Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Hong Kong residents and Taiwanese gather outside Hong Kong representative office in Taipei

Untitled


This morning, around the same time that protesters began amassing outside of Hong Kong's legislative council (LegCo) to protest the proposed extradition bill that would allow extraditions from Hong Kong to China, a few hundred Taiwanese and Hong Kong residents gathered outside the Hong Kong representative office in Taipei between Songgao and Xinyi Roads (the office is located in the same building as eslite Xinyi).

I missed the first round of speeches by social activist groups and notable people - including former Sunflower leader Lin Fei-fan - due to work. However, I came by later to find several dozen or perhaps a hundred people still there, braving the worsening rain to continue the demonstration.


Speeches continued after the official line-up had finished, with anyone who wanted the mike able to take it. Longtime expat Sean Kaiteri did so; I did not. In between speeches, a television set up under an awning played a feed of the escalating situation in Hong Kong.


Untitled


Most of the speeches were in Cantonese, so I couldn't really understand. A huge number of the protesters were also from Hong Kong - mostly students and interns unable to return to Hong Kong to join their friends and fellow citizens in Central. What struck me was that, while anyone with an ARC (Taiwan residency card) does have freedom of assembly - so they actually can participate in protests, just not organize them - it's a bit less clear if some of the students and interns are technically legally able to do so. Some are only here for a few months. Worryingly, there were reports and rumors of immigration police sweeping through. Otherwise, however, the police left the demonstrators alone and some people who appeared to work in the representative office appeared to be watching the demonstration from just beyond it.



Untitled


I had to leave to work on my dissertation, but as far as I know the demonstration is still going on. This isn't likely to end soon and looks like it's getting bad in Hong Kong, so keep your ears open. I suspect there will be more news to come. 


Untitled



Untitled

Untitled

Monday, June 10, 2019

Taiwan's under-appreciated smackdown of the Hong Kong extradition bill, plus huge media fail

Untitled
It's not a beautiful cover image, but I don't know how to make it clearer, guys. Quit it already. 

You may have noticed in the vicious opposition to the (deeply terrifying) extradition law that Hong Kong looks set to pass by the end of June - yes, despite the massive protest - that one of the reasons the CCP-owned Hong Kong LegCo (the city's legislative body) gives for the urgency in passing this law is directly related to Taiwan.


Hong Kong resident Chan Tong-kai murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan in 2018 before flying back to Hong Kong, and is currently in custody on money laundering charges related to his dead girlfriend's assets there. However, as the murder took place in Taiwan, Hong Kong can't charge him for it. As there is no formal extradition treaty between Taiwan and Hong Kong, he can't be sent back to Taiwan to stand trial, either. Because he's not in jail for murder, he could be free by October. So now, China Hong Kong is insisting that it needs to be passed so that Chan can be sent to Taiwan to face murder charges.

Here's what's interesting to me - I kept seeing this repeated in the media. It appears in almost every Ali Baba Daily South China Morning Post piece on the extradition bill and subsequent protests. It's present in the Reuters article above. Even the New York Times is including that tidbit, and the BBC has been leaning on it for awhile. It also pops up in The Guardian

Here's the thing, though. Taiwan has already said it will not ask for Chan's extradition - which negates the 'we need this bill for Taiwan' argument altogether:


“Without the removal of threats to the personal safety of [Taiwan] nationals going to or living in Hong Kong caused by being extradited to mainland China, we will not agree to the case-by-case transfer proposed by the Hong Kong authorities,” Chiu Chui-cheng, deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, told reporters on Thursday" [last month - this piece is from May].

And yet most media are still pretending that China's Hong Kong's argument is still valid enough to include without comment, without mentioning that the bill is not at all needed for this purpose, because Taiwan's already said it isn't.

It's a wonderful smackdown from Taiwan, making it quite clear that their solidarity with the real will of Hong Kong residents will not be compromised.

Taiwan does not want this bill to be passed despite China Hong Kong using that as an excuse. Yet nobody is reporting it. 


Protests and demonstrations in Taiwan frequently enjoy solidarity from Hong Kong, and Hong Kong democracy and sovereignty movements are strongly supported among social movement activists in Taiwan (and have some level of popularity among everyday people here, too). There's a huge amount of cross-pollination and quite a few friendships that bridge the two groups of activists - a state of affairs which China is unhappy about, but can't really do much to stop (beyond banning Taiwanese activists and certain political figures from visiting Hong Kong). Even outside of social activist circles, Hong Kongers and Taiwanese share a bond stemming from their common threat and common desire to either obtain or uphold democratic norms. The two movements - formal independence for Taiwan and sovereignty for Hong Kong - are quite intertwined.

So, I happen to think this goes beyond trying to convince Hong Kongers of the need for expediency in passing the law. To sow discord between Taiwan and Hong Kong by drawing attention to a murder case in Taiwan that can only be solved by this Trojan Horse extradition law would be a major victory for China - I have to believe this "Taiwan excuse" is a push in that direction.

More people should be appreciating that Taiwan shut it right down over a month ago. At the very least, the media should be including a short acknowledgement of it every time they include China's Hong Kong's "Taiwan excuse", or stop including it altogether.

It makes sense that Taiwan wouldn't buy it (and you shouldn't either) - nobody who is sympathetic to the fight against encroaching Chinese expansionism, who thinks about the issue for more than a few seconds, would think that the extradition of one murder suspect to Taiwan would be enough to merit the passage of a broadly damaging law in Hong Kong. The price is simply too high.

So jeez, guys. Stop recycling stale old garbage. If it smells bad, dump it. 


Of course this isn't the only media fail - in the Chinese-language Taiwanese media...well. They're either not covering the Hong Kong protests at all or put them way at the back:





As my husband pointed out when he fired up the United Daily News app out of curiosity: "UDN does cover it, but to get to a story about it you have to scroll through three pictures of Han Kuo-yu, a picture of Wang Jin-pyng and a picture of Terry Gou."

