs, but nobody really important will face punishment.
Increasingly authoritarian "leaders" leaning both on the Confucian ideas regarding the masses doing what they say, inextricably intertwined with gang activity, huge corporations and development companies tearing down the city (and quite possibly encouraging "citizen complaints" about noise and smell from restaurants, night markets and even barbecuing, which is a Mid-Autumn festival activity associated mostly with Taiwan) in order to rebuild it in China's image.
I do not think this is deliberate. Nobody is sitting behind a desk going "mwahahahaha, let's make Taipei look more like a Chinese city, so the Taiwanese will accept annexation by China! Bwahahaha! My evil plan!" I know to imply that these events are deliberately connected is only a few steps shy of donning a tinfoil hat. My point is that the mood in Taipei has changed, and not for the better. And that these issues are all effects of that - the slow migration of street life to department stores, the budding New Confucianism in which we are all told to follow the rules, the increase in gang activity, the increasingly authoritarian government that is quietly trying to push Taiwan towards China and a future the majority of people do not want but many feel powerless to stop.
There has been a culture shift, and it's starting to really be felt.
So, to me, they are related even if not intentionally so. The same overly conservative, regulation-loving Neo-Confucian "follow the rules, do as we say" ideas that brought us the tragedy that is the KMT and President Ma have also brought us the steady department store-ification of Taipei. It's a whole culture shift, even if it is not deliberate.
Everybody shut up, everybody shop here, don't protest or your motorcycle will suddenly go off the highway outside Pinglin. You just don't understand because you don't know 'correct values' and you need it explained to you like you're four years old. Listen to your leaders! Confucius said so! Buy these items produced by our good friends at Uni-President who swear they didn't know about the gutter oil, in a building they built, so they can profit more. They need profit. They need to make sure the politicians and police get their cut, you know, so they need it. Stop shopping near your home in stores that line your sidewalks. We have air-conditioning, and your favorite shop is here! We're not in bed with both gangs and politicians, and real estate developers hell bent on driving out every bit of soul this city has! You don't like those street-level shops anyway, you would rather it be like this. Come on, lay down, calm down, it'll hurt less that way. You know you want it. Listen to us. We are your leaders. Confucius says that the emperor is above the people. We are above you. And we are Chinese. Therefore, so are you. You must identify as Chinese. This poll said that you do.
There's no reason to muddy the waters like this. We are all Chinese. We don't like noise on the street. We do like strong leaders and air conditioning. We want our residential areas quiet and our entertainment to be safely contained, in a building built by someone rich and powerful, in another part of the city. We like it to be clear. Don't you hate these blurred lines?
Guys, I seriously love Jocelyn Eikenburg's blog, Speaking ofChina. The comments can get a little troll-y, but that's the downside to having
a very popular blog (so maybe it's a plus that I don't have "a very
popular blog!"). And I usually agree with her frank, openminded inquiries
and stances on love in China, although I myself never did experience it.
It took me years to learn that some Chinese men automatically assume Western women love to sleep around or are simply easy sex for the taking.
I blame it in part on the ubiquitous Hollywood movies and TV you’ll find in China at the local DVD vendor or online, where Western women’s sex lives often turn into a revolving door of one-night stands and disposable boyfriends.
Of course, we’re not all sluts.
I kind of wanted to scream - "if a revolving door of one-night stands and disposable boyfriends is what you want, then what's wrong with that?"
Saying "not all Western women are sluts" implies that there is something wrong with women who do choose temporary companionship over relationships, and that it's okay to judge them. And why shouldn't they? Maybe they have sexual desires like almost everyone else, but don't want or aren't in the right place for a relationship? As long as they're open about that, then that's their and their partners' business. It doesn't make them "sluts".
So no, I don't blame it on "ubiquitous Hollywood movies and TV you'll find in China", I blame it on puritanical judgmental pricks who think it's okay to dictate what every woman's choices should be.
