Monday, May 30, 2016

The Fu-Jen Curfew Protests: religious vs. cultural conservatism

So, a few of my friends have shared this post about the protests surrounding curfews at the women's dorms of Fu-Jen Catholic University in New Taipei (link in Chinese).

I understood despite my piss-poor Chinese reading ability that the women's dorms have a curfew and are locked after that time, while the men's dorms are not - and this has not changed despite an ongoing dialogue with the administration that tends to agree and avoid rather than actually discuss the issue. The protestors (who seem to be organized as FJU Cinderella) are giving press conferences and engaging in a hunger strike.

Yes, the entire reason for the curfew is that the powers that be are terrified of female sexuality. It's not for safety reasons, or because there is some sort of known threat, or even for legal reasons. It's because those nice young university girls might (gasp!) be sexually active and do what they please with their bodies. We can't have that now can we! So many pearls to clutch, so little time!

My first thought, though, was not "Taiwan can be really conservative!" - it was not to attribute this particular problem to Taiwanese culture at all but rather to religious, especially (but not limited to) Catholicism. American-style fundie nonsense comes to Taiwan!

I realize there is a certain prudishness about Taiwanese culture as it is, and many aspects of life here are dealt with more conservatively at home for reasons that have nothing to do with Western influence or Western religion. As a friend put it, culture in this part of the world started to turn prudish in the 19th century before missionaries even got here. But, that prudishness can't be analyzed along Western lines, because it absolutely does not follow them (where in the West are you going to find sexy church dancers along the lines of Taiwan's sexy temple dancers?), and in many ways Taiwan is not all that conservative. I've said several times it is, in my experience, more progressive than any other country in Asia by a very wide margin.

That prudishness does come out in college dorm rules - but it seems to be equally meted out to men and women. At least, as far as I have been told (I have never lived in a dorm here), while women's dorms often don't allow male visitors at all or after certain hours, and many have curfews, that men's dorms do too. The double standard that men can play but women must keep their legs closed (and only the 'bad sort' of women let the men play) seems, to me, to come out later in life when wives are supposed to be forgiving of their husbands' indiscretions, men are seen as horndogs unable to help themselves, but mistresses are evil succubi and unnatural she-beasts. At college age, the censure against sex - because, again this is about sex plain and simple - seems to be aimed at both young women and men.

As per my memory, when my sister attended NCCU no men were allowed in her dorm, but she was likewise not allowed in the men's dorms. I've been told by Zhongshan alumni that the men's dorms are further up the mountain, cloistered away farther from main campus life (and therefore more susceptible to monkey invasion) than the women's dorms.

But, all I know is what I've been told by people who have actually had Taiwanese college dorm experiences. If I'm wrong about this or you have counter examples (or examples that support this view), please do leave them in the comments. I'm entirely open to being wrong about this as I am not writing from direct experience.

If that is true, however, the practice of keeping women under lock and key but not men, to me, feels like more of a religious stick-up-the-butt than a cultural one. That it's Catholicism, specifically, causing the problem here with the church's outdated and frankly offensive views on women's rights and equality. (I want to emphasize this as an establishment problem, not a personal one: just because the church has views I find repugnant doesn't mean those who identify with that religion necessarily have similar views. It is absolutely possible to be an openminded, even feminist, Catholic, though it does entail differing with the church on certain issues).

That's not to say that very traditional thinkers in Taiwan aren't woman-blamers and chauvinists: many are. A student of mine from a college in Danshui told me about how her father lets her brother sleep at friends' houses, doesn't have a curfew for him when he is home, and lets him stay in the dorms at his own university, whereas she is expected to live at home with her parents and commute to college, and be home by a certain time. This attitude is not unheard of here. It just doesn't strike me as the reason why the women are locked up like untrustworthy lusty schoolgirls while the boys are allowed to hot-dog it all over town without censure. No thought given to the notion that young people are gonna get it on (to be honest, not me, despite living in a co-ed dorm freshman year - I was a hopeless nerd and kind of still am), and that's only a problem if you make it one by not educating them properly or by thinking its somehow wrong or unnatural.