So while all my green and colorless friends know what's going on, once again all the blue-leaners in Taiwan won't realize the import of these protests and make up their minds accordingly. Thanks, Chinese Taiwanese media, for being so singularly awful! 

Hong Kong's proposed extradition law should terrify you

Untitled


I want to address this to my friends - especially real-life friends outside Asia, but really anybody who cares even nominally about my well-being. I'd like you to read this with the thought in your head that every possibility described below could very well happen to me - this isn't some abstract thing that might affect people you don't know in a place that's far away. It's a very real thing that might affect someone you do know. Please consider that, and read on.

A massive demonstration took place in Hong Kong today to protest a proposed extradition treaty that would allow people facing criminal charges to be sent to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan for trial. Nobody is quite sure how many are in attendance but everyone agrees that it is at least several hundred thousand (well, the police don't, but they have a reputation for purposely under-reporting).

That may sound fine - boring, even. You might do a quick search and learn that Hong Kong already has extradition treaties with 20 other governments, so why not add these to the mix? Why would up to half a million people or more* take to the streets of Hong Kong Island to protest it, grinding much of the city to a halt?

Because, as this video from the Progressive Lawyers' Group in Hong Kong explains, there is simply no hope of a fair trial in China. The government decides whom it wants to convict, and throughout the sham trial their conviction is a foregone conclusion. Extradition treaties are based on the belief that the other country or territory will give the person a fair trial - and Hong Kongers would be right to have no such faith in China.

It's an even more troubling situation for Hong Kong, where the government is ostensibly partly elected, but in practice under the thumb of the CCP. They run their own Beijing-backed candidates; if too many pro-Hong Kong/anti-China candidates win seats in Hong Kong's legislative committee, they simply fabricate charges to get them kicked out of the government and in some cases put in jail.

If China decided that someone they wanted to punish, 'disappear' or sentence to death would not be adequately punished/disappeared/killed in Hong Kong, they could simply order the government they ultimately control to send that person to China - even if the alleged crime had not been committed in China. Even if whatever action the Chinese government wanted to punish was taken in a place where it was legal, such as Hong Kong or Taiwan. Then China could do what they liked with that person.

Don't believe me? Ask Lee Ming-che, who is currently serving a prison sentence in China despite having committed no crime (what he did took place in Taiwan, where such actions are quite legal - not China.) And he's not the only one.

Under such a system, Hong Kong would have the appearance of a semi-elected governing body and fair, independent judiciary tasked with upholding residents' and visitors' access to their legal and human rights, but in fact every last one of them would be ultimately subject to the much less fair and transparent Chinese legal system - as their extradition could be requested at any time. It would be very difficult to convince skeptics (and a complicit international media) that this is the case, because on paper, Hong Kong wouldn't have the same legal framework as China. In reality, the difference between them would not matter at all.

What does this have to do with me?

I go to China sometimes, and I know that I risk being detained over my criticisms of the CCP. It probably won't happen - there's an element of white privilege (although they have detained non-Asians), and the fact that I'm relatively obscure and will probably stay that way. They seem to be more reticent to detain US citizens. I write in English for an English-speaking audience on a platform blocked in China; my work isn't aimed at China or Chinese readers. But imagine that one day they do decide that I'm trouble, and need to be dealt with.

I'd probably be aware of that well before I tried to enter China, which at that point I might simply stop doing. Hong Kong, on the other hand, is supposed to be a place I can visit where I would still have some basic protections and access to human rights. Under this new extradition law, however, the Chinese government could order the Hong Kong government to send me to China for trial, despite having done nothing illegal in China itself - or anywhere else (nothing I write is illegal in Taiwan or, ostensibly, Hong Kong.)

Now imagine that Taiwan is forced to come under the same 'One Country Two Systems' framework as Hong Kong, either through some annexationist effort from China or Taiwanese blundering into electing a (potentially) a bought-and-paid-for stooge of the CCP groomed to run on a populist, "let's all get rich" platform with absolutely no substance or follow-through, but very attractive rhetoric that cuts right to some endorphin center in enough people's brains. That elected someone would sign over Taiwan's sovereignty for the right price, or no price at all.

China would insist that "One Country Two Systems" would allow Taiwan to keep its current political structure, but in practice everything that's happening in Hong Kong would start to happen here. Intentional flooding of immigrants from China who disrupt elections. Beijing-backed candidates running in races. Beijing-opposed candidates being kicked out of office on bogus charges until everyone in the "elected" Taiwanese government is sufficiently pro-China. The international media would play its same old fake neutrality card, claiming that perhaps this is problematic although the two places technically have different systems.

By then, the same extradition treaty they're forcing through in Hong Kong would be in force in Taiwan, as well.

And I wouldn't just be unsafe going to Hong Kong - I'd be unsafe in the country I call home. If this happens, every single thing I write on Lao Ren Cha could be the thing that lands me in a Chinese prison - despite living in a place that would seem to have its own democratic government and independent legal system. Both, however, would be irrelevant. China could simply tell the government it controls to "send her over", and that'd be that. For all intents and purposes, I'd be under the Chinese legal system.

You know I consider it a moral obligation not to keep my mouth shut about political injustice. How do you think that would go for me? I don't expect random readers to sympathize with the idea that Taiwan is my home and I don't have another one I can easily 'return' to, and I admit to the privilege of having that blue passport. But you guys - my actual friends and family - you know that this is my home and deciding to 'just leave' isn't so simple. 


This obviously affects Taiwanese citizens even more - they'd be more unsafe than me, with fewer places to go. Please remember that. But, as I'm addressing my friends outside Asia right now, all of those people might seem like abstractions. They're unknown - a large population you have no connection with. Far away. You know me, though. You have a connection with me. This shouldn't be an abstraction. It could affect someone who is actually a part of your life.