In fact, a man who takes a woman home, sleeps with her, and then the next day says "I'm just not in a place right now where I can commit to anything serious" would be seen as a cad if he'd led her on, but if he'd been honest with her, then there would be nothing wrong with that (she might be angry, but hey, he was honest with her. She knew what she was getting into).
That is not to say I have a problem with the blog, and I'm sure
Jocelyn didn't mean for it to be taken this way, but, to say "not all Western women are
sluts" sounds good on the surface: look, we're multidimensional, and not
all of us are Sex in the City-style swinging single women who view sexual
conquest as a game or hobby! Woo!
Just a little below that, however, lurks the idea that for this
to be true, sluts must exist. And if sluts exist, then it's okay to think of a
woman with a longer sexual history than you might deem acceptable as one. It
still puts forward only two choices for women: be a good girl, or be a dirty
skanky slut. You don't want to be a slut, do you? Nobody likes a slut! Sluts
are slutty and gross! Ew! Get your slut-juice off of me! So you'd better be a
good girl. That means no sex, or at least, pretending there is none (to admit
you are a sexual person is to admit you are a SLLLLLUUUUUUTTTTTTTTTTT). Good
girls don't have sex and they certainly don't enjoy it.
So, to say "not all Western women are sluts" implies
that SOME Western women ARE sluts, and it's okay to think of them as such,
which judges their behavior as wrong (again, I don't think Jocelyn herself
meant to do this, but that's how the phrasing comes across). And, it's not
wrong. It's just not.
And, following that, it implies that if you're an Asian guy who
likes a Western woman, that the woman you like is "not a slut", which
implies that in order to be acceptable, she must make a particular set of
"not slutty" choices. Those choices need to be similar to the
perceived choices of the local women (be they Taiwanese in Taiwan, Chinese in
China, Korean in Korea etc) in order to "pass" - those same local
women who don't always feel free to be open about their own histories and
desires because they face the same sexist notion of what a "good
girl" does, or the Western woman automatically becomes an
"other". Nothing new in the stream of intercultural or gender
discourse, except this time it's a group of people of color, mostly men,
telling Caucasian women what choices they must make to be
"acceptable". Which is not quite the same as the reverse problem -
telling people of color they have to 'act white' - because being white confers
privilege that being a person of color doesn't, but it sure shares some DNA
with it. (Also, being male confers privilege that being a woman doesn't - as
the universe giveth, the universe also taketh away). The whole thing, no matter
who you are, never leads anywhere good.
Whereas the real progressive answer here isn't to refuse to
stereotype all Western women (only some of them!)as slutty slut-whores, but to acknowledge
that some people make different choices, and some of those choices may be more
libertine than yours (or more conservative than yours - that's okay too, as
long as those same conservatives don't try to push their choices on everyone as
the only morally correct option!) but there's nothing wrong with that as long
as everyone's safe and legal (and even if they're not safe, that sucks, but it
doesn't make them a bad person). So to me, the person who says "you're not
like other Western women. You're not a slut! Now I see that Western women can
make the right choices!" is still upholding only one set of choices as acceptable,
and that's not good for women generally. That person doesn't get a pass from
me. Either you acknowledge that women can make a variety of choices and it's
not for anyone else to judge them, or you're a part of the problem.
Basically, forget "not all Western women are sluts".
How about NO women are sluts? How about even if a Western woman (or an Asian
woman for that matter! Or whatever woman!) makes choices you personally don't
care for, that doesn't mean there's something wrong with her?
It does mean a lot to me that this be clear - perhaps if
there is a stereotype that "all Western women are sluts", then I have
to constantly be proving somehow that I'm not. But the only slightly less
constricting "NOT ALL Western women are sluts" isn't really any
better, because I STILL have to prove I'm not, only there is now room for the
stereotype of a Western woman to include "makes the choices we approve of
even if that's not what she'd prefer". How is that better?