That, to me, feels particularly religious in origin. I hear echoes of the Republican party and religious right in it. Hell (pun intended) it's one of the many reasons I left the US: as an atheist I was sick of public discourse being skewed so far to the right that moderates in the US look conservative in every other Western country, and liberals in the US are moderates by any reasonable standard elsewhere. I am a flaming liberal by American standards but pretty moderate by European ones, and I see myself as a moderate. I'm not a Communist or anarchist after all and I am married, which is a pretty establishment thing to do, although I would not say I have a traditional marriage. I was sick of being demonized for not only not believing in God, but not believing in the whole raft of misogynistic bullshit that seems to come with strong religious faith. The whole aspirin-between-the-knees victim-blamey "she had it coming wearing that skirt" "boys will be boys" purity ring flood of pure stinky douche that has poisoned and divided my own clumsy culture by creating a culture war that nobody with any sense wanted.

I would hate to see it start up here. Taiwanese culture grows more progressive by the day. The last thing it needs is a bunch of Western-style fundies screwing it up.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Sad buttclown nobody cares about calls Tsai "extreme" because she's a single woman

"She's so extreme because she's single"


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AAAAHHhhhahaha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha h ah ah ahahaha h a ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha hah a

BWAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA

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hahahahahahaha HHHHAAAAAAAAAAA

BBBBWWWWWAAHAHAHAA  AHA HAAHAAHHAAA

hhhhaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahahaha



This is the entirety of my opinion on the matter and I will defend it to the end as succinct and accurate.

Taipei: The New Old Berlin

So I was reading this article about how Berlin has changed and, as I read it, something about the old, pre-cool Berlin that the writer describes felt familiar.

I can't point to any one quote that captured this for me, just an overall feeling - a modern, capitalist, free city (well, half-free) that was not particularly inviting to outsiders, was off the beaten track, and was full of grubby neighborhoods that you could live in if you wanted cheap rent. If you were there it was because you wanted to be there, and not anywhere else, but anyone who wanted to be anywhere else generally did not give Berlin a second look. The "beautiful people" were in other cities (London, Paris, Milan).

And I realized, it reminded me of Taipei now. Taipei is not particularly cool. It doesn't have the cachet with Westerners that Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong or Tokyo (or more recently, Seoul) do, or even Bangkok or Singapore. Tourists from other parts of Asia come here but it is not a global tourist hotspot by any standard, and wasn't a tourist hotspot at all until Chinese tourism opened up. You are here because you want to be here - at least I am here for that reason - and not anywhere else. It's very local, and looming just across the straight is a massive Communist threat. I highly doubt Chinese missiles are going to rain down on my head anytime soon, but some days you can't help but wonder and be reminded of that during the occasional air raid drills. The beautiful people are in those other cities, and with them their beautiful overpriced nightspots and commercialized bar and restaurant scenes.

It can be nice and shiny and new - look at Xinyi (or don't - I kind of prefer not to). But entire neighborhoods are a bit grubby, and you have to look more deeply to find their charms (which they do have). It's so cool because it's not cool at all.

And, like that older version of Berlin, you have to work to understand it, and you might not always like it at first. You may remember that I did not really like Taipei when I first arrived. It was hard - foreigners generally make friends with coworkers when they first land but I didn't care for most of mine (the ones I liked I still didn't feel that close to, and they have pretty much all since left Taiwan). I cried on my birthday, after eating dinner alone at a terrible Indian restaurant, two weeks after arriving, on the Muzha line MRT because I could look down through rain-streaked windows at people on the street all going somewhere they belonged and probably seeing people who cared about them in lives that were anchored in some way, and I had none of those things.  It took another year or so before I felt like Taipei was alright, and probably another year after that before I began to really feel it, and Taiwan, was someplace special.