I shouldn't have to put it this way - that millions of Taiwanese people would be at risk should be enough to scare you. It should be enough to care. But I'm aware that when talking about large groups of people you don't know from a far-away foreign country you've never visited, it's hard to apply that same level of individual human concern. I ask you to try - but if your brain just won't cooperate, make it personal. Think of me.

Don't like that? Well, let me show you how it's even worse.

I can't substantiate this, but the story flicking around Twitter is that shady pro-CCP groups offered to pay pretty decent sums of money to get a few hundred people to come out to support the extradition law, because they know it's so unpopular. If true, they are literally fabricating support for CCP initiatives to make it seem like this is some sort of controversial issue with many sides. It's not - Hong Kong residents are quite clearly opposed to it.




There is also word (as of when I am writing this) that police beatings are breaking out in Hong Kong.

Even sadder?

Despite the massive size of this protest - I don't think either side estimated that many people would turn out - this law will probably be passed, and Hong Kong will become just as unsafe as China for anyone who expresses opinions the CCP doesn't like.

In Taiwan, a protest this size might just be a wake-up call. Though its light is fading, the Sunflower Movement had a real effect here and its spirit lives on in some of us. In Hong Kong, this should be a clarion call to LegCo (the city's legislative body) not to pass this law - but LegCo is in the CCP's pocket, and the CCP doesn't care.

But hold on tight - if these protests continue, things could get tense in Hong Kong, in exactly the way they need to. It counts for something that people are standing and fighting. Don't stop.

And friends in far-flung places - please don't forget that this isn't an abstraction. It's not some boring legal battle going on in a place you don't know well, affecting people you don't care about on a personal level. However tangentially, it affects me. I know we all have a lot of competing issues battling for space in our hearts and minds, but it's worth your time to care about this. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Review: Joseph Bistro 想想廚房 (high-concept Indian cuisine)

Untitled


Joseph Bistro 
#13 Lane 69 Songjiang Road
Zhongshan District, Taipei
(MRT Sonjiang Nanjing)
(02) 2508-1329

On the heels of a discussion on whether there is, or should be, a distinction drawn between 'elevated' or 'high-concept' Asian regional cuisines and 'authentic' Asian cooking, it was interesting to find myself at high-concept Indian restaurant Joseph Bistro.

For the record, I don't think the cuisines of Asia need to be 'mom's cooking' to be authentic or delicious, and one of the things I love about living in Asia is that, unlike the West, when someone opens a restaurant that is not 'mom's cooking' and tries to do something different, there's a lot of room for that. You won't hear a gaggle of confused Westerners who mistake knowing something about Asian food for deeper intercultural competence going on about how it's not 'authentic', and they should know. How can it not be? It's Asian food, made by Asian people, in Asia. And, to quote Tricky Taipei: "Why does cheap have to equal authentic when it comes to Asian food that’s not Japanese? Why is it so hard for us to say a simple but quality bowl of beef noodle soup can be worth paying US$14 for?"

I'll only add two caveats to that. If I can get excellent, say, dumplings at one price point, I'm not likely to pay a higher price point for dumplings that I can't tell are any better. But if you wow me with your more expensive dumplings, I will pay. Second, there is (and I honestly think should be) more room for people with cultural ties to a place, who have been eating and preparing food from that place their whole lives, to get creative with its cuisine. There is less room for foreigners to come in and say what is and is not 'elevated' (as opposed to just odd). If you're in the latter group, that doesn't mean you can't jump in, but there's simply a higher chance that you won't really know what you're doing because you didn't grow up with that food - and it's more likely to show in the output. If you want to go there, know your stuff.

All of this brings me back to Joseph Bistro. Forget 'elevated' vs. 'authentic' - it doesn't matter. The food at Joseph Bistro is simply great. You'll pay for that greatness (by Taipei standards at least), but you'll be happy to fork over the cash, because Chef Joseph will wow you.

Joseph Bistro fills a much-needed gap in Taipei's culinary scene - there isn't another place quite like it among Indian restaurants, and outside of some high-concept Japanese restaurants, there isn't a lot of this kind of high-end cuisine from other parts of Asia available. There are tons of Indian restaurants, some of them quite good, but they are standard Indian restaurants. And that's as it should be - we need a selection of such places, and I frequent them. But none of them 'elevate' the way Joseph Bistro does.

I went with friends I don't get to see often, so we were feeling spendy. First, while I would not typically order wine with Indian food (to me it's beer food), the food here matches well with wine. We chose what I cheekily ordered as "a bottle of your cheapest red, please!" But the dry Italian red we got was scrumptious and matched the food well. A good price, too - NT$950/bottle is not bad for wine in a restaurant. (White wines start at NT$1500/bottle, but I'm a red wine person.) There is also a robust selection of beer non-alcoholic drinks.

We started with an appetizer of potato kofte served in a fruit salad raita (raita is a spiced, salted yoghurt). It came topped with edible flowers and we were instructed to mix everything together to eat it - and let me tell you, it was phenomenal. The distinctive flavor of raita mixed with the flowers and fruit - which included both fresh and dried fruits for varied texture and flavor - produced a memorable salty-savory combination that defies description. The potato puffs provided an umami base for this distinctive taste.


Untitled


We also ordered a Goan fish croquette topped with sea urchin, which combined flavors from three cuisines: the fish cake is a lightly spiced Goan take on a Portuguese classic, with Japanese-style sea urchin for a burst of saltiness. It's great on its own or eaten with pappadum for a bit of a crunch.

The mains run the gamut from clear fusion to classic Indian - we stuck closer to classic Indian but I'm now curious to try their more adventurous dishes, which include a longyan duck leg and argan-oil scented rack of lamb, as well as a cobia steak served with tandoor spices, lemon pickle and grape mint sauce. We had the Goan fish curry, palak paneer and tandoori chicken with coriander chutney. In part I was just feeling like that sort of food, and in part I wanted to see how well Joseph Bistro could do the classics.