This doesn't even get a pass culturally. I am sure someone will
read this and comment angrily that "if a man wants a woman who doesn't
have a huge sexual past that's his right, if he wants a virgin then why can't
he look for one?" There would be something to that argument if it went
both ways, but those same men who claim they want a woman like this generally
do not hold other men or often themselves to the same standard. He probably
wouldn't judge his guy friends who slept around to be "sluts", nor is
he likely to judge himself by the same standard (he may, but my point is he
usually doesn't). Only the women they stick it in are sluts, not them. It's
okay for men, but not for women, even though for the majority of us, it takes a
man and a woman to do the hoingy-boingy dance. And that set of double standards is pretty fucked up.
Which is really too bad as if men who felt that way about the
kind of woman they would prefer to be with held themselves and other men to the
same standard, then like could find like. There's nothing wrong with having your set of "traditional" values (although that's a loaded word, too), and wanting a partner with a similar worldview. The key is, you have to have those same values for yourself. If that happened, chaste men could find chaste women
and libertine men could find libertine women. Okay.
Libertinism an attitude that doesn't always
lead to action, by the way - I am quite libertine in my attitudes but actually
very traditional, by 20 and 21st century standards, in my actual life. I don't
mean that as an excuse, like, "women who sleep around aren't sluts but I'm
definitely not even those women!" - but to point out that progressive
thinking can exist within any chosen lifestyle. That's the whole point - we can
all choose. Whether you choose monogamy, open relationships, booty calls or no
relationships at all, it's all okay.
Plus, there's no cultural pass here because this "NO SLUTTY
SLUTZ ALLOWED IN OUR CLUBHOUSE!" attitude is pervasive in the USA too. I'm
not just speaking to Asian men, here. I'm speaking to everyone.
It's not "not all women are sluts". It's not "not
all Western women are sluts". No women are sluts. No people are sluts.
Sluts don't exist.
The KMT is a party local to Taiwan, it is progressive and forward-looking, practical and responsible, and it is a diverse party that is willing to embrace changing times.
…people spread across Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu might have come from different places and have different histories, but the acceptance of multicultural society is what makes Taiwan precious.
The Aborigines may believe in ancestral spirits and rainbow bridges, the earlier Han immigrants remember the sadness inherent in their relocation to Taiwan, the people following the Nationalist government to Taiwan in 1949 remembered having to leave their homes and families behind, while the newer immigrants — such as foreign spouses — have the hope that over time this land will become their home. No matter who came first, no matter where we had come from, we are now all Taiwanese.
On this land, people of any culture and ethnicity are welcome to work side by side, to sweat and toil over the common goal of making Taiwan better; the embracing of multiple diverse cultures is the cornerstone of democracy.
We are the most localized of all political parties. Any supporter of the KMT would be able to walk tall and say: ‘I’m Taiwanese, I support the KMT.'
Now, remember that the KMT is in fact a party from China, and not only that, an invading force from China (although I don't hold that against the everyday folks who came over from China in the '40s, who were just looking to get out of China and stay alive, I do hold it against the political arm of the KMT - and if you don't think the KMT has any other arms, you aren't looking very hard). Remember that the KMT has annexation sorry "reunification" dreams for Taiwan and as such, does not respect Taiwanese sovereignty or identity. Remember that while they do tend to win the Hakka and aboriginal vote, as the DPP's early "we are the party of Hoklo people" strategy alienated those groups and, despite doing more for them overall, still hasn't managed to win them back, that they identify as Chinese and tend to get upset when others don't agree, and that those who actually have power in the KMT are generally not anything other than Han Chinese, who identify as Chinese over Taiwanese. Remember that they only make gestures towards being "Taiwanese" come election time. Remember that they are not progressive: you can say you're progressive all you like, but if your policies don't speak to that, it's all farty sounds as far as I can tell. They are reactionary, they are Old Order, they are the party of rich men (note as well that there are no powerful women in the KMT).
Remember the gang affiliations, even from way back in Chiang Kai-shek's time, of the KMT make them no better than a crime syndicate with really good PR.
Taiwan's nation-wide method of garbage collection is the singing garbage truck, which drives through your neighborhood once or twice a day and which most people must meet and personally deliver their garbage to. Some apartment buildings and communities have a garbage service that obviates the need to meet the truck, but most of us are not that lucky (I live in a community, and have a doorwoman, but there's no trash service).