As an aside, so far I can count on one hand the number of people who know why this blog is called Lao Ren Cha. There is no special reason why I don't publish the reason publicly other than I never really felt like it. The people who know I felt, for whatever reasons I had at the time, deserved to know. Some still do! But, it's not a big deep secret, and perhaps someday I will write about that. What I'll say now is that it was very much intentional - not just a pretty name - and is very much directly related to my experiencing Taipei first in a muddy, dark, monochromatic sepia and only later a stunning, clear azure blue. It took more time than you would ever think such a thing would require.

And I'm not alone - when my cousin visited recently and stayed for a semester, he took time to adjust too. At first absorbing everything, then feeling a bit down due to the unrelentingly bad weather, then finally realizing one day that he had a solid group of friends and that Taipei was a super cool city to be in. The Taipei effect is not immediate.

I do wonder, as Taipei gets cooler - maybe not Seoul-level cooler but cooler nonetheless, with its plethora of perfect little cafes and increasing number of tour buses, increasing rents and gentrifying neighborhoods if it will start to become a victim of its own coolness. Part of me hopes it will bypass the Brooklyn effect, as it feels like it's already become too expensive to truly be a hip haven - and all the cool kids are already taking advantage of the better weather and cheaper rents in Tainan.

I wonder, I guess, if in 10 years (assuming I am still here, which I may be), what was an off-the-beaten track choice for building a life in Asia will start to be THE place to be and it will start to lose some of its street-level vibrancy and slightly grubby charm. Will I feel like that disaffected old expat in 10 years, complaining about all the new kids and how "this city isn't what it used to be"?

Yes, I do realize expats before me have already said that, but I wasn't here then so LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU.

Part of me wants Taipei to get that international recognition. Part of me wants it to stay the way it is.





Friday, May 20, 2016

1992 Whiplash
















image from here

I should start by saying that literally nothing qualifies me to comment on this other than the fact that I majored in International Affairs in college, which is about as relevant as someone who studied psychology in undergrad and then became a Starbucks barista trying to diagnose your clinical depression.

But, it was very interesting to read all the different takes on Tsai's deliberately vague and careful language surrounding the "1992 Consensus" (scare quotes intentional because it's not a real thing).

The English translation of what she said was this:

We will also work to maintain the existing mechanisms for dialogue and communication across the Taiwan Strait. In 1992, the two institutions representing each side across the Strait (SEF & ARATS), through communication and negotiations, arrived at various joint acknowledgements and understandings.


So she explicitly acknowledges that a meeting took place, which is fine because it did. She acknowledges that there was a spirit of communication and attempts to find common ground, which I suppose there was. She said there were some "joint acknowledgements and understandings" but declines to define what those were. At no point did she say there was a "1992 consensus" that, according to contemporary rhetoric, involves both sides agreeing that there is "one China" with "different interpretations" of what that means.

To hear New Bloom talk of it you'd think she'd acknowledged the 1992 consensus (which, in my view, she didn't) - they frame it as her acknowledging it "in all but name", and that her vague words "can be understood to mean acceptance of the 1992 consensus or would allow her some wiggle room".

I can't say I agree with this - to acknowledge it in all but name would mean to say - far more clearly than she did - what those "various joint acknowledgements and understandings" were, and to tack that on to what people say the 1992 Consensus was. She didn't do that.

On the other side, South China Morning Post talks about how she has pissed off Beijing by "failing to acknowledge" the 1992 Consensus. This makes sense, New Bloom is on the far left, and SCMP, while not a mouthpiece of Beijing, sometimes acts like one and is, shall we say, not that far too the left. Not by my standards anyway. Of course they'd report their interpretation of the same words differently.

You could say it makes no difference - "stopping short of acknowledging the 1992 consensus" and "acknowledging the 1992 consensus in all but name" sure do sound the same. In the real world I suppose they are - or at least they are so close to the same thing that you could swap one for the other.