Untitled


Everything was superb - the chicken especially stands out as being perfectly cooked and tender (not dry as some tandoori chicken can be) in an intensely flavorful sauce, the Goan fish curry reminded me of the delicious fish curries I had there - far from Goa but just as good, if not better. I appreciated that the palak paneer used large chunks of high-quality paneer. Basically, although writing this the next day I realized we ordered some of the most boring items on the menu, every last one of them was absolutely wonderful and worth the money we paid for them. All that's done is make me think I have to go back to try more.


Untitled


The desserts are also worth saving room for. They're some of the most generous portions of dessert you'll get in Taipei. They look pricey but can easily serve 2-3 people, so don't fret too much about it. Definitely try the deconstructed rasmalai, which comes served in a layered cup with chocolate mousse, coffee jelly and rasmalai-mascarpone sauce. Driving your spoon all the way down to get a bite of each layer, you get salty, sweet and bitter all at once and it comes together perfectly.

Or, as my friend said, "it tastes like...summer!"


Untitled


We also had the crusty red wine apple with vanilla creme - absolutely wonderful. The soft red wine-marinated apples was a perfect textural counterpoint to the flaky-crispy pastries and creamy vanilla topping.


Untitled


And all this while, we enjoyed our meal in comfortable, tasteful but unpretentious decor. You don't feel like you have to 'dress up' for Joseph Bistro (though you can), but you still get the feeling that you're having a high-end experience that's worth the money. And yet, there was a (cute) young child at the next table putting spoons on his head and generally being a kid. Nobody bothered about it - classy and comfortable, but also unpretentious and kid-friendly.

Did we blow through more than NT$5000 for three people? Yes. (But then we did everything - starters, wine, desserts, the works).

Did we mind? Not at all.

Forget the 'authentic' vs. 'elevated' Asian food debate. Ask yourself - can Asian food be worth paying real money for? Yes, of course. How is that even a question? And ask yourself, is it good?

If it is, and you've got the cash, just don't worry about it. Fretting over authenticity in Asian food strikes me as a specifically Western thing to do. I assure you that in Asia, it's simply not a thing.


Untitled


Quick note: the chef recognized me from Lao Ren Cha (I was not paid or asked to do this review and received no special discount for writing it), and made the food spicier than he normally would for Taiwanese diners. He did add just the right amount of kick. If you also want your food to be spicier, you may want to request it. 

Saturday, June 8, 2019

My favorite Taipei cafes: 2019 rundown

Untitled


In the past I've done reduxes of my favorite cafes for atmosphere - which is mostly accurate still, though a few places have moved (such as Nancy), rebranded as restaurants (Anhe 65), are now noisy tea shops (Red House Theater), or closed (Mono Cafe). I've done one for good coffee in Taipei as well - though that's a bit more outdated: My Sweetie Pie is long gone and there is now more than one George House in the Yongkang Street area. I don't think Naruwan Indigenous People's Market is still a thing anymore, either, though I haven't been in awhile.

Both posts are now badly in need of an update - most of the places I mentioned are still open, but I've found new haunts that I like just as much.

To deal with that, I'll leave those old posts as they are (links above) and provide here a new redux of where I'm imbibing right now. This isn't just for folks who live here - when I've traveled to other cities with hopping cafe scenes, I've found blogs in English by committed residents of those cities to be helpful guides as to where to go. So I want to be one of the people who does that for Taipei. Plus, as a grad student, I spend a lot of time in cafes getting reading done or writing papers so my list of good spots has grown.


You'll see some of my old entries repeated here, with new ones added, and I've prioritized places with outdoor seating, as that's so hard to find in Taipei. I've also noted where some cafes are near other good options, as seating can be so hard to come by. There's also a bias towards southern Taipei because that's where I live and hang out. Overall there's simply a lot of bias for "places I actually go to", so there's not much more to unite them thematically than that. No pretension to "the best" or "the top 10" or whatever - just my real world.

Instead of looking up each address like it's still 2010, I've gone ahead and made a Google Maps list, which you can access here. (I realized after I'd made it that I could actually create a map rather than just a list, but I'm too lazy to go back and re-do it, so this'll do for now.) 



Heritage Bakery and Cafe

Untitled

This 'newcomer' (opened in 2016) has quickly become a go-to spot in the Taipei Main Station/Ximen area. Pretty much everything about it is excellent - you feel as you walk in that you're somewhere in New York being exceedingly posh in that middle-class hipster sort of way. If that doesn't sound appealing to you - a bit to gentrificationy - don't let that deter you (you're not gentrifying much here - the neighborhood is much the same as it always was). Go for the bright, attractive upstairs seating with exposed brick walls, the very good coffee and other drinks (non-coffee drinkers can choose a variety of teas or fizzy drinks, or beer) and most of all, the desserts.


Oh, the desserts.
Westerners who complain that Taipei doesn't have good dessert options can shove some of this cake in their cakehole - from fluffy, perfect, cinnamony cinnamon rolls which sell out quickly to pink guava cheesecake to sea salt caramel Belgian chocolate cake all in generous or even huge servings, this place knows how to do Western-style desserts. The foccaccia sandwiches are quite good too - try the chicken avocado club.


It's not particularly cheap - drinks, sandwiches and a cinnamon roll for 2 will cost you NT$900 and change - but it's not insane. 90-minute limit on holidays and weekends. Otherwise, pretty much the only downside is that the air conditioner is often on full-blast, which makes it a bit chilly. Bring a cardigan.

