Saturday, September 22, 2018

Tricked Into Divorce (no, not me)

A friend sent me this the other day: it's a document translated in Chinese, Japanese, English and several Southeast Asian languages asking foreign spouses at the registration office filling out divorce paperwork if they agree to get a divorce.



IMG_7454


Apparently, the police require this for all foreign divorces in Taiwan now, as it is too common for a Taiwanese spouse (usually male) who wants to divorce (usually a Southeast Asian woman who can't read Chinese) to take her to the local housing registration office saying they have to "fill out some paperwork", perhaps saying it's about some unrelated thing, and then divorcing her without her knowledge.

While it's not so easy in Taiwan for someone to divorce their spouse if that spouse doesn't agree, these 'trick' divorces made it look like the wife agreed - after all, she signed the paperwork without complaint. If both spouses agree, the process of legal divorce takes less than half an hour (in terms of splitting assets, I have no idea).

Once the divorce is final, the foreign spouse - again, usually a woman who doesn't speak or read Chinese - has 48 hours to leave the country. No time to demand access to assets or other support. Possibly no time to even go to the bank, if she has a bank account in her own name, which she likely doesn't. No realistic way to take any children with her. She's out, she gets nothing, quite possibly returning to a life of miserable poverty, and he gets a clean break and to keep everything. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to fight for a fair division of assets once out of the country, and as far as I know there is no legal way to apply to stay on such short notice (though I'm not sure about that, and if there were, it's not clear that someone who can't read Chinese and might not even have her own transport would be able to access it.)

This is absolutely evil, that goes without saying. It is wrong. It cannot be tolerated.

The good news is that the Taiwanese government got its act together (that happens sometimes!) and put together this form, which is now standard with foreign divorces. Unless the spouse is illiterate - in which case I suppose an interpreter would be necessary and locating one on short notice would pose other problems - it clarifies for the soon-to-be-erstwhile foreign spouse what is happening. 

If in fact she is being tricked, she can then refuse to sign the divorce papers, which buys her time and therefore better access to legal services to fight for assets and custody. She's not left penniless on a plane back to her country of birth without so much as the chance to give family there (if she has any) advance notification to expect her.

This doesn't solve every problem with the rules surrounding foreign spouses: if you knowingly divorce or your spouse dies and you were unable to obtain an APRC (or just had not done so) - keeping in mind that the men who marry Southeast Asian women may not meet the required income threshold for her to get an APRC, if she even knows that's an option - you also have few options for staying in Taiwan, and that's not right.  However, it deals with a massive issue many of us had no idea existed. It materially improves an issue facing foreigners - especially foreign women - in Taiwan.


One thing that helps with this is that the document itself is very simple - one easy-to-understand question and very simple choices of answer (so if there is some ability to read but overall literacy level is not high, it should still be comprehensible), which shows sensitivity to the situation of these women. It might seem to us that any foreigner who comes to Taiwan would be literate in their own language, but when it comes to women brokered through the marriage industry (and it is very much an industry) here, that's not guaranteed to be true. 


I don't often say this, but good job, Taiwanese government. You did the right thing.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Yes, Ko is using Xi's language on "one family"

Screen Shot 2018-09-21 at 9.29.56 AM
from ETToday


A piece by former Sunflower leader Lin Fei-fan came out today, warning of Ko's embrace of Xi Jinping's and China's oft-repeated phrase, "the two sides of the Strait are one family", essentially calling Ko's seeming doublespeak on China a strategy out of the Ma Ying-jeou playbook: insisting he's not pro-unification and then acting the opposite.

I'm already anticipating the criticism that'll flow in over such a prominent figure in Taiwanese Third Force politics essentially taking a shot at Ko as the Taipei mayoral election nears and no better pro-Taiwan candidates are running (or arguably, none who could actually win Taipei exist).

One thing in particular I expect to hear, which I'd like to dismantle right now, is the idea that Ko's and Xi's exact wording don't match: that Xi uses "兩岸一家人" (a translation of "one family" that implies a single household or very immediate relatives) and Ko uses "兩岸一家親" which implies a more distant familial relation, like cousins: the idea being that you can share ancestors or be related, but not be under the same household.

However, CRNTT/China Review News/台灣中評, essentially Chinese state-sponsored media in Taiwan and Hong Kong, published a lengthy article on the 19th Party Congress in 2017, in which the latter phrase - the one used by Ko - is explicitly quoted as being used by Xi:

兩岸一家親”是習近平總書記積極宣導的兩岸關係和平發展新理念,這一新理念的內涵極為豐富。“兩岸一家親”的基礎是兩岸同屬一個民族和國家。“兩岸一家親”的對台政策意涵是用“一家人”的思維和邏輯,“將心比心”更加彈性地處理台灣問題、兩岸分歧和對台讓利。“兩岸一家親”理念要求兩岸同胞彼此信賴,彼此扶持,不斷擴大和密切兩岸交流交往,在融合發展中撫平歷史的傷痕,共同推進中華民族偉大復興的歷史進程。

My rough translation: "The two sides of the strait are one family" is a new concept for the peaceful development of cross-strait relations actively promoted by General Secretary Xi Jinping. This new concept is extremely rich in content. The basis of the phrase "two sides of the strait are one family" is that both sides of the strait belong to one nation. This policy towards Taiwan is to use "family" rhetoric and logic to "reconcile hearts" and deal more flexibly with the Taiwan issue, cross-strait differences, and benefit Taiwan. The "cross-strait family" concept requires compatriots on both sides of the strait to trust each other, support each other, continuously expand cross-strait exchanges, smooth the scars of history in the development of integration, and jointly advance the historic process of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

Barf.

Anyway, that's what Chinese media in Taiwan is saying. It's useful to get a sense of what the Chinese government thinks, and they are explicitly using the exact same phrase as Ko: not 一家人, but 一家親. Here's another source from ETToday and another from China Times (pan-blue/pro-China media in Taiwan) which contains extensive quotes from Xi. Here's an English translation of Xi's words in 2017. You have to dig, as this wasn't one of the top points of his address, but it's there.

Basically, it seems as though Xi used the old phrasing  (一家人) up through about 2013, then switched to the newer one echoed by Ko after that (一家親), while occasionally switching back to the more 'immediate family' (一家人) translation. However, both retain the same translation in English.

I am sure that China does this sort of thing intentionally - taking words that have subtle, hard to parse translations in other languages  and twisting them to suit their own ends. Because it's hard to explain these things in English, those who don't know Mandarin buy too easily into CCP-approved ways of thinking about these concepts.  Another key example is the way they allow confusion to blossom over the concept of 華人 (Chinese, as in, something from Chinese culture) and 中國人 (from the nation called 'China'): essentially trying to control the debate about what it means to be 'Chinese' by equating it linguistically with anything 'Chinese' being 'a part of China'. Both words, however, translate as 'Chinese' and it's difficult to explain the difference unless you learn the language. It's also difficult for people who don't want to be lumped in under the CCP's idea of what it means to be 'Chinese' to use these words.

"一家親" in its "extended family (not necessarily of one household)" context might have been embraced by many Taiwanese, just as having Chinese cultural heritage (華人) might have been. Now, you can't say those things - you can't express an opinion that you are proud of your Chinese ancestry but don't want to be a part of China - without sounding like a unificationist. That suits some people very well indeed.

