Monday, March 24, 2014

My Continued Support

After the sad events of last night, I did a lot of thinking regarding whether I still supported the student movement or not, or whether I supported it strongly enough to express that openly. 

And after a lot of though, I decided that I do. I do still support them.

For a few reasons:

1.) I don't think breaking into the Executive Yuan was a good idea tactically or PR-wise, or at all really. Escalating was not the right move and it only served the most tenuous of symbolic purposes.


Just because one student faction or some KMT agent provocateur thugs (this is a popular theory now) did something stupid, it doesn't discredit the whole movement. I still believe in what they stand for.

2.) Even if it was the student activists themselves (and not some gangsters sent to discredit them), I have sympathy. They occupied the legislature for a symbolic purpose that was highly effective. When the executive branch either ignored their demands or talked down to them, I could see how they would think "you think you can ignore us? We'll show you that you can't. You WILL respect the system of democracy or the people WILL literally break in and screw your stuff up."

3.) Perhaps, in order to push for real change, it had to eventually come to this sort of civil disobedience. I would hope not, but I can see how when it got to the point that the government was simply not listening to the people anymore, that there had to be a bigger push. I can live with that.

So I still support them, and I hope the Sunflower movement will blossom (pun intended) into real political change.

A few other thoughts:

- The Taiwanese people have really shown that while they can "take" a lot and stay peaceful, that there is a line, and if you push them over that line, they WILL push back. Hard. They've made it quite clear where that line is, and the government would be wise to heed it. It also roundly discredits expats who whine about how "passive" and "chicken" the Taiwanese are. If history hadn't already debunked this, recent events surely have.

- This really goes to show how dearly most Taiwanese treasure their democracy. That they will be herded like sheep into non-democratic annexation by China is an insult that has now been thoroughly debunked.

- Let's welcome the new generation of political luminaries, forged in the fires of civil disobedience. May they be less of a disappointment than the last batch of sad-sacks and tinpot mafiosos with huge China boners.

- The PR war here seems not to have been entirely lost, which I was worried would happen. I don't know about you all but my Facebook feed is darkened with black squares and pictures of sunflowers in support of the activists. The only people who seem to have been taken in by biased media reports are some of the old folks around my neighborhood.

- No matter what happens, at least the entire country is now fully aware of Fu Mao and the undemocratic way it was passed.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Something Beautiful

 photo DSC09960.jpg

Two high school students take the open mic at the front gate of Taiwan's Legislative Yuan on Friday.

I couldn't make it to the protests today, because after two days of spending all my free time down there, I'd developed something of a migraine and gotten really beaten down health-wise (and I didn't even overnight it as many people did!). I needed a break - nothing is worse than a protest when you have a migraine.

I do hope to return tomorrow. Which, it being after midnight here, is technically today.

Anyway, two things in this post. First, something beautiful was happening inside the front gate of the Legislative Yuan last night. And second, this whole "Jenna gave a speech in Chinese at a protest in Taiwan" thing seems to be...a thing. I mentioned it personally on a few forums, and it's hit my comment thread, and I am sure at least a few people are wondering about it. So in this post I'll include a transcript, as well as I remembered what I said, anyway.

Anyway, this beautiful thing is just what is pictured in the photo above: organized by I-don't-know-who - I don't think it was the DPP although all the usual green-and-white tents were out, I think it might have been the Christian priest who was in attendance, who I think might be a pretty famous guy in Taiwan - the main entrance to the Legislative Yuan became, basically, an open mic podium for people wanting to express their thoughts, tell stories or relate their ideas to a crowd last night. The mic sat atop a black box (labeled "黑" for "black" and everything) intended to symbolize the "black box" of Fu Mao (the cross-strait trade services pact in question) - how very little is known about it, and how it was rammed through the legislature without being fully reviewed, like a "Surprise!" box that could contain a million dollars (but probably doesn't) or could contain a hungry velociraptor (maybe). This Black Box, or 黑箱, has become something of a symbol of those protesting the way Fu Mao was "passed".

There were a few hundred to a thousand people there, and more outside who could hear the speeches. Inside, a wide parabola of open space allowed the speakers to be seen as well as feel comfortable, without being hemmed in be a crowd. They were encouraging, friendly, giving out "you can do it! You go!" (加油!) cheers to those who expressed nervousness, quiet when someone was talking and cheers when appropriate. The cameraderie, support, and common cause of these people was really something.