Untitled



This Cafe ((這間咖啡)


Untitled


This is quickly becoming one of my favorite work cafes. Very strong social movement bent (check out the "I Support Taiwan Independence" banner in the back), good wifi and lots of plugs - it's quiet and you can usually get a seat. It's a little dimly lit but that just adds to the charm and isn't a problem if you're on a computer, and the table in back is set under antique Taiwanese milk glass hanging lamps. They have non-coffee drinks including beer, and a small selection of sandwiches and salads which are reasonably priced. I think I also like it because the guy who most often works there knows me on sight and knows my order by heart now. Plus they're open pretty late. There are other cafes nearby, such as Perch (nice, but often crowded) and PuiBui, which I haven't tried yet. 


Cafe Le Zinc


Untitled
Set in the back of an old Dihua Street shophouse, Le Zinc can be accessed through the Art Yard ceramics shop from Dihua, or directly from a little lane that snakes around the back. Seating is limited but I've never had a problem, and the well-lit long table has plugs. There's also strong wifi. Windows look out into the narrow courtyard of the old house, where the bathroom is. There's an extensive (but expensive) wine list - house wine by the glass is more affordable - beer, coffee and light food. Music leans toward the jazzy and old-fashioned, which I like. It's a good place to work (on account of the big table, wifi and plugs) and also a good place to meet friends just to chat.

In fact, this whole area is bursting with cafes - if you can't get a seat at Le Zinc, you can surely get a seat somewhere. There are so many that I can't possibly put them all on my map.

Untitled

Fleisch

Dihua Street is actually bursting with cafes these days - a huge change from my first few years here when it was a somewhat forgotten corner of the city where you could do a little fabric or dry-goods shopping and check out the old buildings, but not much else. If anywhere in Taipei has gentrified, it's here - and yet the fabric and dry-goods sellers still mostly seem to be in business. Where Le Zinc stands out for its table space and wine/beer list, Fleisch has some unique coffee drinks - my favorite being a latte with dried Mandarin orange (dried citrus slices are fairly common dried goods in Taiwan - they make a nice drink steeped in boiling water.)



Hakkafe

Untitled

A very new addition to the Dihua Street cafe scene, Hakkafe was opened by an entrepreneurial Hakka guy named Terry who is friendly and enthusiastic about his mission to create a modern cafe space with a traditional Hakka twist. The space is large, minimalist and quiet, done in shades of black, white, gray and wood. We especially liked the Hakka BLT (with Taiwanese pickled green chilis), and the brownie was wonderful. I highly recommend the Hakka breakfast tea - Terry noticed that England has a 'breakfast tea' culture but Taiwan, another tea-drinking nation, does not. So he set out to blend his own. The results are stunning.

This is the only place on the list that doesn't actually serve coffee, but you won't miss it if you try the Hakka Breakfast Tea.

It's also near funky-looking Chance Cafe (
一線牽), which I haven't tried yet. 
 

The Lightened

Formerly Backstage Cafe, which had a student activist/social movement theme (yes, a theme, but the former owner was apparently active in those circles), The Lightened is now associated with Anmesty International Taiwan. Located on Fuxing South Road near the back gate of National Taiwan University, The Lightened is unpretentious, well-lit, there are lots of plugs and good wifi, and you can always get a seat. The coffee is good (and fair trade), there's a small selection of beer and the desserts are homemade. On weekends a spunky black-and-white cat might be around.



Rufous Coffee


Almost directly across the street from The Lightened, Rufous is a bit darker, more famous, and is known for having top-notch coffee. Any of the single origin choices are good, and the Irish coffee is spectacular. That said, non-coffee drinkers won't find much here, and they don't have much in the way of food, either. I like it for its cozy, friendly atmosphere, though it can be hard to get a seat sometimes. Not far away there's a 2nd branch, which is quite close to URBN Culture. 



Shake House (雪可屋)


Untitled

 I simply cannot write a post about coffee without including my long-time hangout. I don't know why I go to Shake House. There's no wifi, nor any plugs. The bathroom is tiny and through a dilapidated passageway. Lamps are hanging flower pots with ribbons. The chairs are ancient. But I just love the place - it's like, in every city I live in, I need my student hangout in some old building that's falling apart, and I just get attached to it. That's how it is. The coffee is good, the chicken sandwiches above average, the beer selection excellent (and affordable as cafes go), they're open very late and the music is...eclectic. From odd movie soundtracks to church music to Johnny Cash to John Coltrane to whatever. You just literally never know what you'll get. Also, I know the owners and they know me.


If you really need plugs and wifi, Cafe Bastille is just across the lane (and there are other cafes in the area, including Drop Coffee and its new neighbor).


Drop Coffee (滴咖啡)

Drop is another coffeeshop I always include. On Xinsheng Road just across the street from NTU, the space is a renovated Japanese wooden house. The owner is passionate about coffee and does a mean siphon brew. The dog - 橘子 (Orange, although he is black) - is unfriendly in a comical way. There are a few teas on the menu as well as some desserts but really you come here for the coffee. A new place has opened across the lane which has more space, but I haven't checked it out yet.


Cafe Philo


If you go to any sort of political or activist talks or activities, you know Cafe Philo. They have a space downstairs just for that. Upstairs, they have generous space and a wide menu which includes food. I've been going there recently as I'm taking a course (not related to my Master's - because I'm insane) and I can always get a seat.



8%

Untitled


This large black-and-white space on Yongkang Park advertises itself as an ice cream shop, but you can absolutely get coffee here. They have a good deck if you want to sit outside, and the coffee is high-quality. You can get some interesting coffee drinks here that you may not find elsewhere - I had iced coffee in a glass flask that I could pour over a giant ice ball, and my friend had a huge ball of iced coffee that melted as he poured foamed milk over it.


Caffe Libero


Another classic, I've found myself going here less ever since Red On Tree left (they used to sell excellent French-style pastry confections on-site), and they close early on Sundays. But I still love the place for its outdoor seating, quirky indoor decor, cigar selection and more.