This method, differing as it does from the "leave your stinky trash on the side of the road until the truck can come by" method popular in much of the USA, is often attacked or ridiculed by locals and expats alike, most recently in a Ketagalan Media article. I generally like KM, and I agree with the second half of this article (which is actually about throwing toilet paper into a can rather than flushing it). But I just can't agree with the author on this:
Taipei is the most developed city in Taiwan, yet despite its free Ubikes and newly revived artsy cultural parks, it is still plagued with junky private buildings covered with rusty metal sheets, messy electrical wiring and piping, stinky side streets, an eyesore of public buildings, and a primitive trash removal system (you would think that they would have come up with something better than having to chase after the classical music butchering garbage truck every evening at the same hour by now). I agree about the junky buildings, although the KMT-and-gangster-spearheaded urban renewal projects are not the way to deal with that. I agree about the messy wiring and to some extent piping and the often ugly public buildings.
But I do not and cannot agree on the trash.
The USA's system works fine in small towns and suburbs, where the trash in the bins is mostly spread out, because the houses are spread out. I have been told it emphatically does not work in large cities, though, where the only choices seem to be "smelly dumpsters out back that make the whole area reek, reached through trash chutes that lead to stinky rooms that have roach problems", and leaving your trash on the curb, where the buildings are packed so closely together that it turns the street, for that night, into a leaky, stinky, rat-infested obstacle course.
I know a lot of people like to pretend that America is a Shining City on a Hill, where everything is modern and we do everything right (hahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaahahahahahahahahhaahhahahaaaahaha
hhahaaaaaa HAAAAAAA ha ah hhahaha haha...ahem. Sorry.) But, as well as the typical trash removal systems in the US work, or don't work, they would never work in a densely populated subtropical city like Taipei.
Considering how many people are packed into almost every square inch of much of the city - and even then, it has more breathing room and open spaces than many of its immediate suburbs - could you imagine what garbage night would look like? The sidewalks themselves would faint. And to have a dumpster out back? In the subtropical heat and humidity, it would putrefy and reek far more heinously than anything you could imagine in, say, New York (where it still putrefies and reeks). Can you imagine the shiny brown hordes of cockroaches that would attract, not to mention the rats? Taipei already has a cockroach problem!
Could every building start its own trash removal program? Not really - imagine the chaos that would befall apartments without doormen/women. Residents would have to do it themselves, which opens up all sorts of new doors for resentments and neighbor feuds. And it would be decentralized, making it stunningly less efficient than the well-planned, well-oiled (sometimes literally, heh) system we have now. It has its inconveniences - if your building lacks trash service and you just can't be home at the time the truck comes due to work commitments, you're basically screwed - but overall I think it's yet another feat of urban planning that Taipei has gotten right whereas other cities, including in more "developed" countries, have gotten dead wrong.
I know the Libertarian or "anti-government" types will hate this, but the carefully-planned, centralized system really does work better. I'm sorry to destroy your dreams of a capitalist utopia, but it is possible - even likely - that greater efficiency comes with centralization. Maybe not for everything: certainly planning centralized agriculture was a massive failure (although with better planning it perhaps didn't have to be, the fact remains that it was). But for trash collection? This works.
Plus, it allows sanitation officials to:
- Immediately spot and notify people not using city-issued trash bags, which are issued for a reason;
- Have a mass-food waste collection program in which people can dump food waste into bins rather than throw it out, and that can in turn be used for something other than piling up in a landfill (does anyone know what it is in fact used for?)
- Keep an eye on who is obeying recycling laws and who isn't
And you get the added benefit - at least I think it is - of getting a chance to meet your neighbors. You've all got to do it, so you may as well chat while you wait.
It's the smartest, fastest, most efficient system you could ask for in a dense area like Greater Taipei. I can't speak for the countryside, but it works here.
So, although I once had six bags of glass bottles because the independent recyclers (most of whom need the income that collecting recycling provides) wouldn't take them and I was not able to meet the truck on "glass recycling days" for a few months, I still think that it's straight-up wrong to call it a "primitive" system or imply that the stinky mess that is an American city on garbage night or apartment building trash chute and dumpster is somehow superior. It isn't.