The only time I felt it broke down was early in the evening, when someone referred to Chiang Kai-shek as "Jiang Zhong-zheng" (蔣中正) - his "honorary" name, and was told to "get off the stage" for calling him by an honorary that he, in their view (and mine) doesn't deserve (but I won't stop someone for using it, I just won't use it personally). But even then, the audience got upset and told the person keeping things running that she should get to speak, and she did. As far as I could see - and I spent several hours there - such an interruption of someone who wanted to take the microphone didn't happen again.

So many people took that mic - students from junior high (really!) to graduate school, teachers ("my students apologized to me for skipping class to come here. I told them 'don't be sorry, if you want to speak out but don't know what to say I'll help you'"), farmers, office workers, grandmas, retired soldiers (truly!), entrepreneurs, new graduates, those doing military service, family business owners, doctors and lawyers. No politicians as far as I could tell.

They all said their piece - stories from their lives, the ways they've felt the current administration has failed them, or democracy in Taiwan has failed them, the wages they earn vs. the cost of living compared to how those two matched up a decade or two ago, how "better" ties with China have in fact made their lives worse, or made their lives better economically but worse in terms of quality. Nobody cut anybody off (except for that one time, which I don't think happened again because the crowd disapproved), and everybody was encouraged to speak their mind. I can't tell if anyone said anything others disagreed with, but if so, there were no jeers.

These weren't silly "kids", which a lot of people are characterizing the students as being. They were knowledgeable and eloquent. They were of all ages and backgrounds. They understood what was at stake. One thing that really angers me is how many people characterize these protesters as "not understanding what's at stake". That is not correct. I also think it's kind of racist, or elitist: either 'these crazy Asians can't get their act together and they don't understand what's really at stake", or "these silly students and working class people don't really understand how the economy works" - either way, it's offensive. "These people don't know what's good for them" - yeah, call me at 1-800-GO-FUCK-YOURSELF.

(hee hee)

Also stop being condescending/racist.

They understand quite well, both in terms of the future of Taiwan's democracy and its economy. Just listening to these speakers you could tell that.

And it's not like they were rebelling because they wanted to, or they just wanted to avoid playing by the rules (if anyone wanted to avoid playing by the rules, it was the legislators who forced this pact through without proper scrutiny).

 photo DSC09945.jpg

Here's the sign my friend made - "forced to rebel". Does that sound like a slogan decided upon by someone who wants to ignore the rules?

All in all, it was beautiful. The legislature is a representative body of the people, and the chance to stand inside its gates, take a microphone and speak out is a gorgeous thing. It's fundamental democracy, even if it's only symbolic. That legislature belongs to the people, but is now full of "representatives" who have grown deaf to the people. But if only for a short time, the people took it back.

And those people! Or rather, what they said! Some of the themes that the various speakers came back to:

"This isn't about green (DPP) or blue (KMT), this is about the Taiwanese people united."

"My issue isn't with Fu Mao (the trade/services pact in question), it's the undemocratic way we Taiwanese people are being told we must accept a black box without knowing what's inside."

"I don't want to be here, occupying my own government, but I feel I must speak out."

"I don't want to argue about politics. I just want a democratic process that works."

"I want to thank the police" (standing at the gate - see the picture) "for protecting our students / their trouble in working 24/7 to be here / for protecting the Taiwanese people - you are just like us" (way to guilt trip the police into not doing anything to hurt the students inside).

I love that so much, I would kiss it if it weren't an abstract concept.

The police, for their part, seemed to be listening. Some were smiling. I don't think they want to hurt anyone. People may be forced out, or arrested (the latter is unlikely - it would look bad for the government in the face of a public that seems, broadly, to support the students in the face of a media out to smear them) but I doubt anybody will be hurt. That would look so bad for the Ma administration that I doubt they'd allow it to happen if at all preventable (notice how I don't say "the Ma administration doesn't want to hurt the students - I don't actually think they care that much beyond how it'll harm their own image).

Every protest should be like that. Not angry slogans or empty rhetoric, but just a microphone sitting on a box on a stage, and people - any people, every person, if they wish - allowed to go up there and take it. Inside the gates of the representative democratic body that claims to govern the country as per the people's will.

Symbolic, but powerful. This is the people's will.

After some time, people began to encourage me to go up there. I have no idea why (OK, maybe it was because I was the only noticeable foreigner there, being in the very front at the edge of the open space and all). I did have that little sign, which translates as "You go! The expatriate community in Taiwan supports you" which people liked quite a lot. I was chatting with others in Chinese.