Note, in fact, that these points on the Chinese renderings of the phrase "two sides of the strait are one family" are not included in Lin's article: there's just too much you'd have to say to make it clear, and you'd lose readers' interest. It takes up valuable digital real estate - but the fact that it is so hard to discuss in other languages is exactly the point.

Some might ask whether Ko really means to echo Xi and China in his choice of words. I don't know - he's the kind of person who would stumble into this sort of thing unintentionally, having a tendency to...um, not think too much about how he comes across when he talks. He tends to stumble around answers to questions he really should see coming and have rehearsed, polished answers to, but apparently doesn't - not that I generally find Taiwanese politics very polished, mind you.

There's also the terrifying fact that Ko's milquetoast KMT opponent Ting Shou-chung uses the old, even more pro-unification "兩岸一家人" - a sign that Ting, not Ko, is the one in China's pocket? That both are useful idiots, blathering pro-China rhetoric that may sound different to Taiwanese voters but is seen in exactly the same way as China - and that this is intentional on China's part? That Ting is using the phrase in a bid to get the KMT back into the CCP's good graces - they miss their Daddy it seems - but the CCP has decided Ko is a better bet? I don't know.

But Lin puts forward a convincing case that we should at least keep our eye on Ko, and hold him accountable for his words: that CCTV seems to endorse him, and that China certainly is looking to co-opt Third Force and third-party politicians in Taiwan as it sees its inability to push its agenda forward through the KMT, and that his city-level exchanges with Shanghai are problematic. While he doesn't say so explicitly, the CCP's use of specific terminology is very deliberate. These exact phrases - like 兩岸一家人/一家親, or 中華民族偉大復興的歷史進程 ("the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation") - are significant to them and are generally deployed using exactly the same language each time. They are signals, to some extent dog whistles to those they've co-opted. If Xi has changed his wording, Ko is using it too (and defending that use), the phrase seems to have been given prominence above the language of the so-called "1992 Consensus, and CCTV is happy about all of this, it could very well mean something.

This isn't to say that I think Ko is a unificationist. He strikes me as more of a too-smart-for-his-own-good catspaw or useful idiot. It wouldn't be the first time a seeming pan-green loyalist was manipulated into doing the CCP's bidding, but I don't know what motivates Ko. All I can do is point out that, when it comes down to the very specific terminology put out by the CCP, Ko's words do in fact match up.

I certainly don't think Taiwanese voters will embrace this "one family" doctrine either: when it comes to actual sentiments of most Taiwanese people, Ko's words are not as divisive as some may believe. Just because he's selling potentially problematic ideas doesn't mean the electorate is buying them.

Some will probably say Lin is trying to tank Ko's re-election. If you read between the lines of what Lin is saying, however, it's not that we should not elect Ko. I would bet CA$H money that he fully expects Ko to win, and that he's fully aware that Yao's a joke who doesn't stand a chance and Ting is far worse a choice than Ko. Ting's clearly anti-independence stance is a huge problem, and Yao's off partying like it's 1999, naming Chen Shui-bian (yes, that Chen Shui-bian) his "supreme advisor". LOL.

I'd bet a full case of wine that Lin's goal is to get the world to look more closely at Ko and hold him to account for his words, but not necessarily to refuse to vote for him. He's someone who pokes holes in establishment narratives and criticizes where criticism is due, regardless of the consequences. That's often (though perhaps not always) a good thing.

I am sure he doesn't believe that Taiwanese voters will suddenly go pro-China either: several times in the piece it points out that the KMT is not likely to regain its lost popularity, and that Ko's words on China do not echo the sentiments of the Taiwanese people. His concern is that the Taiwanese people are deliberately ignoring his words out of convenience, for lack of a better candidate, and that's a dangerous path to follow (see: Ma Ying-jeou).

I'm not sure this is the best way to make the case for Taiwan in English in international media, as it's really something for Taiwanese voters to think about and Taiwan gets limited screen time on any media outlet. The rest of the world is confused enough by China's consistently winning the rhetoric war on the China-Taiwan debate (though less so these days), and needs to hear a clear, clarion-bright call bringing the case for Taiwan: not muddy, difficult, unclear domestic political situations that Taiwan is trying to hash out itself. I'd like to see more 'clear cases for Taiwan' and less 'domestic Taiwanese politics' for global readers.

But that doesn't mean Lin is wrong.

And every time the 1992 Consensus is called out for the pro-China garbage it is in English-language media, the better. I am only sad that the word "fabrication" was not used, because that's what it is. More of that, please.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Beware the phony expert: a Deutsche Welle dumpster fire

As a long-termer in Taiwan, it's a common disappointing occurrence to read an absolute horrorshow of an opinion piece about this country, thinking "well this is pretty crap, but it's probably by some nobody who just doesn't know what they're talking about", then get to the end only to find out that the writer is an accomplished scholar (though not in any field that has anything to do with Taiwan) and as such, people will actually take them seriously.

That's exactly what happened a few days ago in Deutsche Welle, when this mess was splattered across its website: Taiwan, China share common heritage, chequered history

You know something like this is going to be painful to read when even the title gets basic facts wrong: Taiwan and China do not share a common heritage in the way readers are intended to infer. The common trope is that Taiwanese and Chinese culture are 'the same'. They're not - Taiwanese culture certainly contains much Chinese influence, but it also contains heavy strains of indigenous, Japanese and Southeast Asian culture lacking in China - if 'Chinese' culture can be said to be one cohesive thing at all, which it isn't.

All in all, reading this thing was like listening to glass slowly crack and burst: you'd think for someone whose scholarship is specifically in the field of narratives and ideologies would have more to say about Taiwanese, rather than Chinese, narratives - and know a marginalized narrative when he sees one - but apparently not. 

With that in mind, let's dive in. I say we start with what's good about the piece. You know, to whet our appetites for the bloodbath to follow. 


Because one thing is certain: neither will Taiwan reclaim mainland China, nor will the People's Republic occupy and undermine Taiwan.


Let's leave aside "neither will Taiwan reclaim mainland China" - both that "mainland" is a made-up word by people in power to impose a certain narrative of what is mainland and what is territory off that mainland, and that Taiwan ever had China (it didn't - the ROC did, but Taiwan did not) - and look at the second half of that sentence. That's nice.

I mean, nice just like I suppose it's nice if you're trapped in the desert dying of dehydration and you find a muddy puddle and lick it just to get some water, only for it to give you bilharzia. But hey, you got some water! Nice!


Today Taiwan is a modern, open and tolerant democracy. It has nothing in common with the dictatorship that the Kuomintang had brought to the island when they arrived in 1949.


Yeah, okay, sure. Why couldn't you keep this thread going, Professor Görlach? Why'd you then have to take that former dictatorship's definition of what Taiwan is as the whole truth about Taiwan, despite the government itself being foreign (Taiwan was Japanese when the KMT arrived) and, at the time they consolidated themselves and their ideology about Taiwan, not representative of the Taiwanese people? You should know better. 