But statecraft is not the real world - it's a world where entire oceans of meaning are found between sentences, in single words or words not said. Tsai was absolutely right to be as careful as she was, and showing her diplomatic and negotiating chops in good form.

So, in my totally non-expert opinion, she did not acknowledge the 1992 Consensus, but she did accomplish something far more deft.

By mentioning that the two sides met in the spirit of finding common ground is a way of coming close to what Beijing wants to hear without actually caving in to them, making it harder to criticize her (her words were intentionally vague), allowing her to say she called for peace and acknowledged history in her speech even as Beijing was denied the exact thing they were pressuring her for.

To which, if Beijing complains, Tsai can say "well I did acknowledge that 'various agreements were reached' in 1992!", and if Beijing says "but you didn't SAY 1992 Consensus" makes Beijing, not her, look bad. Like big warmongering babies for being angry that she - a democratically elected leader not technically under their control - did not stick to the exact script they laid out for her.

At the same time it allows her to say "hey, I didn't cave - I didn't give them the exact words they wanted" to her base, and even Taiwanese not in her base who still have pride in Taiwan and don't want their elected leaders to parrot words Beijing throws at them.

What I don't get - because again I am not an expert, I just majored in it - is why no major news outlet is reading it this way, talking about it or showing any sort of understanding that this is what she did, this is why she did it, this is the brilliant trick she managed with the crappy hand she was dealt, and it was very intentional, and very smart. Either they say she acknowledged it or they say she didn't, often defaulting to their own biases.

This is statecraft. I don't always agree with it (I'm a burning radical at heart) but this really is how it works. It does make a difference. As much as the crazy lefties like me - whose heart would rather follow Chen Shui-bian-style China-taunting even as her mind knows that's a bad idea, who would rather occupy the legislature (hi Sunflowers!) than work within it* - and the other activists and progressives and strong independence supporters would like it to be otherwise, this is how the game is played and if you play it well, you just might win.

Tsai plays it very, very well. I may not agree with all of her choices, and I may be generally suspicious of the 'establishment' as a whole, but I'll give her a chance.

*now you see why, despite preparing for a career in the foreign service, I did not go down that path. Would have been a terrible idea for me.


BREAKING NEWS: Taiwan swears in pants-wearing president



















Pants-wearing troublemaker president Tsai Ying-wen

TAIPEI, CHINA: Taiwan swore in pants-wearing president Tsai Ying-wen today in Taipei, the capital city of Chinese Taipei, a move that the KMT and other world leaders decried.

Donald Trump, whose opinion is always important, said, "I promise the American people that not only will I not wear pants at my inauguration, but that my presidency will be a pantsless one. The inauguration will be the best inauguration anyone has ever seen, without any pants at all. Very classy."

"Those troublemaking DPP and their pants," said KMT lawmakers, who were quick to point out that former Troublemaking DPP president Chen Shui-bian also wore pants, and "look at what happened to him."

Opposition KMT members went on to point out that their party was the only true party of peace "between the two sides of One China across the Taiwan Strait".

"I hardly ever wear pants," said outgoing melted candle president Ma Ying-jiu. "The resulting flexibility of both of my legs has made me an effective ruler leader of the Chi- I mean Taiwanese people."
























Outgoing pantsless President Ma Ying-jiu

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also known to wear pants, asked for his critical and necessary opinion on this issue said "Taiwan is an inseparable part of China because we say so. To feel otherwise is to hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and our 5,000,000,000,000 years of culture, which you can never understand. These pants, with their split legs unlike a skirt, are clearly a symbol of the DPP and so-called democratic 'splittists' who want to tear China apart. China will not tolerate the actions of renegade pants-wearing Taiwan Province. We'll bomb them to remind them of our love."

Some say Tsai's decision to wear pants was a deliberate distancing of herself from Taiwan's authoritarian past, especially former leader Chiang Kai-shek.