And so I was encouraged to go on stage. Egged on, really. Kind of pulled on. I said I was willing to, perhaps, but that I felt nervous and hesitant because I may live here, but I'm not a citizen and never will be. I also felt acutely that maybe, after all my deriding of "educated white guys" monopolizing international public discourse on Taiwanese issues, that maybe another white person commandeering the spotlight wouldn't be a good idea. That microphone was doing its job by being available for Taiwanese people to talk about the issues facing their own country. People that didn't already have an international voice.

But in the end someone told the priest/organizer that I should speak (huh?) and the organizer himself kept encouraging me to go for it. I was all "But I'm a guest here...this is your country" and he was all "there are no guests here, we're all brothers and sisters together" which I admit was very Christian of him, in terms of how that's something Jesus would have definitely said. I may not be Christian but that's the kind of clergyman I can respect.

So suddenly I was onstage.

I hadn't really prepared anything to say, and Chinese is not my native language. But I'm not one to refuse to speak just because I'm being asked to speak, off the cuff, to a thousand people in a language that is neither my mother tongue nor something I've studied much formally. And who, when at a protest like that in a country they're not a citizen of, would even think they'd be pulled onstage and asked to say something to so many people?

So I tried to keep it brief - after all, I do still believe that that microphone does its job when it's relaying the stories of people talking about their own country's issues, who don't otherwise have a voice, and that doesn't really include me. I was trying to be there in a supporting role.

And I said:


It translates roughly into:

Hello everyone. [which I said in Taiwanese, not Chinese] I moved here in 2006 - although on the outside I look foreign, but in my heart I'm Taiwanese*. 7 or 8 years ago when I came here I thought Taiwan was such a free country with a great democracy, and the standard of living was pretty good. But these 8 years later after Ma Ying-jiu took office, now I'm seeing that the government is taking away your democracy, the government is taking away your freedom, and your salaries are getting lower while the cost of living is rising. I really can't stand it, and if I can't stand it, you guys definitely can't! So I hope that the Taiwanese will fight for their democracy, fight for their freedom, and force the government to care about the problems of everyday people. We foreigners who live in Taiwan support you**. Thank you!

*if I'd had time to prepare something to say I probably would have worded that as "my heart is in Taiwan". I did not at all mean it to be all cultural appropriation-y but I could see how someone would take it that way.

**I realize not every foreigner in Taiwan supports them, but enough do (seems to be an obvious majority) that I feel OK in saying this. However, given time to prepare I probably would have said "many" or "most foreigners in Taiwan support you". That said, as a generalization I think it is true enough that I'm not sorry that that's how it came out (considering what my little sign translates into, I can hardly backtrack on this, so I won't bother).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Some thoughts on why people oppose the storming of the legislature, and why such opposition is wrong

I've heard a lot of talk on both sides about the protests currently going on - which, if you hadn't noticed, I wholeheartedly support to the point of going down there 2 days in a row, with a sign, and even giving a speech.

If people are going to oppose these protests, I do hope they'll do so on their own merits and not on grounds that are simply not true.

With that, here are the main reasons why those opposed to the protests feel as they do, and why they're wrong.

1.) "these protests are anti-free trade, which shows that they don't know what they're talking about"

The protests are not anti-free trade or even anti Fu Mao (although it is true that most of the protesters have serious reservations about Fu Mao). The protests are about the way it was forced through the legislature. At this stage it doesn't actually matter what's in Fu Mao, because the people don't know (the KMT has not seen fit to tell us - hmmm....I wonder why. Perhaps because they know it'll be good for them and their cronies but bad for Taiwan?) - what matters is that it was passed in a despicable, underhanded, dictatorial, autocratic way that is simply not acceptable in a democracy.

The fact that the protesters don't know the details of Fu Mao is precisely the point - the KMT hasn't told the public. The public need to know. It is their right. How can they be expected to support this black box?

That is what's being protested - the way Fu Mao was rammed through. Nothing more, nothing less. What's in Fu Mao can be discussed and protested or supported later.

If you're going to oppose the protests, oppose it based on what is actually being protested, not some "they hate free trade" bogeyman.

2.) "the students are silly, they don't know"

Well, again, **that's the whole point**. They don't know because the KMT has purposely kept the Taiwanese in the dark about what's in the pact.

And if you go talk to those students and their supporters, you'll find that they aren't silly at all. They're knowledgeable, politically astute, and they want to discuss issues in calm, rational ways. Spontaneous discussion groups have formed on the street during these peaceful protests - I've been in some of them - and what's being said is quite knowledgeable and fluent in the issues facing Taiwan. The speakers at the open mic in front of the Legislative Yuan - which is just beautiful, an open mic for the public to speak in front of the office of a governing body that is meant to follow through on their voices, not quash them - were eloquent and knowledgeable as well.