The island is, after all, one of Germany's and the European Union's most important trading partners. Taiwan, once again, exemplifies the success of the democratic model: political and economic freedoms go hand in hand and eventually lead to prosperity and harmony. Despite our friendship with China, Taiwan will thus remain a special ally among the Asian states.  


Cool story bro. So, how about some diplomatic support in the face of Chinese aggression up in here?

Also, not so sure about the harmony but the blue and green camps aren't exactly killing each other (anymore - one side used to routinely kill the other), so...fine.

Okay, that's enough. Time for blood. 


During my time in Taiwan, I realized that the young generation dissociates itself from that heritage. The Civil War, which ended in 1949, is far away. Hence, they consider themselves Taiwanese rather than Chinese.  


Wait...what?

You think the young generation doesn't identify as Chinese because the Chinese Civil War was a long time ago? Have you actually asked any young Taiwanese - or any non-KMT Taiwanese at all - why they identify as Taiwanese? If you did, what do you think they'd say?

I have asked, so I'll tell you what they've said to me: that it has nothing to do with any civil war in China or ROC ideology, and everything to do with the fact that Taiwanese history and culture are simply different from China's. From an island of indigenous tribes, to a history of colonization by European powers, Chinese powers and Japan (yes, Chinese presence on Taiwan was, and is, colonial), to a modern history that has sharply diverged from China's, Taiwanese history is its own unique thing. In terms of culture, this is harder to quantify, but Taiwan just feels like a place influenced by both Japan and China, and has an entirely different cultural feel from China despite the two cultures' similarities. It's like going to the US from Europe. Even the language (Mandarin) is a colonial one. Until the post-1949 language policies of the KMT began to have an effect, the native languages of Taiwan were numerous, and none of them Mandarin.

Is it so hard to believe that the Taiwanese identify as Taiwanese because the attempted brainwashing of those in power - so that they could stay in power - didn't work? That there's something real to it, and it is about remembering history rather than forgetting it?


Dealing with 'transitional justice'

As a German, I'm well acquainted with this gimmick: during the post-World War II period, both German states — the democratic West Germany and the communist East Germany — considered themselves to be legitimate representatives of the "one Germany."


And I'm well-acquainted with this gimmick: positioning the word "gimmick" very close to another term in scare quotes, to imply that you think the term is bullshit.

You wanna go ahead and own that? That you think things like letting families finally read the goodbye letters their long-dead relatives wrote before their (unlawful and unfair) executions is a "gimmick"? That opening records that were only sealed so the party responsible wouldn't have to face justice for what they'd done is a "gimmick"? That the historical narrative finally echoes what really happened - is that a "gimmick" too? That untold sums of money were confiscated, swindled or outright stolen from Taiwan and the Taiwanese by that same party, and only now does it seem they won't be able to keep their loot - is that a "gimmick" too?

All I can say is I'm happy your opinion doesn't mean anything in Taiwan.


The rest of the world should appeal to moderation on both sides of the conflict.


Ooooooohh, nice job implying very subtly that identifying as Taiwanese - which is something most Taiwanese naturally do and have done for decades (some for far longer) - is somehow not moderate, and therefore must be an extreme position.

I see through the ruse, but nice try. I commend you, sir, for your attempted chicanery.

I had just completed my tenure at a university in Cambridge on the US East Coast when I arrived at National Taiwan University to take up the position of visiting scholar. Most certainly, I arrived with an understanding of how complex and painful the aftermath of a civil war can be.

Sure, but remember, the only reason that civil war ever came to Taiwan's shores was because one side took it there. It had nothing at all to do with the millions of Taiwanese who, until just a few years previously, had been Japanese subjects. The warring ideologies of that war were so far removed from a local Taiwanese context that, to be frank, it feels like an accident of history that it ever became a part of the Taiwanese narrative at all. 


I reencountered much of this in Taiwan. The island state has its origins in the Chinese Civil War. In 1949, the defeated Kuomintang party of Chiang Kai-Shek retreated to the island. They remained convinced that they were still representing the real China that had become a republic under their leadership only a few decades ago.


So, before the 1940s, Taiwan didn't exist? Huh - I had thought Sun Yat-sen caused it to be raised from the ocean floor in 1911, but apparently it was several decades later, when Chiang Kai-shek took the magic tome, said the appropriate incantations to the gods, and made it so that Taiwan came into being where there had once been nothing but open sea. Ya learn something new every day!

(Yes, yes, I know he's talking about the "ROC on Taiwan" here, but he said "Taiwan". You may be surprised to learn that Taiwan did, in fact, exist as a unique entity long before the Chinese Civil War. Its entire history was colonial, but it did exist as a place one could refer to as itself rather than part of a larger whole.)


For the coming decades, the notion of reclaiming mainland China remained a crucial part of their rhetoric — despite the fact that their large neighbor was already on its way to becoming an economic superpower. The People's Republic of China on her part considers the island republic a renegade province.


Okay, so we get the KMT's view, but no sense of what actual Taiwanese thought about this whole thing or about China (remember, in those decades the KMT quite assiduously avoided identifying as Taiwanese. Many still don't.) So we get two perspectives from two Chinese regimes, and nothing at all about the perspectives of the vast majority of people in Taiwan who, until the KMT came, had had little to do with China besides having had a few distant ancestors come from there. 

Let's also keep in mind that the definition of what Taiwan is, according to Görlach, was created by a political party that is not currently in power, because the people of Taiwan decided they didn't like that narrative. How can anyone say that this is the story - of a common household torn asunder - that truly represents Taiwan?

For someone who has written so extensively on the importance of liberal democracy and how ideological narratives shape identity, it's interesting that Görlach does exactly what both China and the KMT want him to do by excluding the most marginalized narrative in this story, giving prominence to the stories woven at odd, tangential angles to the truth by those in power who are trying to keep (or expand) their power. 


As always, when the victors and the defeated interpret their history, conflicts arise. Only in 1992 did both parties finally agree to accept the notion of "one China," although differences in its conception persist.


Again, more of China and the KMT's view, nothing about what the Taiwanese think. Also, he reifies the 1992 Consensus just as so many hack journalists do. The 1992 Consensus is a fabrication: if differences in what "one China" mean persist, then that's not a consensus! In any case, we already know the term was basically a post-hoc fabrication meant to perpetuate a notion of what is and is not 'China' in the face of changing Taiwanese views on their own culture and history. 

Even if the 1992 Consensus were a real thing - and it's not - the parties that would have agreed to it were not democratically elected. This arguably matters more on the Taiwan side: how can Görlach imply, as he does here, that something that is claimed to have happened in 1992, with the Taiwan side represented by unelected officials sent by a government that had not yet fully democratized, should be taken as the position of "Taiwan", a country whose liberal democracy he himself praises? 


What could the experiences of both the United States of America and the Federal Republic of Germany mean for the conflict between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan? First and foremost, it signals that both sides should continue their work on the consensus of 1992 to pave the way for a better future. Neither side should be forced to lose face in this process. 


THAT IS ONLY TRUE IF THE 1992 CONSENSUS IS REAL WHICH IT IS NOT.

Seriously, for a professor I'm astounded at how little homework Görlach has done on the so-called 1992 Consensus.