Pantsless Chiang

Chiang is known to have famously said that "the sky is not big enough to burn with the brightness of two separate pant-legs."

SEE: Our gallery of world leaders wearing pants
















































Asked for their opinions, everyday Chinese Taipeiers expressed a range of strong views about Tsai's bold, pantsy choice.

"Actually, I don't care," said Taipei resident Chen Ya-ling. "I just hope President Tsai will be an effective ruler who listens to the voice of the Taiwanese people and decides rationally for the cou--hey where are you going?"

"Huh? What are you talking about? Who gives a damn? I want a president who is wise and measured in dealing with Taiwan's ailing econo---really? Just walking away because my opinion is not sensational enough?" added a noodle shop owner who asked to be referred to as Ah-xiong.

Clearly, ethnic divisions run deep in Chinese Taipei, a problem China says only it can solve through "national unity between China on both sides of the strait."

Renegade Taiwan Province has been governed separately from China since the two sides separated, or something, in 1949 because obviously they were exactly the same for a million years before 1949.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ways Taipei Has Ruined Every Other City

Honestly, I feel like I've written something like this before, but after a bit of a search I couldn't find it. I've written about how a lot of people overlook all the stuff Taipei has gotten right, and it's street-level vibrancy and convenience actually, surprisingly, mirrors what I would call good urban planning. But that's not quite what I'm trying to say here.

There are just so many things that I've grown accustomed to, to the point of insisting on them, or taking them as a given, that it is now hard to imagine living in another city. I just don't see how another city could provide everything Taipei does. Let's have a look:

1.) The MRT

Me in another city:
"What do you mean there are no public restrooms?"
"What do you mean I can't have a free umbrella that someone left behind?"
"What do you mean the metro is closed because it's on fire?"
"I honestly do not understand why it took any more than 2 hours, let alone 2 years, to fix this escalator"
"Is that a mouse? Seriously WTF"
"Wait wait wait, you want me to either pay sky-high rent or live over a mile away from the nearest metro station? Why? Why would I do that?"
"You expect me to walk more than ten minutes to get to the MRT?"

Seriously, I live a bit closer to one MRT station on a less convenient line - maybe a 5-minute walk if you book it - and a little farther from one at a transfer station - maybe a 10-minute walk. I often moan to myself about taking the station a bit farther away because I so readily expect a 5-minute walk that a 10-minute walk feels like a real hassle. What am I, Walkie McWalkerson? The MRT should come to my door!

Now think about how I'd do in any major Western city!

2.) Breakfast and Coffee

I like to patronize those super unhealthy breakfast shops because I am too lazy to make my own breakfast more often than I'd like to admit. I like that if I'm in a rush they even have sandwiches waiting.

There are two of them within a 30-second walk of my front door.

But I believe in compromise. It's clearly too much to ask that any city have a place for me to live where a breakfast joint is 30 seconds away on foot. I'm willing to double that and make it a minute because I'm generous. The idea that if I want breakfast I have to walk for more than one minute, though? Blasphemy.
If you can't give me breakfast in one minute or less, your city is bad and you should feel bad.

The same is good for coffee. If there is a neighborhood where you can't get coffee within a short walk of your apartment, I don't want to hear about it.

3.) Other Food

A lot has been said about Taipei's culinary scene, I'll leave that be. Here's what I want to know about cities back in Western countries - what the hell is wrong with you that you think it's OK to charge that much for food? Don't you know I can get 10 potstickers for, like, a dollar fifty in a real city? And while I know Western goods are more expensive here, I have to laugh at prices back in the West for basic produce. Fresh cilantro, spinach, peppers etc. cost what now? Are you mad? 