If you're going to oppose these protests, don't pretend it's because the protesters are idiots. They are not. It's not just insulting and rude to say so, it's also ignorant.

3.) "they're egged on by the DPP"

NOT TRUE. They're alienated by both parties and keeping the DPP at arm's length. The DPP supports them, but did not instigate these protests and they're self-sustaining, not being egged on by outside political forces. (In fact the protesters are not really happy with the way the DPP seems to be taking over some of the protesting - this isn't a green or blue thing - this is a citizens' concern thing).

How insulting, to suggest that anyone with the will to protest must be the pawn of some political party. As though intelligent, concerned citizens - including students - can't have minds and voices of their own to speak out. In this case it is simply not true, and that's one of the most important and significant things about this protest. In fact, the speakers who took the open mic in front of the Legislative Yuan (it must take a lot of anger, or at least a lot of concern, to get people to come up and speak as they have - it's not like Taiwanese culture is known for speaking out when you are upset!) many said openly that "this isn't about green or blue, and I'm not loyal to any political party."

If you're going to oppose these protests, don't pretend it's because they were "organized" by the political party you don't like.

They weren't.

4.) Sure, protest if you want but don't take over the Legislative Yuan! That's selfish/crazy/embarrassing/whatever.


The legislature serves the people, not the other way around. A democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people (to borrow an American cliche). That building belongs to the people, and those who work in it serve the people. The people have every right to it.

Under normal circumstances it would have been better to go through more directly democratic means to make your voice heard, but come on. This was a bill that was shoved through the legislature in a despicable way. It's easy to ignore street protests - which I think is precisely why opponents say "you can protest in the street, but don't take over the Legislature". Yeah, you can protest in the street, but nobody in power is going to pay one whit of attention. And those who support this view know that. They don't actually want anyone to pay attention to the concerns of the people, because they want this bill to pass so that they and all their rich friends can start making ca$h money as soon as possible.

Protesting in the street would never have forced Fu Mao out of passage and back into a clause-by-clause review. The students did what they did because they had to - there was no other way to insist that democratic process be followed in this particular case.

5.) These protests are undemocratic.


Protesting is a democratic right. Civil disobedience is what forces reform on a government that has ceased to hear the will of the people. It's what turns dictatorships into democracies and brings about civil rights reforms for minorities and the oppressed. There is a place for it in any healthy democracy.

Or would you prefer dictatorships never be overthrown, civil rights never be passed, and have apartheid still in existence?

If you want to point your finger at something undemocratic, point it straight at the legislators who pushed this bill through.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Voices That Matter

 photo 1531581_10152454688274523_147124570_n.jpg

I love the smell of civil disobedience in the morning!

I wrote two posts ago that there seems to have been a little-noticed sea change in public discourse regarding Taiwan as a result of the student movement currently occupying the legislature (currently? I haven't heard that they've been kicked out yet anyway), and I think it bears repeating. In fact, I think it deserves its own post. So here ya go.

There's a lot of talk in the English language media about Taiwanese politics, the future of Taiwan, cross-strait relations etc., but it seems to be mostly foreigners - some knowledgeable, some dilettantes like me, some who are basically morons (you know, like any civic discourse) - talking about a country they are not from. Some may live there, some may be long-term, some may even be citizens. Many have probably just visited, and a few have never been here at all. I'll be the first to admit that I also do this: I enjoy pontificating from my little blog that pretty much nobody reads.

Then there's healthy public debate going on among Taiwanese, mostly in Chinese (because duh), on local BBSs (BBS = bulletin board system), forums, blogs and Facebook groups. Due to both cultural and linguistic barriers (cultural meaning, I bet we all know expats in Taiwan who don't even have one Taiwanese friend. I've met 'em), foreigners have little or no access to these avenues of discourse, and to some extent, the converse is also true. Many Taiwanese lack access, due to language barriers, of international English-language media - even though English is widely spoken and often spoken quite well, plenty of people speak English but still find the language in those news and media outlets to be far above their comprehension level: "news talk" can be like that.

So discussion about Taiwan, so far, has been ghetto-ized, with foreigners in one corner talking to each other and Taiwanese in another talking to each other. I'm in many discussion groups on Taiwanese issues on LinkedIn and elsewhere, and all of them are populated with other foreigners. Articles about Taiwan written by foreign experts (some quite thoughtful and incisive, some blithering idiots, you know, like all news commentary) have comments by foreigners, discussions on LinkedIn groups are populated by foreigners. If you like a Taiwanese activist Facebook page or log into a BBS, however, you are likely to be the only foreigner there.