Also, again, what's up with claiming the KMT narrative of Taiwan ultimately being Chinese, and not paying any attention at all to the more globally marginalized narrative of the vast majority of Taiwanese who feel differently? How is a better future only possible if we take the KMT and Chinese narratives as the only ones that matter, and ignore what the Taiwanese actually think about their own damn country, and acquiesce to the idea that Taiwan is, in fact, a part of China?

Is it really so easy to throw away all those years of writing about narrative, political policy, ideology and liberal democracy and say that because the KMT wants to hold on to power, and China is super aggressive, that this whole other idea that Taiwan is not a part of China, and never really has been for any length of time that matters can just be ignored?

Is it so easy to discount the voices of the 20-million-plus people who have been saying emphatically for years that their ancestors may have come from China, but that they are Taiwanese?
Is it so easy to throw out the idea that a just world - and Görlach seems concerned with justice - would offer a solution that allows for both Taiwanese independence and peace, which most Taiwanese (and I would gather most Chinese) want?

Görlach talks about losing face (aww, we have a budding wannabe Confucius on our hands - adorable) - but the ultimate loss of face is Taiwan being told that it is Chinese, because some people in power decided to create an agreement from thin air that it was so. 


The People's Republic of China won the Civil War. It is in China's interest to interpret the outcome of the war in its own words. In this regard, the country is not acting exceptionally. That provides context, but does not excuse Beijing's behavior. The Chinese leadership under President Xi Jinping has not shown any intention of restoring the wisdom and harmony between the two unequal siblings. Should that happen in the future, the People's Republic of China will have achieved its goal of becoming a distinguished and responsible actor on the international stage. 


Let's leave aside that the Communists and Nationalists - one-party leaders of the PRC and ROC, respectively - were the ones engaged in this war, not any actual Taiwanese (the descendants of those ROC soldiers who came to Taiwan are Taiwanese, but the soldiers themselves mostly fought this war in China.) This is a Chinese war, not a Taiwanese one, but whatever.

I wanted to like this paragraph, because he's calling on Xi and the entire People's Republic of China to basically stop being such massive assholes, and that's great. But...the only way one can think of Taiwan and China as siblings is if you've already swallowed the notion that Taiwan and China are, in fact, siblings. And that means taking China's, and the KMT's, narratives about Taiwan at face value, never once questioning the perspectives pushed by those in power to try and define (and by defining, control) that which they wish to rule, and never even considering that another, more democratic, more ethically correct, more modern and liberal perspective - Mr. Esteemed Liberal European Professor Sir - even exists, let alone interrogating it.

Or even just asking the people who live that other perspective daily why they think the way they do. That would be enough, but he didn't even do that.

I'll do it for him - I talk to a lot of young Taiwanese. I often ask them about their views on history, or even just how things work in their country (it's actually something I have to do in my line of work).

While I've gotten a few young Taiwanese who do identify as Chinese, not even once, over talking to hundreds if not thousands of young Taiwanese adults, has anyone ever taken my question about their "country" to mean "China". It is always - every single time - taken to mean "Taiwan".

It has literally never happened. Truly, not once. And I doubt it ever will, regardless of what some unelected powerful dudes say they said in 1992.

So on what planet do you, Alexander Görlach, think that it would be natural, preferable or right for the Taiwanese - not the KMT, not that ROC government that came from China and whose status on Taiwan is, by international law, undetermined - but the Taiwanese, to think of themselves and their beautiful island as a part of China?
This is all the more disheartening because Görlach seems from his curriculum vitae and academic interests to be someone who ought to see through the smokescreens put up by people in power to try and keep that power: that is, he should be someone most qualified to look beyond what China says about Taiwan's 'Chinese' heritage, and see it for the attempt at a territorial annexation claim that it is. He should be able to look at the KMT's similar attempts to paint Taiwan as 'Chinese' as well, and see that for what it is too: an attempt by those in power to control the narrative for everyone else, and to keep marginalized voices firmly on the sidelines. He should know enough about critical Han studies to know that any attempt by those two sides to paint 23.5 million people whose minds they do not control and whose history they can no longer revise as 'Han', and therefore as ultimately members of a greater 'China' in which there is a 'mainland' and an 'island' (Taiwan), are simply attempts, again, at power trying to grab more power, and set the narrative for everyone else based on what benefits them.

But he doesn't. He sounds like just another Chinese shill, and that disappoints me. He could have done better, but didn't. He's one of the smart ones, but this op-ed is so painfully, out-of-tune dumb, it hurts the ears.

Görlach may be a great academic in his field, but it's painfully clear from reading this conflagration of bad ideas that he doesn't know the first thing about Taiwan, and cannot be said to be anything of an expert on Taiwanese affairs.


Oh, and don't look at the captions in the slideshow below. I don't even have the energy to deal with those.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Speaking in Brutal Tongues

IMG_7024


A short post for a gray Sunday morning.

Yesterday, I visited the Jingmei Human Rights Museum (景美人權文化園區), which is a short taxi ride from MRT Dapinglin (大坪林) station (not Jingmei station, which is across the river near the Taipei/New Taipei border). The museum is a former detention center used to house political prisoners in the later part of the Martial Law era, along with the correctional facilities on Green Island. The original center was located in Taipei, but it was torn down and the Sheraton stands on that site today.

Alongside stories that make your skin crawl and your blood boil - that prisoners might well be executed with no trial whatsoever, that many still don't know why they were accused, how some were kept in prison long after it was known they had not committed the crimes they had been accused of (to "save face" for the officers), how they were housed thirty people to a 9 square meter cell and drink toilet water if there was no tap (and there often wasn't), and how only in recent years are some family members receiving goodbye letters, was a story that made me sit down and stare blankly into space for a time.

When inmates were allowed visitors - family only, no friends - they could meet for ten minutes at a time, and were only allowed to speak Mandarin.

Mandarin was not - and for many still is not - a native language of Taiwan. The KMT dictated that it was the official language of the ROC government they forced on Taiwan, and would become the lingua franca. This impacted education, government affairs (if you addressed the government - not that that ever did much good - it had to be in Mandarin), jobs (certain jobs were only open to Mandarin speakers, that is, members of the new regime and the diaspora that came with them) and more. At the Taiwanese who were already here when the KMT invaded - yes, invaded - generally spoke Hoklo and perhaps Japanese, Hakka, or indigenous languages. The native population of Taiwan was essentially forced to learn the language of the foreign power that came to rule them, and those who did not were punished either socially or overtly (anything from your neighbors suspecting you, to losing access to jobs and education, to actual fines and potentially arrest).

The purpose was, of course, not only for the KMT to force their language on locals (many members of the diaspora spoke Chinese languages that were not Mandarin). It was to remake Taiwan as a 'province of China', to erase its history and culture through erasing their languages. To stamp out 'Taiwaneseness', in all its varied linguistic uniqueness.


As you can imagine, some of the inmates themselves might not have spoken Mandarin well (perhaps some not at all), and it would have been fairly common that their family members didn't speak it, either.

What do you do when you are only allowed to speak a language you don't know when visiting a loved one you might not have seen in years?

"You can only look at each other, and speak through tears," said the tour guide.

A former victim imprisoned for a crime he hadn't committed joined us on the tour, and told his story as well: it included just such a scene, and he and his mother were not even allowed to hug. I won't narrate the entire tale here - that's his story to tell, not mine. (If you read Mandarin, you can buy his book here).