I, for one, look forward to the tuneless crooning of Fur Elise twice a night, every night.
That's nice, except it's total bullshit. And the parts that aren't bullshit don't mean anything.
I mean, it's not bullshit in that such people exist, and the vast majority of Taiwanese would agree that in terms of ethnic origin, they are "Chinese", because they are not stupid and they know how DNA works. If you asked me if I saw myself as "ethnically Armenian, Polish and Western European", I'd answer "yes", because what? Could I answer "no"?
Looking at this in more detail, first of all, the body that conducted this poll is pro-unification (or, more accurately, pro-annexation, as that's what it would be). It's pretty easy to skew a questionnaire or survey to suit one's political ends - people do it all the time. You don't need a degree in statistics or social research methods to know that. Do you trust a pro-unification group to bring you news on what the Taiwanese people think? I don't. You want to put out a survey that I'll put some stock in? Then have it be done by a truly neutral body.
Focus Taiwan, who is reporting this, is the government news agency. A government that's been KMT-controlled for awhile, to the point of thinking that people don't like their policies, not because their policies are bad (although they are), but because they "haven't been properly explained", who have tried to change textbooks to promote a pro-China, pro-Chinese identity viewpoint, and actually use phrases like "establish correct values". Since the Sunflower movement, the CNA/Focus Taiwan have gone from being a reasonably neutral news source to being a pro-government mouthpiece. I used to pay some attention to them. Now I wouldn't believe them if I stuck my hand out the window and it came back wet, and they told me it was raining.
Secondly, I don't see how it matters. Considering oneself "ethnically Chinese" doesn't mean you see yourself as culturally Chinese, nor does it mean you see yourself as a part of China, or your country as one that should be annexed by China. If you asked a bunch of Singaporean Chinese if they identified as ethnically Chinese, they'd say yes, too.
So either the survey terms were different, or the number has actually dropped considerably in the past year (it's not clear, as the exact wording of the two surveys is not made available. I would quite like to see them).
And finally, identifying as "ethnically Chinese" doesn't mean people don't identify as Taiwanese. In fact, over 95% of Taiwanese citizens do identify as Taiwanese. That is a higher number than those who report identifying with the "ethnic Chinese community". As both numbers are well over 50%, many people choose to identify as both. Just as I choose to identify as American, and also Armenian, and also Polish...
In short, whatever the results of this survey are reported as, the truth is there for anyone who wants to see it. Even this guy, who wrote a stinking pile of bullshit calling for Taiwanese to be "taught" the correct idea that they are Chinese, "making unification possible" (I hope he suffers in some painful but non-fatal way as death is too good for him) admitted that the real numbers don't lie: Taiwanese see themselves as increasingly Taiwanese, even as they admit they are ethnically Chinese. Support for independence is growing, and support for pro-China ideas is shrinking. Taiwanese identity is on the rise. Just click through the links above and you'll see.
And ignore the slanted reporting of yet another pustule of pro-China chicanery.
So, China (well, the Chinese government) has just gone and proven once again that they're a bunch of big fat jerkfaces. After years of promising Hong Kong that democracy was on the horizon, they've now yanked that away and offered a pathetic booby prize: a committee can select nominees that have Beijing approval! Whee! Free at last, free at last!
I'm not sure if China is surprised or not that Hong Kong has correctly figured out that this is not actually democracy, but I do know that this doesn't change my very low opinion of China. In fact, it's only made it stronger:
Seriously, if saying openly (which I am now) that I hope the CCP is overthrown and that they are an incompetent government that lacks a proper mandate to lead will get me on their watchlist, then it is an honor to be on that list. (I'm not sure if I am, but if I am, or it ever happens, it only confirms that I was right to say that the CCP is that bad. They stifle freedom. If they don't like me, it is an honor not to be liked. Toeing their line means accepting the unacceptable.)