Side note: with the BBSs, that's not just a cultural or linguistic barrier - BBSs are kind of an outdated technology that most foreigners wouldn't even think to access, nor do they have the programs capable of doing so.

This isn't healthy - more for the foreign commentariat than the Taiwanese. When your voice goes out and the only voices that come back are other people like you - other non-Taiwanese interested in Taiwanese affairs, generally (but not always) from affluent Western countries - rather than the voices of the people you are talking about, then you can't get a full understanding. It puts you in a bubble. It may cause you to think that your voice is as important, if not more so, than the public discourse of the citizens of this country. It may cause you to think the public is generally on your side - or not - and that the commentariat have reached a consensus when, in fact, the Taiwanese engaged in public discourse may deeply disagree.

It also feels like it has something of a racial component to it. Educated white guy writing from his nice apartment in a big city? You get to be in the New York Times! The Washington Post! The Guardian! The Whatever Whoozit Times Post! Educated Taiwanese dissident with equally valid views but imperfect English? Shoosh. It sucks. It's a whole new arena for white privilege, full of white people who don't even realize they're privileged. (To be fair, some of these educated white guys are pretty thoughtful, and I do at times enjoy reading the better-thought-out pieces. I don't mean this as an attack on some fantastic voices like Frozen Garlic and J. Michael Cole among others).

With these new protests, however, this seems to be changing. Part of it is that the activists out there fighting for democracy and due process seem to have lost the old, stereotypical "shyness" about speaking out in English - yes, that's a thing, mostly out of fear of having one's grammar or vocabulary be wrong or embarrassing - and are blowing up Facebook, CNN iReport and various other media outlets with their views, in their voices. The Taiwan-based LinkedIn groups I subscribe to all seem to have more local commenters. Some of their voices are knowledgeable, some are in the middle, and some are idiots (again, normal public discourse).

And I love it. LOVE IT. When nobody wants to give you the international media spotlight, commandeering it through the million tiny lights of Facebook posts and online comments? AWESOME. Talking openly about your country and what you want for it, in a second language, on the international stage instead of arguing in a BBS? GREAT. This is what we need. These are voices that matter. Or at least, the voices that matter that until very recently, in the intermational media, hadn't been heard.

Look at these violent protesters being violent

Wow, such violent protesters, talking about how revolution is their duty. So violent. photo 1900401_10152342228691202_1665541672_o.jpg

Wow, such violent protesters, talking about how revolution is their duty. So violent.

Not my style of sign but I appreciate telling Ma Ying-jiu to call 1-800-GO-FUCK-YOURSELF...hee hee photo 10012014_10152342228736202_2119223566_o.jpg

Not my style of sign but I appreciate telling Ma Ying-jiu to call 1-800-GO-FUCK-YOURSELF...hee hee

THE VIOLENCE! Such violent dangerous agitators...sitting! And talking! VIOLENCE! photo 1978420_10152342228751202_2008571705_o.jpg

THE VIOLENCE! Such violent dangerous agitators...sitting! And talking! VIOLENCE!

 photo 1939727_10152342228876202_220243782_o.jpg

I know I look a bit drunk...but this is the best photo of my little sign that there is.

Violent protesters being violent by wearing stickers photo 1780040_10152342228941202_780236220_o.jpg

Violent protesters being violent by wearing stickers

it's so violent for student activists to create and maintain walkways so people can go back and forth while supporting their cause. photo 1781602_10152342229021202_1287319058_o.jpg

It's so violent for student activists to create and maintain walkways so people can go back and forth while supporting their cause.

Violent, agitating elements doing aggressive anti-government anarchist things like talking and discussing the issues of the day. This must be stopped. photo 1655360_10152342229121202_1757580835_o.jpg

Violent, agitating elements doing aggressive anti-government anarchist things like talking and discussing the issues of the day. This must be stopped.

THOSE VIOLENT PROTESTERS GAVE ME VIOLENT CHOCOLATE photo 1495961_10152342229116202_1807626861_o.jpg


So dangerous. Really I just feared for my life what with all the sitting and laughing and sticker-wearing. photo 1606209_10152342229321202_1199974452_o.jpg

So dangerous. Really I just feared for my life what with all the sitting and laughing and sticker-wearing.

 photo 10003720_10152342229446202_1146908818_o.jpg

Ma Ying-jiu's last name means "horse" in Chinese, and he recently said something dumb about deer antlers being the hair inside a deer's ear...I don't really get this at all but this is a way to make fun of what an idiot he is. photo 1504346_10152342229491202_1743135531_o.jpg

Ma Ying-jiu's last name means "horse" in Chinese, and he recently said something dumb about deer antlers being the hair inside a deer's ear...I don't really get this at all but this is a way to make fun of what an idiot he is.