Whether such a cruel, inhumane policy was perpetrated out of a sense of 'practicality' - as a friend pointed out, the regime likely lacked the imagination to have Hoklo, Hakka and indigenous eavesdroppers ensuring their surveillance of prisoners was complete, or if they had thought of that, might not have trusted anyone to relay the truth. These are people who murdered without trial, who kept people they knew were innocent in prison to protect themselves - they placed their faith in no-one but their own (and often, not even then - many who came to Taiwan with the KMT ended up in prison as suspected Communists, as well).

Or it could have been simply because they were evil and cruel. Some of the former guards who are known to have tortured White Terror victims are alive today, living normal lives, facing no legal repercussions, seemingly at peace with themselves and their actions (though who knows).

I suspect it was a combination of both.

Fast forward to 2018: foreigners come to Taiwan to study Mandarin (though I haven't been particularly impressed with teaching methods here). I learned it so I could live here as normally as possible. It's seen as a practical language to know, something you might study out of interest, but is also internationally useful.

This history, however, and hearing it put so plainly, has made feel slightly ill about continuing to speak it in Taiwan. I'm not speaking a native language of Taiwan, not really - I'm speaking a colonial language. I don't feel good about that at all. I'd always felt a little unsettled about it, in fact, but that story pulled all of that nebulous uneasiness into sharp focus.

How can I speak Mandarin as though it is normal in a country where it was once used to keep parents from speaking to their children?

I'm aware of how odd that sounds - it is a lingua franca. Most Taiwanese, even those who are fully aware of this history, likely were impacted by the White Terror (or have families who were) and are otherwise horrified at the truth of this history, speak it - often without a second thought. Who am I,

Stripped of its dark history in Taiwan, Mandarin is merely a language. A beautiful language, even. One steeped in history that is otherwise no crueler than any history (though all history is cruel). And yet, it was used to brutalize Taiwanese - even now, those who do not or prefer not to speak it face discrimination and stereotyping, either as 'crazy political types' or as 'uneducated hicks', both deeply unfair labels that perpetuate a colonial system that dictates who gets to be born on top, and who has to fight their way up from the bottom.

Mandarin is only a native language and lingua franca in Taiwan because of this linguistic brutality. Foreign students only come here to learn it for this reason, as well. That most Taiwanese speak it natively speaks to the success of the KMT's cruelty. That not everyone does, and many who do still prefer native Taiwanese languages shows the strength of the Taiwanese spirit, and the KMT's ultimate failure as a cruel, petty, corrupt, dictatorial and foreign regime.

I can respect the idea that Taiwan has begun - and will likely to continue - to use Mandarin appropriatively rather than accepting it merely as the language of those who would continue to be overlords if they had their way. To take Mandarin and use it for their own purposes, to their own ends (this paper is about English being used in this way, but the main ideas are for Mandarin as well).

But - we're not there yet. There is still an imperialist element to Mandarin in Taiwan that makes me deeply uncomfortable. That structure still hasn't quite been broken down.


I know, especially as a resident of Taipei, that I can't just say "screw it!", refuse to use Mandarin unless absolutely necessary, and start learning Hoklo in earnest - preferring only to use that or English. Many former victims and Taiwanese deeply affected by this history do so, and I admire that, but I'm not Taiwanese.

I want to be a part, if only a very small part, of a better Taiwan, to contribute to building a truly free, decolonialized nation. But again, I am not Taiwanese. There are people who would think I was just putting on a show, and while I don't believe that, it would be hard to make the case that they are wrong.


And yet, the main reasons for not giving up Mandarin - that I would be giving up on something so 'practical', and that I'd be labeled another 'crazy political type' (perhaps more so because I'm not even from here, and this history is not my history), feel like giving the colonial ROC regime yet another brutal victory.

For now, I suppose I will keep speaking Mandarin; I kind of have to. In any case, is Hoklo not the language of oppression for Hakka and indigenous people? And yet, I don't see any sort of real world in which I can walk around Taipei speaking only Amis and a.) not look like an idiotic - if not crazy - white lady; and b.) actually communicate with the vast majority of people. As a language learner and foreign resident, where do I draw that line?

I don't feel good about it at all, however, and perhaps the first step is, without giving up Mandarin per se, to start seriously learning Hoklo. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Taiwan has made me more skeptical of free market solutions

It is really hard to love Taiwan sometimes.

From The News Lens, which really hits it out of the park when they want to, Taiwan's bus drivers face atrocious conditions, and it impacts public safety:


If the driver is at fault for a major accident they will have a strike against their name, and if they accumulate three major strikes then they will be dismissed; the drivers who have accumulated two major strikes will usually spend their days off making up for their “accidents.” This is seen as a "voluntary service" so their names will not show up on the work schedule, but of course they only have time for this when they are not working.


The result is that even though they have a day off, they end up working every day of the week, and the day after volunteering, they have to drive the bus, but as they are still tired, they will probably cause another accident, receive another strike against their name and will therefore have to volunteer again… completing the vicious cycle.

and

If the driver causes an accident, the Public Transportation Office (PTO) will check their work hours within the last three days, but the company will have the legal team tamper with the shift records, so that it says the driver only ever worked a maximum of 10 hours a day, even if they have worked more....

This meant that each person in the law team shouldered the responsibility of forging documents, something we could not hide as the documents have our seals stamped on them. If the company was charged with fraud, then whichever team member was on duty that particular day would have to bear all legal responsibilities, and would be seen as an accomplice....

If the records were not changed, the company forced that team member to bear the financial burden of the fine, either upfront or from their salary. I have also witnessed the company force the rest of the legal team to pay for a fine, after the original team member had resigned. It was the most ridiculous situation ever and really emphasized how unjust the company was.

...and so much more, but go read the article. 

All of this could be avoided, and service remain the same, if they just hired more people.

But they won't, because there is no mechanism in the market that incentivizes them to not be two rungs above slavers (I'm being generous - they get two rungs!) and politically, everyone knows about these endemic problems, everyone knows companies skirt the law, and yet enforcement remains lax. It can't be anything other than intentional.


This is also why I'm skeptical of total free market solutions to problems: free market solutions generally hinge on consumers having the power to create change, but I see no way to do that here. Many people must ride the bus - some for economic or location reasons, others because they have reasons why they can't drive (I'm not willing to drive in cities, for instance, and it would be compromising another value of mine to buy a vehicle.) They can't refuse to board until conditions get better for drivers or the buses are safer to ride. They might prefer happy, rested, fairly compensated drivers, but they will have to get on that bus whether it happens or not, so companies have no market-based incentive to change their exploitative behavior.

Neither is there a solution in which people just don't take those jobs, forcing companies to offer better conditions to get new hires in the door: they just plod on, understaffed.

I simply do not see a solution here that does not involve some enforcement of government regulations. 

Yet, not solving these sorts of issues is not acceptable.

The government has sure fallen down on this one too, but unlike corporate overlords (whom we have no power to wrest from their cushy jobs), we do have some power to insist on elected officials who take labor violations seriously and are willing to fight the rot they know is in the system. Even the proposed solution in the article: to note the driver, time, place, license plate and route number - involves engaging the government, not using the miniscule droplet of power the market affords you.