In short, fuck you, Communist Party of China! 凸益凸 ~~ I hope you die a hard political death.
As noted by Michael Turton, the general punditry have "just figured out" that there is a connection between what happens in Hong Kong and what could happen in Taiwan if Taiwan accepts the idea of becoming a Chinese buttmonkey I mean SAR.
I guess I shouldn't be shocked that a group of people - most folks who are not in the Taiwan blogosphere or not Thinking Taiwan (which is excellent), basically - have been caught with their heads up their asses yet again. They are uniformly terrible at writing on Taiwan - even the major news outlets. The New York times publishes foofy hot-springs-and-food pieces and could stand to publish more hard news, the WSJ has long since sold its soul if it ever had one, the Reuters editors insert all sorts of wrong bullshit into articles about Taiwan (e.g. calling Taiwan "an island that split from China over six decades ago after a civil war" which is simply historically false - during and before that war Taiwan was Japanese and before that, it was briefly independent after 200 years as a part of imperial China - a government that no longer exists - in name only. China declined to defend or effectively govern it in any sort of centralized way even in the 19th century which is why Japan was able to take it in the first place). And don't even get me started on The Economist, where everyone who reports on Taiwan should be fired via defenestration from the highest possible floor for their idiocy and lack of journalistic integrity in reporting objectively.
But, I still feel sad that I have to file this under "No shit, Sherlock" and marvel yet again that the lackluster punditry and joke academics who claim to "know" Taiwan hadn't picked up on this before. What can we learn from this? Don't trust the lackluster punditry and joke academics.
However, what bothers me more is what this says about China's attitude towards Taiwan.
Someone, somewhere, in the CCP, must have woken from the chemical party long enough to stop and think "hey, if we tell Hong Kong it can only have Fake Democracy, that'll piss off Taiwan because more people will figure out that when we forcibly annex our Chinese Brothers Across The Strait, that the first thing we'll do is slowly dismantle their democracy and put Fake Democracy in its place. There are still some people who don't fully realize this yet, and it's better for our plans to take Taiwan that a few people be delusional about what Chinese rule means. So, how do we handle this?"
I mean, they must have known that the bait-and-switch they just pulled in Hong Kong, which hasn't been working so well in Macau, either, would wake people up to what Taiwan's future could look like as a Forcibly Annexed Peacefully United "province of China".
The fact that they did it anyway is really scary, if you think about it.
It means that they don't think Taiwan is enough of a flight risk that they have to carefully tailor their lies message to appease the Taiwanese into continuing to believe that being a Chinese SAR would be "that bad". It means they think they've got this one in the bag, that Taiwan will soon enough be theirs for the taking. It means they can do whatever bullshit they want to Hong Kong, and that the reaction of Taiwan isn't important enough to cause China to change its strategy so as to "court" its neighbor. Read one way, it seems they no longer think that Taiwan needs to be convinced that it would be okay to be an SAR - they think they'll get Taiwan no matter what.
And that is horrifying.
Seriously, fuck the CCP.
I can only hope that either my interpretation is wrong, or that their hubris will be their downfall.
So while I have a couple of women's issues and hiking posts on the back burner, I'll tackle this first.
One reason I love living in Taipei (Taipei specifically, although the rest of Taiwan is not bad in this regard either) is that they have largely avoided the urban planning mistakes of much of the USA, which China is now falling prey to. It's the same reason why, when I was a resident of the country of my citizenship, I enjoyedliving in Arlington, Virginia.
It's also a reason why I am not that interested in living in the major urban centers of China.
Basically, I have seen with my own eyes how Beijing was transformed, in a generation, from a city of interconnected, pedestrian-and-bike friendly hutongs connected by roads with bike lanes and dotted with historical sites and squares into a smoggy hellscape of massive ring roads, six-lane highways (downtown, even!) with unpleasant sidewalks if they existed at all and no more bike lanes. The old hutongs were either torn town for glass-and-steel monstrosities that soared into the gray-brown smog above, leaving little space for street-level development, or turned into ersatz up-market "hutongs" dotted with tourist shops replacing the erstwhile real deal.