VIOLENT protesters telling people to please keep walking ahead...VIOLENTLY photo 10001071_10152342229561202_366299874_o.jpg

VIOLENT protesters telling people to please keep walking ahead...VIOLENTLY. Remember, violent protesters always say "please".

OH THE VIOLENCE FROM THESE DANGEROUS ELEMENTS photo 1980150_10152342229671202_1962861388_o.jpg


Watch protesters on the news violently sitting, violently holding signs and violently letting newscasters report on the protest. photo 1795940_10152342229751202_1056298106_o.jpg

Watch protesters on the news violently sitting, violently holding signs and violently letting newscasters report on the protest.

 photo 1622389_10152342229776202_582623211_o.jpg

Protesters buying snacks at 7-11, many of which are meant to be passed out and shared with the crowd...VIOLENTLY photo 1890334_10152342229861202_2000784965_o.jpg

Protesters buying snacks at 7-11, many of which are meant to be passed out and shared with the crowd...VIOLENTLY

VIOLENTLY WAITING TO AGITATE IN THE BATHROOM! Watch these anarchists STAND IN LINE like the dangerous elements they are! photo 1911000_10152342229986202_1782043806_o.jpg

VIOLENTLY WAITING TO AGITATE IN THE BATHROOM! Watch these anarchists STAND IN LINE like the dangerous elements they are!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Something Something Something Protests

I feel like it would be appropriate to say something here about the protests going on right now - photos possibly coming later as I'm intending to go support the students tonight (with a friend - this is one time when I don't want to go to a protest alone, although it's supposedly quite peaceful).

First, I'm really happy that this happened. Not happy at the events that precipitated it, but that, when those events occurred, this, rather than passive melancholic acceptance, was the result. It shows that the younger generation considers themselves truly Taiwanese (not necessarily Chinese), that they have a strong love for their country and a political conscience with an activist streak - exactly what Taiwan needs in my opinion.

Second, the students seem to realize quite rightly that this is serious business. Marching up and down Ren'ai Road or holding signs up on Ketagalan Boulevard is all well and good and a way to release and express frustration with the political process, but considering how useless those protests have been (in part because those in power  - *cough* the KMT *cough* - don't listen and aren't accountable - and in part because the protesters themselves have kind of sucked at activist follow-up, most noticeably in the aftermath of the Hong Zhongqiu protests), it's kind of a child's game. But occupying the legislature - the most representative arm of your own democracy - that's no game. That's real. You don't storm the Legislative Yuan just because some KMT guy called some DPP woman a 'shrew' and she purposely misinterpreted it as 'skank' and slapped him (true story). You storm it because something is seriously fucking wrong with democracy and accountability in your country. You storm it because you rightly have realized that you have no other way of making your voice heard. And the students know it. This is no game. This is the people's truest voice. This is the song of angry men (and women).

Thirdly, I love how deftly the activists mobilized social media to make this happen in the face of an international media that doesn't care about Taiwan (they really don't, unless they're either being intellectually lazy "realists" or writing about hot springs) and a domestic media out to slander them (the pro-green channels and papers generally haven't, but haven't shown strong support either, with the possible exception of the Taipei Times which is an English language publication, but the pro-KMT news outlets, which is what most Taipei folks consume, has painted them in brushstrokes taken straight from the Chinese Communist Party playbook - hmm).

People talk about Twitter and Facebook mobilizing protests in Egypt and Iran, but the international media would have covered those anyway. They were important outlets to organize people, but those people didn't need to get the news out - they were immediately seen as newsworthy. Taiwan, on the other hand, has to fight for its news coverage, which is both deeply unfair and probably a result of a generally pro-China (or at least not-critical-enough-of-China) international media.

This is one of the first times I've heard of at least when the people making the news used social media not just to mobilize, but to get word out in the face of news coverage that is generally against - or apathetic to - them. They took the spotlight by lighting up Facebook, and they did it with both sincerity and media savvy. They wrote blog posts, status updates and CNN iReport stories without worrying that, using English as a second language, that they may contain language mistakes - notable because often people shy away from writing or saying too much out of a fear that their English isn't good enough. They got a widely-shared status update translated into several different languages asking for the world's support. I'm impressed.