Yaboo

Near 8% and Libero, Yaboo has decent sandwiches and - most importantly - cats! Also a nice atmosphere, but it fills up on weekends. A seat is not guaranteed. But the cats are sweet and friendly.


Angle

Another minimalist place, I like it for its weird shape and good coffee (though all they really have are coffee and a small dessert selection). Big windows let the light in, and it's called Angle because it's set in a weird triangular building outcrop on Rui'an Street (Pillow Cafe, which is also good and used to have a corgi, is nearby. They're under new ownership - hence no more corgi - and friendly.) I find myself here on the occasional Sunday as one can usually get a seat, and there are good views from the bar seats.



Slo-mo Cafe

This place has generous indoor seating and an outdoor area partitioned off from the lane - although smoking is allowed outdoors, it's never too overwhelming. The lane is not particularly busy (except at rush hour) - you may know it as the shortcut between Keelung Road where the gas station is and the Far Eastern Hotel or Carnegie's. The only real downside to sitting outside is that there are some mosquitoes - but that's an issue with all of the outdoor options listed. The desserts are standard cafe fare - though I like the lemon cake - and the glass of white wine I once got on a scorching day was pretty good. Even better? This place never seems to fill up.



Beautiful Tree Coffee (美樹咖啡館)

Untitled

This place is tiny and odd, run by a friendly older man. I absolutely love it. There's something of a rainforest theme going on, with a little outdoor area that has birds. And a ceiling with faux stained glass skylights! I'm not sure how to describe this place beyond that, it sort of defies description and, like many quirky spots, is in a gussied-up old building. The coffee was fine, and I genuinely liked their ham and cheese sandwich. Not too expensive, either. It's very close to Slo-mo as well as another place called Kaldi that I haven't tried yet. 



A8 Cafe

A8 is one of my favorite workspaces. It was opened by world-famous Taiwanese indigenous pop star A-mei and employs indigenous staff. The space has a sort of industrial decor (concrete floor, warehouse windows, exposed brick) with good lighting, big shared tables as well as individual tables and couch areas (one of which is set under a real potted tree - my favorite spot), quirky decorative elements, plugs and good wifi. They have a full menu of cafe standards as well as meals and alcohol, but they close a bit early (around 9pm, but they'll let you stick around until they really pack up for the night.) They're closed on Mondays and sometimes take business breaks, but nearby 青沐, which is technically a restaurant, will let you order a drink and just hang out if they're not too busy. There's also a nearby place called Pachamama which I haven't been to, but looks cool. 


The FOLKS

I go here because it's near my home - it's not really a workspace but you can sit outside on the little deck, and it's basically a cool, bare-bones espresso bar in a quiet lane. 


Cafe Costumice

The Big Mama of cafes where you can sit outside, Costumice is that cafe everyone knows about, and yet you can usually get a seat (not always outside, though). Its major selling point is the huge front deck (bring bug repellent) which feels like an outdoor urban oasis. Though they are a little expensive, they're worth a splurge. There's a modest but pretty good food menu, wine (including a sparkling white which makes for a decent champagne on a hot brunch-y day) and beer.



The Key

I'm including The Key's cafe - The Key is my gym - because I've been spending a lot of time there, and they make a real effort to provide quality fare at good prices (and members get discounts). Strong wifi, plugs, a range of sandwiches and a protein-rich chicken meal if you're keto and a good range of drinks beyond coffee make it a fine place to hang out. It's been useful for me to go to the gym, do a short session on one of the cardio machines, and then head to the cafe to get some grad school work done. There are a few tables outside as well. Just down the road is another cafe decorated with hanging plants which looks promising as well - I think it's where the churro place used to be - but I haven't checked it out yet. 


Coffee Tree (咖啡樹)

This spot near Zhongxiao Dunhua has a range of fattening desserts, beer, coffee and more. The interior decor is interesting, but we go because they have outdoor seating along a lane popular with pedestrians. It's near Quay Cafe which I haven't been to but would like to try. 


Coffeeology

My go-to spot when I'm in the Taipei Arena neighborhood. Coffeeology has truly excellent coffee at great prices. No food - just some cookie-like snacks - but you can get a large latte with Irish cream (real Irish cream, not just a flavor syrup) for very little money by coffeeshop standards. There are a few chairs outside, but the whole space is fairly open so you feel like you're outdoors even though you're technically not. Great beans to bring home at good prices, too. 



Zabu (in its new location)


I actually haven't been in ages because it's quite far from where I live, but if I'm in the north Tienmu area, this is my spot. It's the same Japanese-influenced hipster haven it's always been, with great rice balls, cats, and student-funky decor that it used to be in Shi-da all those years ago before the jerks made that neighborhood boring. 


cat.jpg


Every few months, I teach a six-week course at the Shi-da school of continuing education, on the campus that Yongkang Street hits as it ends. During one of these classes, I have to give my trainees their final exam and then stick around to pick it up, so I go to cat.jpg while they work.

You'll find cat.jpg one lane behind that Shi-da campus, where are a small klatch of cool places, including Bea's Bistro (friendly, but more of a restaurant), Nom Nom (below) and cat.jpg. There's also a local population of yellow-and-white street cats and an urban garden, some of whom are friendly and all of whom seem to be kept healthy and fed by the local community.

cat.jpg has two of their own cats who are sociable enough (one is firiendlier than the other). They have wifi, a big work table and sandwiches on the menu. 



Nom Nom


Untitled

Nom Nom is not only a great cafe (and place where you can buy ceramic ware), but also a decent brunch spot. Sandwiches and fried chicken are served with luscious little salads, and there's French Toast on the menu. Try the cumin chicken sandwich with apple and honey for sure. Their milkshakes are straight-up luxurious, served overflowing on lipped coasters so they don't mess up the table. The mint chocolate milkshake is garnished with mint leaves and a dried orange slice and then sprinkled with chocolate bits. Also, the place is Peak Taiwanese Hipster.