Why would I want to live in that?
As one of my former coworkers put it, in Taipei, as ugly as some of the architecture is (and I don't think it's all ugly - only some of it - but there is charm to be found if you look closely), as you walk down the street there's a lot to see. Old stores jostling for space with new ones. Chefs from Hong Kong style restaurants smoking outside, backed by with ducks hanging behind glass. Red lanterns and carts full of barbecue, tempura, tofu, dumplings, buns, onion pancakes and more. Basically, you can walk down most streets and they practically shove the food in your face. But walk down a street in Beijing and you're likely to have four lanes of exhaust-spewing cars on one side, and on the other...a wall. Maybe they thought the one great wall was so damn great they needed to fill the whole city with them. Or maybe some horrible glass box - no shops, no lanterns, no food, not much street life at all really.
Why would I want to live in that?
And as this happens, more and more people are fleeing to the suburbs. Can you blame them? With a city center so uninviting to life-after-work, surrounded by not-so-great walls, it makes sense to flee.
But that's just what happened in the USA, and I don't want to live in the vast majority of places in the USA either, so why would I want to live in that?
Every time I go back to the USA, I end up being picked up at the airport. There's no other convenient way to do it. There are buses (and you have to make connections) but no Airport Express trains. It takes forever to get between cities because either you have to "beat the traffic" or take the (usually delayed) train. No bullet trains (the Acela emphatically does not count). Visiting either set of parents, we can't go anywhere without driving, and one has to drive to the nearest urban center. That's fine, if you're in the country - you have to do that in Taiwan, too - but once in that urban center, you also have to drive! There is no worse driving than that of a multi-lane open highway that empties out into a series of shopping centers interconnected in the most mind-bending ways.
Not a thought to building more public transit - there are buses, but you wouldn't want to rely on them. There aren't any subways or trams. The only subway system worth a damn is in New York, and that one is in desperate need of upgrades and maybe a nice bath. In DC, we'd head down to the Metro and find we had to wait 14 minutes - this in the early evening on a weekday, when it's fairly busy - for a train to go three stops, but the trip wasn't walkable. 14 minutes! To catch a train to go three stops! That's only like a 5 minute trip! In Taipei if you have to wait 6 minutes (which only happens at night or on the Xinyi Line, which I hope they fix soon) you're groaning. I couldn't possibly have been a freelancer in DC the way I am in Taipei - I'd need to own a car I couldn't have afforded. There would be no other way to get between my various jobs in any decent amount of time. Everything was so spread out.
It's a reason why I can't attend grad school in the USA: not only can I not afford it (I would seriously never be able to pay off that loan), but a lot of schools are in areas where you need a car to get around.
I can't stand American urban planning in America - it's one reason why I left (also: healthcare, and fear for my safety in a country of people packing heat where the streets are not always safe for women. Guns make me feel less safe, not safer) - so obviously I wouldn't want to deal with it in China.
Taipei, on the other hand, is like the city of the future.
In DC, when I arrived in 1998, they had been talking about the "silver line" to the airport for years already. This was when Taipei's metro was first getting started (that's the year the yellow line opened). In that time, the silver line hadn't even begun construction (no ground was broken while I was in college, nor did it begin when I lived there again from 2004-2006) whereas Taipei's metro grew from an infant into a fiercely competent adult.
To recap: Taipei built an entire metro system in the time it took for DC to argue about the silver line for years, and not do jack about it. Taipei's metro is still growing, whereas the silver line, after they finally broke ground, is only about halfway complete. You still can't ride it out to the airport. It took DC to build half a Metro line in the time it took Taipei to build, basically, an entire metro system. (This is, incidentally, why I would consider living in Kaohsiung but I hate Taichung).
Living in a city where a new metro line opens every few years and changes the face of public transit for the better (I can now take the MRT to Taipei 101 directly!) feels like a city in progress. A city that's growing. Living in a city where I felt constricted in where I could go and how fast I could get there, if at all, felt like living in a city that was slowly crumbling. The Decline and Fall of the American Empire.