Fourthly, this is the second consecutive protest across political boundaries in Taiwan (Hong Zhongqiu was the first) - and I hope that trend continues. While I'm quite open about supporting the generally pan-green side (although I would not call myself a full-on "DPP supporter") and opposing the pan-blue side, I do think partisan politics has got to come to an end in Taiwan, and now, over the past few years, it seems as though that may finally be possible in a way that is still impossible in the country of my birth (it's hard to say "let's stop this partisan bickering" when one party's line is basically an endless stream of bigotry - Taiwan has a lot of bad cards in its hand but it doesn't have that). I would dearly like to stop having to point my finger at the KMT, and I bet the people of Taiwan share that sentiment.

Finally, the whole thing has me thinking a lot about the spirit vs. the letter of the law. The students may have violated the letter of the law by occupying the legislature, but protests are a democratic right. What they did adheres beautifully to the spirit of democracy, which is the spirit of any laws passed under that democracy. At least a few others have already noted that without civil disobedience - again, which is a democratic right whether democratic governments want it to be or not - Taiwan wouldn't be a democracy now.

The politici - - I mean the KMT may have adhered (I guess) to the letter of the law (although I have my doubts about that, as I'm no legal scholar I'll let others sort through that mess) but they deeply violated the spirit of it.

Who's in the right? Well, I'm on the side of the spirit of the law. I don't have a lot of patience for bureaucratic, parochial, condescending nonsense.

All we can do now is wait and see what happens - or if you can, go support the students. I want to go just to be one of (hopefully) many foreign faces there to let the world know that the international community in Taiwan by and large supports them. And I want that to be loud and clear: to the students, activists and protesters: the international community in Taiwan supports you!

What I hope for the future is that there will be some follow-through on this. That they'll make something happen. That they'll win. That they'll at least get someone with the power to do something to actually do that thing. That they'll change the face of democracy in Taiwan into something more transparent and more accountable, and force the powers-that-be (*cough* the KMT *cough*) to undertake some serious, long-awaited and much needed reforms.

Some links regarding the protests:

Taiwan Explorer's Facebook page has a lot of good reading material linked to it
J. Michael Cole reports for The Diplomat
"Ridiculous Politics"
BuzzFeed was one of the first news outlets popular with Westerners that broke the story - it took CNN and BBC quite some time to catch up
Some great photos here
Students issue a statement - I wish they'd just printed the statement in its entirety
Is there a better way to voice your opinions than occupying the legislature? (Short answer: no. Long answer: Noooooooooooo).
The original CNN iReport on the protests (notable because it seems clear the protesters themselves wrote it - when they were initially denied the spotlight, they made their own light with the blink of a million social media posts)
Frozen Garlic is always good for this sort of thing
Damn media and their BS!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bago and Mt. Kyaiktiyo in Photos: Last Stop in Burma

 photo 1891562_10152272001406202_1140129018_o.jpg

For our last stop, we took an overnight bus down a winding, horrible road from Nyaungshwe to Bago - I was fine though, hopped up on Dramamine and no longer sick. The bus provided us with blankets in a horrifying pattern:

Not creepy at all. photo 1890653_10152272000706202_696704265_o.jpg


Otherwise there's not that much more to say about our trip to Burma, so this post will be mostly photos.

 photo 1956880_10152272001036202_1241531060_o.jpg

She looks rather bored for someone sitting so close to a huge Burmese python. photo 1891616_10152272001066202_488209123_o.jpg

 photo 1614143_10152272001111202_1816066617_o.jpg

 photo 1900289_10152272001381202_253764705_o.jpg

 photo 1795959_10152272001391202_1399112728_o.jpg

 photo 1957868_10152272001741202_1285033432_o.jpg

 photo 1655233_10152272001721202_186642737_o.jpg

 photo 1956891_10152272001711202_1076709586_o.jpg

 photo 1956810_10152272001866202_445831746_o.jpg

 photo 1939520_10152272002021202_513667502_o.jpg

I'd quite like to know what this says about the USA. photo 1421083_10152272002121202_657243044_o.jpg

Locked-up Buddha photo 1599822_10152272002156202_383584819_o.jpg

That's some manicure. photo 1614246_10152272002191202_1131392724_o.jpg

Seems great until you contemplate why extra life insurance should be necessary. photo 1913468_10152272002366202_666032167_o.jpg

 photo 1957848_10152272002431202_2040508217_o.jpg

 photo 1617970_10152272002466202_936928965_o.jpg

 photo 1891523_10152272002636202_442951108_o.jpg

 photo 1655349_10152272002651202_2130150362_o.jpg

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Updated Post: Atmospheric Coffeeshops in Taipei

Here you go - enjoy!