 

Classic Coffee (品客經典咖啡)


Classic Coffee, in the Shi-da Road neighborhood which used to be fun, doesn't look like anything special. There's food and perfectly good coffee. But this place has a major selling point - a super friendly old cat who will aggressively love you, and a similarly friendly fat corgi who gets jealous of the cat. It's my favorite cat cafe because that cat is just so in-your-face with the cuddles and snuggles, and it's a fluffy cat, too. 


Notch (Front Station)


I don't typically expect funky, studenty coffeeshops in the Taipei Main Station neighborhood - it's an area loaded with cram schools, cheap shopping, a few government buildings...not a place where students really hang out. But this particular branch of Notch brings it. It's also not particularly far from the Legislative Yuan, so if you need a place to go after a good hearty protest, this is a great choice. When the same-sex marriage bill was passed last month, I spent a period of time here out of the pouring rain, watching the deliberations at the Legislative Yuan on their good wifi (far better than trying to connect alongside 20,000 other people standing outside in bad weather). 


Look Upstairs (上樓看看)


An excellent 'work cafe' in Xinyi near City Hall Station, this place has good drinks and beer. There's food too, but it's a little expensive. Lots of space, good light, wifi and plugs - you can settle in here to get things done, especially upstairs. Some tables and countertops even have desk lamps. 


2730 Cafe

Another cat cafe! This little place in a tiny shack-like building is very close to Liquid Bread and is attached to a vintage store (of which there are not too many in Taipei). I've only had the beer and coffee - they have a DPP beer! Which...odd, but tasted fine! But a big selling point here are the two cats, one black and the other white. It's also easy to get to from Xinyi, an area that isn't exactly known for its great cafes, so it's a solid choice in that neighborhood.



BreakFirst Cafe & Studio (棗點咖啡)

Sometimes we take care of a friend's pets in the Dazhi area, and this is our go-to when we're around there. The main selling point (beyond seats usually being available) is that they have several cats! 



Lion / LineUp Dessert


Untitled

I ended up liking this place because I reviewed it for FunNow - but it's a funky little spot in an area not known for cafes (the Zhongshan Elementary School MRT area), with great desserts and solid croque sandwiches. The coffee is just OK, but I go for the desserts.


Jing Xin Cafe (晶心咖啡館)


To be honest, this isn't a place I go to hang out - it's sort of a hybrid coffeeshop and crystal shop in an odd corner of Taipei. But, they roast Taiwanese coffee beans which make great gifts (and they sell them at a reasonable price), so I wanted to include them for this reason. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

I attended the Taipei commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and...

Untitled
The event was emceed by Lin Fei-fan and Miao Poya

...I'm not going to give you a rundown. You can read one here (it comes after discussion of a conference that took place last weekend leading up to the event, which I was unable to attend for work reasons.


Untitled


I'll just say briefly that I've attended in years past, when the crowd was smaller and perhaps a bit more casual, there to remember the events of June 4th, 1989 but not terribly weighed down by them.


Untitled
This year's event was better-attended than those in years past. 


This year, I don't know what it was. I would simply expect that there'd be a greater number of PRC spies in the audience than usual, though I can always assume a few are around at any civil society event in Taiwan, so that wasn't it. Perhaps it was the importance of this being a 'Big 0' anniversary. Perhaps trepidation over China's increasing global influence, expansionism and belligerence. Perhaps its increasingly annexationist and violent rhetoric regarding Taiwan. Perhaps a latent knowledge and fear that political conditions in China are worsening, that a genocide is going on while the world shrugs its shoulders ("never again" my ass), that they've already silenced Hong Kong and Taiwan could be next - they intend for Taiwan to be next and this grows more obvious by the day. But I don't really know.

It was something though, and another friend picked up on it too.


Untitled
I got to meet Miao Poya

"Why does the crowd feel different?" he asked. I'd noticed it too, but couldn't put my finger on it.

I thought for a minute and answered, simply -


Untitled
Vice-President Chen Chien-jen speaks



"Fear."




Untitled

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The ROC is erasing the history of comfort women's sexual slavery by romanticizing it

Untitled
I am reasonably sure that not one of these women is real


Once a year or so, we go to Kinmen for work and then plan an extra day to relax, drive around and do whatever, usually booking a traditional 洋樓 (yánglóu, or 'foreign style mansion', though they don't look terribly 'foreign') for a few nights.

This year, our first stop was the Military Brothel Exhibition Hall in Jinhu township along Qiongjing Road (瓊徑路) - if you want to go there, it's easiest to just plug it into Google Maps. I've been aware of ROC military comfort women for some time (yes, quite a bit like comfort women forced to service the Japanese military in World War II), and that the practice was particularly predominant on Kinmen as it was a major military outpost.

Having felt for some time that the issue of Japanese comfort women, while also important, has been given priority over ROC comfort women with the issue manipulated for political purposes, I wanted to see how this museum portrayed the issue. Did it get anywhere near actually tell the story of women forced into prostitution to 'meet the needs' of ROC soldiers?



Untitled


No.

I learned more about the soldiers who went to the brothels, and how the brothels operated on a bureaucratic level, than the women who actually worked in them.

The exhibit, which is in English and Mandarin, hemorrhaged copious reams of verbiage justifying the 'needs' of the soldiers (as above - and this wasn't the only culprit). A huge percentage of the words on the wallboards attempted to convince visitors that these 'teahouses' were necessities of war, because how could our boys on the front line continue to fight without getting their sexual requirements met?

I don't really need convincing that any given group of people (except ace folks) spend a large percentage of their time thinking about, wanting to and trying to get nasty. That's just human. Just about everyone likes to bone down. Fine. And I don't need convincing that sex work is important or necessary - I'm in favor of legalized prostitution, in a system in which the sex workers themselves have power over their work - not a pimp and certainly not a government.