4.) Cheap rent

Growing up I always thought that if you wanted to live downtown you could, you'd just be in an apartment, and if you wanted a house you could spend the same amount and move to the suburbs. But outside any city I'd want to live in in the US (hint: I don't want a lifestyle based around driving, so that's, like, two cities, maybe three if I'm generous, the rest are not even on my radar because who even drives? Seriously), it feels like you can either rent an apartment in the suburbs, buy a house in the far exurbs and enjoy your 2-hour-each-way commute, or just not live in the city at all because who the fuck can afford that? What I would call reasonable downtown rent is now the rent expected in the 'burbs or outer boroughs, and the rent in cities themselves just isn't even a thing in this universe it's so unreal.

In Taipei I get 30 ping right downtown for less than $1000USD a month, and I have a doorwoman and elevator. Suck it, The West!

5.) Urban Driving

Already covered this. I know how to drive, I even have a license, but I don't do driving really. Not my thing. I put my money where my values are and take public transit. Most American cities require you to have your own vehicle - pretty much any city outside of New York, Washington DC (where you still actually do need a car if you want to get anywhere with any modicum of convenience), Boston and maybe Chicago, and all but one of those cities is still inconvenient without a car. I do not understand this because the whole point of being "urban" to me is that it, to some degree, equals "don't have to drive". Why would you build a city you have to drive in? What twisted or just plain stupid minds would ever think that's a good idea?

I mean if I had a job in DC like the one I do in Taipei there's no way I'd be able to get between clients without a car, and DC is considered to have "good" (ahem) public transit. I'm not sure why.

Does not make sense. I've got some subterranean homesick alien stuff going on with that.

6.) "I can't socialize, I'm broke!" 


Wait, can't we just get some tai-pi and hang out in 7-11 then? Or I can take the MRT to your place 'cause that's a thing you can do in a real city? Wait, your city doesn't have that? You can't just hang in 7-11 and places require gas and a car to drive to? How do people socialize if they don't have money? They don't? WTF? How is that even a thing?

7.) 7-11 generally


To prove my point, I suggest that you go to a 7-11 in the US, in your buy a beer and some snacks in your pajamas (points if you try to do this at 3am and complain loudly when you realize the 7-11, which clearly needs to be open 24 hours, is not in fact open because there is no God), and sit in that 7-11 drinking your beer and eating your snacks, still in your pajamas. Maybe take a nap. See how long it takes for them to call the police.

In Taipei this is so common that I call it 'street soda' (beer on the street) and my sister calls it Bar 7.

You see? Taipei is better.

8.) Really, I am pretty sure those guys are trained for the zombie apocalypse

When the zombie apocalypse comes in the US, where you gonna go, chump?

I know where I'm gonna go. 7-11! Sure they have breakable windows but I am also fairly convinced that when the zombies attack the 7-11 superstar clerks will take out their 7-11 issued crossbows with cute little cartoons on them and just...take out the zombies. All part of the job. Then we'll drink beer and hang out in the 7 together. My treat, because I can afford it.

9.) The really pleasant lack of street rapists

No, seriously, when a single woman walks down the street after a certain hour (or not even after a certain hour!) in most Western cities, she's all "hey so where my rapists at? Because I know they're here". The threat of assault really is that bad in a lot of places, and there are quite a few you just don't go to alone at night if you are female. Certain areas where you do not walk. You definitely take great care in taxis, too.

I can't think of even one place in all of Taipei where I would not feel perfectly comfortable walking alone at any time of day or night, even down at the riverside park, even in the less-savory parts of town. I'm not saying rape doesn't happen - it does - but your chances of getting assaulted on the street are basically zero.

10.) When I am sick I can afford to see the doctor and I don't have to wait 

This applies more to Americans (but plenty of other Westerners have to wait far too long for their health care). But what else is there to say? In the US even with health insurance I couldn't afford to see a doctor when I needed to. I was barely scraping by even on a salaried office job, so even though I had only a co-pay, I couldn't afford it. It was my bus fare for the next two weeks! Now if I'm sick I see the doctor.