Taipei residents understand the importance of an interesting, multi-use, well-connected, safe urban core that is good for something other than financial centers in horrible glass boxes surrounded by houses and shopping complexes you have to drive to. There's a reason why, despite the pushiness of various real estate developers, that nobody really wants to live in Linkou despite all the new, cheap apartments being built out there. It's the choice you make if you want to buy, not rent, but can't afford Taipei. It's not like the USA where people chose to live far from the city in boring little subdivisions where sidewalks weren't even guaranteed to exist.
I like that people here understand the life-enhancing importance of convenience, and how sometimes it's worth it to trade space for that convenience. Between having a yard and needing a car to drive to Buy 'N Large, or being able to walk less than a minute to the nearest supermarket and convenience store and restaurant and massage parlor and hardware store, I'll take the latter, and for the most part Taipei residents agree with me. In terms of urban planning, I've found My People.
Although we could have better sidewalks, urban thoroughfares netted together with quiet lanes, many planted with trees, parks dotting the landscape, street-level commerce of all types, a comprehensive public transit system and the ease of the new bike sharing program (which has been a stunning success, although we could sure use more real bike lanes with bike lane rules enforced), Taipei residents just get it. This was the urban planning of the past - the type of planning that makes towns like downtown Bangor, ME and New Paltz, NY so pleasant to walk around - and it is the urban planning of the future.
Why wouldn't I want to live here?
Another note on Taipei as City of the Future: I've become so accustomed to convenience here that the idea that I'd have to spend more than five minutes to get any given basic thing I needed has become alien to me. The idea that I'd have to hop in a car to do anything other than go hiking (and in Taipei you don't even have to do that - you can take the bus to most good hikes, and the MRT to some, too) is just ludicrous to me. I now feel that if I can't get breakfast in one minute, that city sucks. I liked Shanghai alright (wouldn't live there, though), but I had to walk 7 minutes just to find a Cafe 85 to get some coffee and baked goods for breakfast. No other options. This on Nanjing Road. That city sucks. It doesn't get a second chance. One minute to breakfast, or you're out.
I'm so used to being able to go to 7-11 for everything: buying books I've ordered, picking up a spare pair of socks, lunch, coffee (and pretty good coffee at that, at least as far as convenience stores go), copies, printing, bill paying, rental contracts, high speed rail tickets, concert tickets and more - and having two of those within sight of my building - it's like The Future, but the future is here.
No great walls. No faceless glass boxes. No six-lane highways downtown. No open-access highways to South Maple Falls Shopping Center far from your home, where it takes 30 minutes to drive to the store, get what you need and come home. None of that.
Even traffic isn't that bad: I mean, it's bad, but it's not like...it's not like 66 in the DC area where you are basically parked at rush hour. You can hop in a cab at rush hour and still get to where you need to go in the city without banging your head on the back of the seat in frustration. You can catch a bus at 6pm and buses are frequent enough that you might even get a seat, and you'll get home in a reasonable amount of time. And you live near where you work - Taipei residents understand the importance of a short commute. A commute of over 30 minutes is basically a human rights violation to most of us.
And yes, we have to give up a little space, but there's something to be said for owning less stuff and inhabiting less space - good for the environment too. Surprisingly, dense urban cores that lack massive sprawl are also more environmentally friendly than over-manicured suburbs and snaking, gridlocked highways - and being home soon after you finish work. And for thinking "I want...whatever" and being able to walk or bike to whatever it is you want.
Is that guest bedroom and extra half bath really worth the hour-long commute and the 20 minute drive along the worst kind of road to the nearest supermarket? Not to me. I've found my people, and we are the future.
I'm an American woman living and working in Taipei, Taiwan. I work in corporate training, travel frequently, drink far too much coffee and alcohol (often together). I love reading, photography and exploring any city I find myself in. I have a lovely husband, Brendan and a fat, insane cat named Zhao Cai. I write quite a bit about being a female expat and women's issues in Asia, as well as travel, hiking, photography and food - with a few personal anecdotes thrown in.