I don't hold out much hope that a political or governmental solution would do much good either - not yet, anyway. Taiwan just hasn't developed a labor movement the way some other democratic have, most likely because they left Martial Law (and the rampant exploitation that could not be escaped under that system) not long ago. There hasn't been a lot of time to evolve.

While there may be some slight cultural factors, generally I believe people are people. They all know what overwork means. They all know what it is to be exploited. There's no "Confucian" ideals here keeping rotten work conditions and low pay in place. It's not passivity either: have you been to the major protests, the ones that have changed the country? Taiwan may pose as a passive country on its face, but when it gets down to tacks, it's not.

Y'all pirates. And that's great. I just want to see Taiwan take that "let's protest this shit 'till their on their knees" attitude they have toward political problems and apply it to businesses and labor issues too. And really do it. Like, occupations and hundreds of thousands, strikes across the country. 


You've burned it down before - you forced the KMT to allow democratization. That was you, not benevolent leaders kindly giving you freedom.

Now it's time to burn it down when it comes to labor. Don't wait for bosses and CEOs to do better - they won't. It is only by great force of will that I am not overtly calling them "scum". Bring them to their goddamn knees. Force them.

You've done it before, and you can do it again. 


Sunday, September 9, 2018

A short post about sad tidings

As anyone who reads about Taiwan knows by now, The View From Taiwan is done. As Donovan Smith noted, the loss is huge. I didn't always agree with the View's views, but more often than not I did, or at least respected the arguments behind them. As official news sources failed to consistently report well on what goes on in Taiwan, The View From Taiwan had become one of the smartest things to read in English to keep up on current affairs. I learned a lot about Taiwan from that blog, including the three most important lessons on advocating for Taiwan that I needed:

First, that the way Taiwanese history and current affairs are narrated, both from the international press and local sources (whether they are KMT Chinese chauvinists or Hoklo ethnic chauvinists), leaves a lot to be desired and almost never, ever tells the whole, accurate story. Don't look at what they say; look at the language they use to say it. Point it out. Especially if it has anything to do with "tensions".

Second, that half the fight for Taiwan on the international stage is about representing Taiwan well. International spectators aren't very good at paying attention to the details of local embroilments and messes, and when they do notice, they aren't very good at incorporating them into an overall arc of right vs. wrong. Don't air our dirty laundry for the world to see when it isn't necessary, when all the rest of the world really cares about is good guys vs. bad guys. Make the case that we are the good guys, not that we can't get our act together (even if, here in Taiwan, we're frustrated that we seemingly can't.) We're David (as in vs. Goliath), not Cletus (as in the slack-jawed yokel). The View From Taiwan has probably been the biggest influencer in what turned me from a Taiwan advocate who was uncompromising even if it made Taiwan look bad abroad, to a Taiwan advocate who understood that our top priority is to get the world on our side.

And third, if you're going to make a hard statement on something, know your facts first. You might still get it wrong - it happens - but make an honest effort to do your research. If you are not intimately aware of the inner workings of something, don't write about it as if you are. Thanks to seeing the background that went into posts on The View From Taiwan, I probably do an hour or so of research for every hard statement I make here. I don't always get it right regardless, but it was that blog that made this blog less a "shouty lady with opinions bloviating in a corner" (though I am that) and more a "shouty lady with opinions who did her homework before bloviating in a corner".

Oh yeah, and blog under your own name. No hiding. Put your own skin in the game, even if just a little.

All in all, it is not an exaggeration to say that without The View From Taiwan, Lao Ren Cha would not exist in the form it does today.

So, you know, thank you for that. *sniff*

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Of peanuts and monkeys

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 11.46.38 AM

This is perhaps the third time I've written about this in a week, but I just have more to say.

I've been thinking about a few issues I'd like to [try to] tie together: reactions to my post about how long-termers in Taiwan aren't here for the money but are aware they're being undervalued, the general state of English-language media in Taiwan, and English as a second official language in Taiwan.

When I wrote about long-termers and low pay here, most reactions were supportive. The negative ones landed into two groups: those who think NT$66,000/month is fair, or even good, pay for a job that requires several years' experience, high level skills and (unfairly) a Master's from abroad, and those who said the pay wasn't important because the job would be good for someone who would be in Taiwan for a few years and would likely just want to beef up their resume.

So, let me toss some word salad about why both groups are wrong before I move on.

In terms of fair pay, the fact that pay is too low in pretty much every other sector doesn't make $66k for this sort of job acceptable. If you can make just as much money (or more) as a Dancing English Clown at a cram school, a job that requires no qualifications, experience, education, training, professional development, skills, talent, work ethic or consistent sobriety, why would you seek to improve yourself so that you might qualify for a higher-level job, especially one that states right in the ad that you'll be doing consistent overtime in a stressful environment?

And why would you want to take all of that education, experience and skill to make just about enough money to drink at Bar 7 and live in a shared flat or rooftop cesspit with paper walls, if you have any hope of saving meaningfully? Because after you pay your student loans on that foreign Master's degree and save NT$30k each month, that's about what you can afford, if you have no dependents. If you've gotten a postgraduate degree, learned Mandarin and acquired translation skills and experience, you are probably not 24 anymore, and would rather live like an adult.

Others say that this job is aimed at young Taiwanese Americans spending some time here but not planning to stay, or for those looking for a springboard to gain experience. This also misses the point: first, this isn't a newbie job. This could have been an excellent post for an early-mid-career bilingual professional writer, editor or translator, who might well have stayed on for years improving not only their own work, but elevating the English-language output of MoFA as a whole. It could have been a boon to both some lucky long-termer and to MoFA, who would get excellent work in turn.

That is, if it had been positioned that way: as a good but demanding job with a great salary, rather than as a short-term lark for an ABC kid with a Master's who's in Taiwan.

This whole idea of getting some experience in Taiwan and then leaving actually bothers me quite a bit: there are those of us who wish to stay, and as I've written three times now, we try to contribute and give back to Taiwan in gratitude for what Taiwan has given us. Although I won't spend paragraphs bashing them, I have less respect for those who come, take what they can get from Taiwan, and then leave. It strikes me as a little selfish. I have a more profound appreciation for those who want a fair shake from Taiwan, but also want to give back to this country in a sustained way. And yet, one of those grab-and-go types will probably get this job. MoFA will have a revolving door of people who never really develop themselves and get merely passable work, and Taiwan won't benefit.

Which leads to my next point - if the national government is serious about sweeping initiatives like making English a second official language in Taiwan, it's going to have to shake up its whole attitude toward a lot of things. It can't have a MoFA attitude towards English education, asking for everything and offering nothing.

The government needs to think about employing the right people (which it can attract with the right offers), taking seriously the idea that teaching, writing, editing and translating in English are professional careers that people do over a lifetime and seeking out those people, and basically getting quality by paying for quality in terms of remuneration, benefits and work environment. There are those of us who want to stay, who can do good work, but who aren't going to be attracted by what's currently on offer. We're here and we don't want to go anywhere - if the government is serious about bilingualism, internationalism and multiculturalism, it needs to provide more enticing reasons to stay, and stop creating jobs aimed at grab-and-goers.