This is related to living in a city because I can usually walk to any clinic I need. Even if I have to take transit it's not particularly far which is a big deal when your problem is immediate and serious, like bronchitis and every second you have to be out and walking around is like agony.

WOW! It's like the FIRST world! UNLIKE my home country!

11.) The speed of telecommunications

Putting this under 'city life' too because perhaps in smaller towns in Taiwan it's not quite the same. I love how in Taipei when I want to go online I just go online and things happen instantly. Slow wifi is a death sentence for a cafe, and slow wifi at home simply doesn't happen, because Taipei (at least) has taken the effort to upgrade all of its cables. None of this "well fiber optic cable runs to your building but inside your building you have copper wire from the 1920s so...enjoy your slow wifi bub". That's nonsense. We live in the first world. The FIRST world. America should try it sometime...

12.) When I want to leave...

...I can take a bullet train and be on the other end of the country* in 90 minutes

HAVE FUN ON AMTRAK SUCKERS

~*~zoom~*~
*none of this "island" nonsense, it's a country




WILDLY SPECULATING about the lack of women in the Tsai cabinet

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Please enjoy this random photo I took that I happen to like

The difficult thing about trying to have something of a niche in the Taiwan blogging world is that sometimes you don't necessarily have a lot to say about the latest news in your niche other than "well that sucks".

I mean, I could try to salvage a bright side and note that when the highest office in the land is occupied for a woman, that's a victory no matter what, but I'm not feelin' it and you probably aren't either. We do expect more, for good reason.

It happened with Hung Hsiu-chu's short-lived candidacy and it's happening again with the Tsai administration's new "no girls allowed" cabinet, which people are pointing out mostly because, as Taiwan's first female president, they expected a little more gender equality in said cabinet because they expected an administration to be sensitive to such things (if President Ma had a cabinet with very few women, many people would probably just chalk it up to Ma being an asshat and be done with it).

Can I just note in that podcast, which starts talking about gender imbalances at about the 28-29 minute mark, I was a little annoyed by a female speaker call it the worst "Mother's Day present to women"? Not all women are mothers. What does Mother's Day have to do with women generally? Not much.

All I really have to say is "well that sucks"- and the cabinet overall, in terms of age and education, also kinda sucks.

Of course, from my memory of the Tsai campaign, although the first time around I came across stickers and other promotional materials touting her as "Taiwan's first female president" in the 2012 campaign she lost, I just don't remember seeing much about her campaigning specifically on that idea or drawing attention to her gender much at all. Certainly I don't remember her promising a gender-equitable cabinet.

Or did she, and I just missed that? Please do remember I spent a huge chunk of 2015 in the US for family reasons, and returning I was so busy I didn't have time to catch up on the political scene, so I missed a lot. If so, it's a straight-up broken promise.

But, then again, maybe I didn't miss anything. It seems to me her gender, and not her words, created that expectation and when she went and acted like any ol' politician with a penis, it was that expectation, the ones we created, that were dashed. I'm not sure she herself gave any indication that she would specifically be a force for gender equality beyond being a woman herself. The podcast says something like "we expected she could break the glass ceiling for all women", but did Tsai ever say she was going to do that, make an effort on that or focus on that?

I'm genuinely asking, because, as I said, I wasn't here for much of 2015 and paying more attention to family than Taiwan.

That's not meant as a defense - I happen to think any presidential candidate regardless of gender should have a gender equitable cabinet. Tsai is not exempt from that because or despite the fact that she's female. While I would hope a president who understands the obstacles women face just for being women would be more sensitive to the issue, I hold male politicians just as accountable.

Well, I say that, but I didn't write any of this when Ma was elected and re-elected, even though (while Tsai's cabinet has an even bigger gender imbalance) it's not like the Ma administration was this huge pro-women revolution or seemed to care much about women's representation in government. So maybe I'm a hypocrite.

I'm not sure why, and while a lot has been reported on it, nobody else seems to really know why either. I haven't heard much in the way of reasons for this, even in the podcast where there is criticism, and dismay, but almost nothing deeper, nothing in the way of analysis for how this happened - perhaps because nobody knows.