But the exhibit also spent a great deal of time telling you about the different 'tea houses' all over Kinmen and why they existed or how successful they were. You even got to learn about the quality of 'service' at each one and what 'grade' each teahouse was given (which...let me tell you. Forget wanting to work at a 'Grade D' brothel - can you imagine how insulting - and terrifying - it would be for a woman to be assigned to one?)



Untitled

Untitled


Every single thing gets its moment in this exhibit - except for the women. The men and their needs are centered, and there's a lot of description of the humdrum bureaucracy of the brothels. You get to see a replica of the tickets that servicemen were issued, and the rules and regulations they had to follow. There are a lot of pink and purple shades and soft floral patterns - you know, because it's women's stuff - which is an attempt to soften the truth, and was hardly the reality of the matter. The attempted romanticization is more than a little off-putting.

You heard about the women's health checks and other rules concerning their lives - including that they weren't allowed to leave, yeesh - and that they were 'recruited' as 'waiters', are expected to get the impression from this that they chose to ply their trade in Kinmen and that the military took good care of them. You could read - briefly - about how 'bitter' and miserable their lives were in Taiwan proper, trying to convince you yet again that this was a good thing for the women, and everyone was consenting. After reading that, you'll learn how often the women had pap smears, but still nothing at all about who they were as people.

The very brief text that actually discusses the women and their lives uses the phrase 'finding their way to the frontline', as though they journeyed to Kinmen of their own volition.

Untitled


Of course, they did not.

In the famous case that caused the 'teahouses' of Kinmen to finally close in the late 1980s, an underaged woman (16) was tricked/forced to go to Kinmen and then, after refusing to engage in sex work, was told she had to do so for several months before she could return to Taiwan (link in Chinese).

I also have it on good authority (and the Taipei Times backs up) that most of these comfort women were not consenting and not taken care of well. Most of them were prostitutes working illegally  (only 'municipal brothel' prostitution was legal) who were caught and essentially forced to work in these 'teahouses', often - as the link above mentions - made to have sex with 60-70 soldiers a day. As I highly doubt they agreed to that many clients, that essentially means they were raped 60-70 times a day.

And someone on the committee that designed this exhibit is aware of this, as you can see:


Untitled


Sure, the women were not forced into prostitution as a trade, but if you write 'nor did they willingly go to support one side in a war', you are implicitly sending the message that someone forced them to do so.

That's not consenting - it doesn't matter that they were prostitutes before. You can't force someone to work for you, even if you pay them. That's slavery. The government can't knock on my door and tell me I must teach in a particular government school and then frog-march me to a classroom. This is no different just because it's sex work.

And yet, that one line in one (rather terrible) poem is the only clue that these women were essentially forced to be raped by soldiers six days a week. What's worse, the NewTalk link above describes the attempts of Kinmen-born writer (and I guess politician? It's not clear) Chen Changqing to retcon the history of military prostitution into a consensual industry in which the women were well-cared for despite the preponderance of historical evidence to the contrary.

Beyond that, the exhibition hall does not tell the stories of any of the individual women who worked as military prostitutes, even though many are still alive. One could easily ask them, and many of them would likely want their stories told.

You don't even see pictures - just stylized anime-like airbrushed cartoons of generic beautiful women. They don't actually exist. Even though surely photos of the actual women who worked in these teahouses could be found, and photographs of still-living ones could be taken. I'm sure some of them (though surely not all) would give consent for their images to be used, if exhibited as a part of a well-designed and impactful exhibit. But, of course, nobody asked them.

Much easier to write a few platitudes about 'bitter lives' and place them next to soft-focus cartoon women than to face what your government did to real, actual women.



Untitled

I have to wonder why they did it this way. Was it because whoever was in charge of this didn't want to make the ROC government look bad (especially on Kinmen, where the KMT remain popular)? Was it because they - though possibly not the women themselves, given the activism of the women who worked in municipal brothels in Taipei - regard the actual work of such women so shameful that they felt they were doing these women a favor by romanticizing it while keeping the women's actual stories quiet? Was it because the moment you tell the truth of what the government did to these women, it raises the question of compensation? Or was it straight up sexism: did whoever was put in charge of designing this just not even consider that the women's stories mattered?

The government has been much more forthright about the work of Japanese-era comfort women from Taiwan. A museum was created for them, while quietly trying to squash the attempts of ROC-era comfort women to do the same thing, as the links above show. Is this because the Japanese era is in the more distant past, and most of those women have died? Is it because it allows them to blame  Japan, not themselves - blame which can be strategically trotted out for political purposes? Is it because the women forced into sex work in the Japanese era often weren't prostitutes to begin with, so it's less 'shameful'? Or is it perhaps all of these?

In the end, it bothers me not just that this story was told badly, but that politics seems to determine who gets their stories told at all.




Untitled



I want to be pleased that the government isn't trying to pretend this part of Taiwan's history never happened. I want to rejoice that they're not trying to bury it as so many governments do to the more unsavory stories of their past.

But I can't - I just can't believe someone thought it was a good idea to set up a 'military brothel exhibition hall' and then spend the whole time justifying the brothels' existence, without even trying to tell any of the honest, true, detailed, human stories of the actual women who worked there.

If nobody is willing to have their story included - which is possible, but I doubt would be the case - then you can at least tell the absolute truth of how the women came to work there and what their lives were actually like beyond a list of 'rules and regulations'.

If there's one thing this exhibit can learn from museums cataloguing horrible things which exist around the world, it's that you don't need to justify the past. You're not fooling anyone. We know that romanticization is just one step removed from erasure. 

It happened, and what matters now is that we look at it squarely and honestly, and whenever possible we try to make it right. The Military Brothel Exhibition Hall does not do that, and all I can suggest is that they take a good, hard look at their first attempt and try to do better. 



Untitled