And it needs to take those people seriously when they point out the flaws in the status quo vis-a-vis English education in Taiwan: from a poorly-regulated cram school industry to, as a friend pointed out, the fact that students who only learn English in public schools generally don't come out having learned any English, to the way the exam system, through extreme negative washback, hinders the whole process. It needs to hire people who can then develop something better, and that's where long-termers looking to contribute to Taiwan come in. We - not just me, I'm nobody, but we - can actually do this alongside and in support roles to talented, passionate and qualified locals, but only if the will is there. We can't take a grab-and-go attitude.

This isn't true only for the government, but for the education system as a whole: from buxibans to universities, if you want talented educators who can actually help Taiwan achieve English as a second language, you need to not only give those who are already working toward this end a better environment in which to succeed, but to offer jobs that entice talented professionals, not a revolving door of Chads and Braydens who aren't implementing even so-so curricula well, and will go back to Idaho in a few years anyway without seriously considering whether they actually contributed to Taiwan.

Oh yeah, and if you are serious about multiculturalism, how about treating the many Southeast Asians who come here for work with a little more kindness and respect? Even just better working conditions and pay, not being all racist towards them, and not raping or enslaving them would be a good start.

This bleeds over into English-language media as well. Why is Taiwan News, which is essentially a gossip rag peddling the same sensationalist articles translated over from Chinese-language gossip rags, now the most recognized English "news" source in Taiwan? How'd we hit the bottom of that barrel?

Because there aren't very many jobs for talented journalists in Taiwan, either. By all accounts, the Taipei Times made a go of it once, but are now so under-resourced that even if there were talk of updating its website and media strategy for the 2010s and beyond, the resources just aren't there to make it happen. It was (is?) the English-language paper that both the expats and the Taiwan advocate Beltway crowd read, and probably never would have been a huge money-maker given its smallish target audience, but it could have sopped up the market that Taiwan News is currently engaging.

Great people have worked at the Taipei Times - and some have even worked at the China Post (believe it or not) - but they all leave. Few people build a career and stick with it, because the jobs on offer just aren't that great. We all know about the one guy who wrote a whole book on it (though you'll need a nacho bowl for all the shoulder-chips it comes with), but I've heard this from many sources. Low pay, long hours, hardly any time off (typical Taiwanese annual leave, which means not much at all), difficult environment. No wonder the best journalists they hire, if they can attract them, cut their teeth and then leave. The state of English-language news reporting suffers for it.

A friend pointed out that this has real-world consequences: she was talking about racism in Taiwanese society specifically towards Black foreigners (which is absolutely a thing), but it also has international consequences. If Taiwan News is the best we can are willing to do, and Taipei Times is offering peanuts and putting out thin content, what news about Taiwan from local sources is reaching the pro-Taiwan influencers abroad? What effect does this have on Taiwan advocacy internationally? What effect does it have on reporting on Taiwan from outside sources? Would that improve - because the state of it is pretty damn bad - if local news put out better, thicker, more compelling stories in English (and Chinese, but this post is about the foreign community)?

Could they perhaps accomplish that if they offered better jobs to committed long-termers looking to make a difference?

The long-termers will stick around - most of us, anyway.  We'll continue to fight for Taiwan in whatever way we can, and carve out niches for ourselves. I do the work I do (I have no single employer, by design) because I can get some satisfaction that way, and make sufficient money. If Taiwan wants us to come out of our little self-carved niches and join the fight for real, there have to be opportunities for us to build real careers in important and useful places, which offer adult remuneration and conditions for real skills.

If Taiwan engages the long-termers who are looking to contribute more meaningfully (and the locals too), the country will be better for it. Media, education, the government.

But if this work continues to toss peanuts our way, we aren't going to pick them up.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Call Taiwan a "country" in public media. Yes, it really is that simple.

Years ago, I donated to Freedom To Marry, and ended up on their e-mail list. As with all such fundraising emails, I generally delete them without reading (my apologies also to Planned Parenthood, Amnesty International and Animal Welfare League of Arlington). But, I received one today with the subject line "Taiwan", which caught my eye.

Inside, I noticed this:



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For the first time, I was happy I hadn't bothered to unsubscribe from such lists - if I had, I might not have noticed that Freedom To Marry called Taiwan a "country".

No fanfare, no convoluted wording, no kowtowing, no apologies, no explanation needed, just a country. No trumpets heralding the arrival of new terminology. No considering the feelings of some other country that does not rule this country, as though their opinion means anything at all regarding Taiwan's status as a country.

It is self-governed (and reasonably successfully so, despite some, uh, setbacks and issues), has its own contiguous territory, military, currency, immigration and visa process, postal service...you know, like countries do.

Because it is a country, they called it a country.  As rational people would. Simple, effective, accurate.

This is how it should be. Not even a question. It shows how badly the media has twisted itself into knots over some other country's baby-whining about the status of this country. They try to cover it up by saying it's "neutral", "dispassionate", "straight reporting of facts without inserting political stances" when they show such cowardice in avoiding using the word "country" to describe a country, instead employing seemingly-neutral but actually offensive, pro-CCP terms like "territory" and "island" (yes, even "island") to describe Taiwan. Taiwan is not merely a territory - it has everything other countries do - and "island" is a cop-out to appease some other country's opinion of Taiwan rather than denote Taiwan's reality.

It makes sense, too. Despite marriage equality being a somewhat bipartisan issue in Taiwan (there are supporters and opponents on both sides, although the pan-greens and especially the Third Force appear to be a bit more in favor), and despite liberals in the West being kind of hopeless when it comes to understanding Taiwan, the two sides seem to have adopted oppositional "cross-strait" language on the issue. No, really: the anti-gay folks often reach for some version of "it doesn't fit with Chinese culture". The pro-equality advocates point out that this is yet one more issue which shows how different China and Taiwan are. So it makes sense that those of us fighting for recognition of the reality of LGBT+ people will tend to also use accurate, reality-based terms when referring to nations. Reality begets reality.

All that aside, it really is that simple. Just call Taiwan a country. That's all.

You don't have to do anything else, except write "country" instead of some nonsense Beijing-approved word. (Oh, you could also stop using "Mainland", "renegade province" and "separated in 1949", but frankly, using the word "country" basically clarifies all of these terms as untruthful and not descriptive of reality, so it would be natural to toss those out, too.)

The international media might want to take the box of bullshit China is forcing on the world and report as though there might be some value in it, but we can smell it for what it is. Every time we get a breath of fresh air, like Freedom To Marry just referring to Taiwan as what it is, it becomes clearer that you're just helping Beijing pass off some turds in a box.

I mean, come on, international media. We already knew you were a bunch of CCP-appeasers who regularly get up off your knees to make excuses for the way you write about Taiwan, but that others can get it right with so little fanfare really just shows how cowardly you are in starker relief.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

And everyone who knows us knows...we didn't come for money

I promised I'd eventually pick up where I left off here, so...

Last month I came across this job posting with MoFA (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) through the Facebook group of Nihao's It Going (and for those wondering why there is no Lao Ren Cha Facebook group, the answer is that I am old and lazy.)



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No link because the ad is no longer online. That probably means someone took the job, or they'd have extended the posting dates. It's too much to hope for that MoFA realized how embarrassing that salary offer was and immediately, contritely took the ad down until they could come up with a better offer.