But not knowing never stopped me from shooting off my mouth before, so I'll speculate wildly and inexpertly because what the hell.

1.) Edited to add: the most obvious possibility, which I didn't really consider because (thanks to my own biases) I just sort of assumed Tsai would have a strong hand in who went into the cabinet. But, she may well have just rubber-stamped Lin Chuan's choices. I didn't really consider this one because I assumed (possibly wrongly?) that if Tsai is ultimately appoints the cabinet that the final responsibility and blame for who is in that cabinet rests with her (also I tend to ignore Lin Chuan because I feel like he's setting himself up to do a bad job...perhaps I just wish he didn't exist?). Or perhaps - despite my earlier claim to try and not have any biases and to hold male and female elected officials equally accountable for gender parity in government, in fact I did automatically lay blame on the woman rather than the (can I say kind of terrible? Is it too early for that? I really don't like him) man.

2.)As a former policy wonk without much executive experience, perhaps she just didn't think this one through. That sounds lightweight, but in fact it's pretty damning. A good leader must think these things through.

3.) As a woman fighting against an overwhelmingly pro-man, anti-woman sexist system, perhaps she has developed a mindset in which, well, she acts like the men around her. It's not that uncommon, especially for women in power, to try to secure and establish their positions by, at times subconsciously, acting and thinking more like the men around them. Not because it's particularly natural for women to follow men (it's not) but because it's natural for people to want to fit into their environs, and when the environment is such a damn sausage fest, perhaps you start to think like you have some sausage yourself.

4.) Perhaps, unlike the somewhat unconscious 'gotta fit in, gotta think like them' mentality above, this is a conscious effort to take emphasis off her gender and establish herself as an authority, to even maybe distance herself from 'women's issues'? Like "they'll all expect me to be 'women this and women that' rather than listening to me on the 1992 consensus, the Senkakus, international organization participation, the economy and more so I'll cut that off early by not showing women any special consideration." If so, it backfired spectacularly!

5.) Some combination of (4) and (5) or landing somewhere in between has led her to a slightly askance viewpoint in which insisting to the point of going beyond logic that only credentials matter and gender never does - which of course is true, or is true in a perfect world, but as this points out (in Chinese), so often 'gender doesn't matter, only credentials matter, if the most qualified people are men then the majority of the cabinet will be men' is taken as a launch point not to fight for greater equality because credentialed people exist in diverse and less-privileged populations, but to keep the patriarchy firmly in place and let the system run as usual. 

Seeing as previous cabinets (under men!) had more women than this one, clearly women with the right credentials exist. This cabinet could have been more gender-equal. Saying "well they got the most qualified people they could and they happen to be men" papers over that with, well, illogic and falsehood.

Also worth noting is that this can't possibly be the 'most qualified cabinet' to run Taiwan as it exists today: a country that is finally starting to listen to its youth. When the average age of your cabinet is closer to my father's than it is to mine (and I'm not particularly young though I like to pretend otherwise) in a country where student activists are a big effin' deal, then your cabinet is not qualified to properly represent the country.

(I'm not quite as worried about the lack of PhDs compared to previous cabinets, in part because I don't think education is necessarily the only way to become a great statesperson, in part because Taiwan already has a lot of respect, and quite a few, very highly educated people making high-level decisions - they do love their scholar-leaders - and in part because we all remember what happened when MENSA tried to run Springfield).

Though that brings me to a pretty solid silver lining that my previous contemplations failed to provide: at least the public discourse surrounding this issue is pretty solid in Taiwan. Taiwan civil society for the win! I'm not sure I'd expect discourse like this to be the rule rather than the exception in many other countries (I thought of Asia when I said that but I have to be honest - including my own. The USA is full of man-children).

So, I guess I'll end on that.

Come on Tsai. Do better.