My mouth was agape at the requirement of a Master's obtained outside Taiwan (the hell?), so let's briefly take a look at that. What the hell is going on that the Taiwanese government is announcing openly that Master's degrees obtained in Taiwan are substandard? (I suspect for some subjects, at some universities, they are - but even so, for the government to be openly acknowledging this is horrifying).

Then, look at the salary: NT$66,000/month. And look at what they want for that.


That's...about US$2200/month - enough to live comfortably in Taiwan if you are single or a dual-income couple, but not enough to raise a family. Enough to get by and save a little for some nice vacations, but not enough to save meaningfully for any long-term goals. In 2006, if Kojen (a large buxiban chain) put you - probably a teacher lacking most of this list of qualifications - on a salaried rather than hourly rate, it was NT$60k - not a lot less than this offer, and 12 years ago at that.

Even sadder is that they seem to have enough applications to justify taking the post down from people willing to accept that pay. 

In short, it's a joke. So between bouts of laughter, I've been thinking a lot about why I stay - why any foreign talent stays, when the pay is just this damn bad. More importantly, I've been thinking about that means in terms of the greater conversation about brain drain and attracting (and retaining) foreign talent in Taiwan. Or, for that matter, local talent.

Why some people stay anyway is an easy question to answer: for me, it's a combination. My social life is very much here now. I love my friends back in the US, but there is no denying we've grown apart somewhat (this is less of a problem with friends in the UK). Not only do I find it hard to explain what my life is actually like in Taiwan to friends who have never visited.

Beyond that, I simply care about the country. Assuming I wouldn't move back to the US (and I wouldn't, unless I felt I had to), and assuming learning a new language isn't a problem (and it probably wouldn't be - I'm good at that), I find it hard to imagine coming to care about another place as much as I do Taiwan. Korea, Japan and Hong Kong are interesting - as are many places farther afield and outside Asia - but am I really going to start passionately fighting for the concept of Korean identity, or Japanese democracy or discussing Argentinian history in the detail I do about Taiwan? Am I going to start collecting and reading books about Jordan? Probably not.

Leaving aside the mostly-hideous architecture and other endemic, intractable problems here, there's something special about the place. A spark that caught my eye. A streak of rebelliousness that chimes a matching tone to something within me. A real fight, for freedom against oppression, for democracy against dictatorship, for right (if flawed) against absolutely wrong.

I've also come to learn about myself that even if I cannot vote, I must live in a free society, and one where women's issues have at least reached the level of discourse they have in Taiwan. That cuts out more than half the world, including much of the rest of Asia. China is a no-go, so is Vietnam. Hong Kong isn't quite free. Japan and South Korea have bigger issues with sexism than Taiwan.

And it's convenient - I think there's a law somewhere requiring that I say that. Sure. And I really do prefer living in the developed world, and in a place with a first-rate public transit network.

Oh yeah and all my stuff's here and my cats and all that. Sure.

Point is, if all I cared about was money, there are a lot of places I could go, and make lots more of it. Obviously, other priorities keep me here. 


Other people have other reasons - perhaps their job is more tied to Taiwan, whereas I could find better work if I were willing to leave. Perhaps they've married locally, or are a specialist in local politics or history (things I am personally interested in, but am not a credentialed expert in), or have invested their whole lives in learning Mandarin or Taiwanese.

There are a million reasons why we accept low pay and generally poor working conditions, from the grounded (say, married locally) or conceptual (caring about Taiwan as a cause worth fighting for).

I'm not trying to defend the offering of NT$66,000/month to someone who would earn three times that, or more, elsewhere. I'm not saying that Taiwan is attractive to foreign talent despite being a place where, in many cases, your career can only go so far. In my own life, I'm grateful for the career boost Taiwan has given me, but I also see the end of the road: the point where I could go further in life (and make a lot more money, and eventually earn citizenship) if I were willing to leave. That hasn't changed.

And if Taiwan really wants to attract foreign expertise, they are simply going to have to offer a better, and better-remunerated, work culture. Period. So who cares why we stay?

Mainly, it matters because it breaks down this myth that talent always, in every instance, follows money. It's one thing to say that Taiwan needs to be more attractive to foreign talent. It's quite another to imply the flip-side of that, as some do: that everyone who is talented therefore leaves, or goes elsewhere to begin with, and those who come and stay must therefore not be desirable talent.

Whether we're talking about locals or foreigners, this is simply not fair. If some of us have other reasons why we stay, it follows that at least some of those who remain will have the talent and expertise Taiwan needs, and we deserve better than to be dismissed as losers for sticking around. I know people among my friends and connections here who are: long-termers a deeply committed teacher of children; a generous friend who gives up heaps of personal time to volunteer in underprivileged communities; several formidable scholars and journalists who, in the face of a low-quality media environment, ensure that information about Taiwan is available in a variety of languages; talented teachers of adults who have the training and experience to remake what it means to learn; public figures who bring like-minded expats together; a migrant rights activist; several writers and artists; several LGBT rights activists and more. So many more. Forget me, I'm just a weirdo with opinions - look at the whole picture. 

And yes, there are losers too, and leeches, but we're not all LBHs (Losers Back Home) who can't leave because nowhere else will put up with our bullshit, just because we haven't chased the dollar signs to some other country. We all have our reasons for staying.

Again, so what?

Well, not all of these examples of the creativity, experience and expertise that we bring to Taiwan fit into the little pegs set out by the government. We have a lot to offer, but because we're not necessarily the kind of 'foreign experts' who do chase dollar signs, we don't always meet the qualifications to be considered a 'foreign expert'.

Becoming a 'foreign expert' costs money, especially if you have already built a life in Taiwan, and suddenly find you need to relocate abroad to gain the qualifications you need (hence my problem with the "Master's degree from a university not located in Taiwan" in that ad, although I am obtaining exactly that. Not sure how I'll afford the PhD though, with an entire life that I can't just give up in Taiwan.) Those of us who have other reasons for staying and don't just chase money...tend not to have huge amounts of it.

The way the discussion about immigration and dual nationality rights is going now, it seems most of the Taiwanese government thinks we're all worthless slobs when what they want to attract is "real" expertise, not the slothful degenerates they imagine us to be, showing up to 550/hour classes at Happy Eagle English Scholar's Acadamy still drunk on Taiwan Beer. 

It dismisses those of us who came to Taiwan as nothing and built something, even if we didn't quite build it to the exact specifications set out for 'special' foreign professionals. It completely ignores the ways in which we've looked to give back, and the ways we - the ones who stay despite the crap work culture and crappier pay - are the real soft power.

I know it's a bit odd to say "we're not here for the money" alongside "...but really, we need more money". It's true, though. We stay for other reasons, but things absolutely have to get better, or we may start losing the good people who stayed on regardless.  Those of us who have good but not 'special professional' situations won't move into these more prestigious jobs if the pay is so paltry. 


We deserve better pay and work conditions, just as locals do (and I acknowledge locals need it more). But those who have made something of ourselves here also deserve to be recognized as the people who stayed even when we could have gone elsewhere and earned a lot more, and what that means in terms of the value we add to Taiwan.