Added: a new address for Zabu, Yaboo Cafe, Cafe Prague, Flying Cafe/Cafe Classic, and Anhe 65.

There are a few more I want to add - each one in a temple. The one in the Confucius Temple has re-opened, and there's one you can visit in a temple near Wufenpu Fashion Market. Finally, Dihua Street has had a few coffeeshops open ever since the area's renovation. I can only hope art venues, good restaurants and cafes will take over the new spaces before the "same old same old" souvenir stores can get there.

But I don't have full information on those yet, so that'll have to be another update.

Here Is Some Sexist Bullshit For You

So I take a lot of taxis. Some of these taxis are nicer than others - on any given day, I might get Old Chen's taxi, which has one chair hanging at an odd angle on rusty hinges, has so many amulets and charms hanging off the rearview mirror that I'm surprised they don't all swing forward in one aggregate whoosh to crack the windshield when he stops too hard, his ID card photo was taken in the 70s and he's totally got Han Solo Hair, I can practice my Taiwanese listening skills by paying attention to some radio show where someone is yet again saying that Ma Ying-jiu sucks (I agree with these people, by the way, he does suck, it's just that that's all they ever talk about), and the whole taxi smells like the darkest recesses of Old Chen's armpit.

On any other given day, I might get into Little Luo's taxi (Little Luo being six feet tall), which smells pleasantly of synthetic vanilla and has some stargazer lilies up front, and his taxi has a little TV embedded into the back passenger's seat. The passenger can then watch, at low volume, models skulking down catwalks wearing hideous outfits, a commercial for something having to do with penises (I don't know if it's health related or just phalloplasty, but it includes a pun on the Chinese word for "blue bird", which in Taiwanese means, well, "johnson". Package. Junior. Eggs&Sausage. It's definitely got to do with schlongs or something), repeated entreaties to touch a Happy Face, Neutral Face or Angry Face to thereby rate your driver, commercials for blenders that blend whole fish, commercials for fitness "exercise machines" that don't work (a hula hoop that you hold in place while you sway your body? And it looks totally dirty when you do, especially when the camera pans over women doing that motion? No thanks) and commercials for HTC that involve some pop star I've never heard of.

And then there's this one commercial that makes me want to go all OH NO HULK ANGRY HULK SMASH!!

I can't find a video online of the commercial in question (because I don't know the name of the product), nor have I had the chance to take a video of it myself, but I've got my camera at the ready now every time I hop into a taxi with one of those annoying TVs at the back.

But, basically, it goes like this.

Attractive woman has adorkable boyfriend. Woman is at work and has her head cradled in her hands. She then finishes work (while the sun is still up so you know it's not Taiwan) but having her head in her hands has - oh noes! - caused temporary reddish indentations in her face. Quel horreur! Adorkable Boyfriend looks at her and his expression changes from adoration to disgust. Ewwww, what's wrong with your skin? Rather than doing the sensible thing and punching him in the face, she looks ashamed for some reason.

Then she's at work again, or surfing the Internet (same thing, really, at least it was for me), and she's wearing a scarf or something. The scarf leaves more creases on her neck. Or maybe she's just Creaseface McWeirdo. I dunno. She's all excited for her sweet date with Adorkable Boyfriend! Yay! She can't wait!

So she goes out to meet him, and his big adorkable nose crinkles up. Ew! Your face again! What's wrong with you, having human skin that reacts when stuff touches it? Rather than doing the sensible thing and punching him in the taint, she looks like she's going to cry.

But then - oh good! - she gets some makeup! So she can cover her terrible imperfections and look perfect for her Adorkable Boyfriend, because of course how could he possibly love her when EW GROSS HER SKIN HAS TEMPORARY CREASES FROM TOUCHING FABRIC THAT WILL TOTALLY GO AWAY IN FIVE MINUTES? Even if her problem weren't so transient in nature - perhaps a weeklong zit, or - heaven forfend! - a birthmark - Adorkable Boyfriend simply cannot be physically attracted to a woman whose skin isn't rendered so flawless by makeup that it glitters slightly.

So ladies. I SAID LADIES. Your job is to be physically perfect in every way for your Adorkable Boyfriend (he can be imperfect, that's OK, the looks that matter are yours, he's probably got something else going for him, like he's smart or earns money or something) or HE WON'T LIKE YOU. This is your job, ladies. Take it seriously. And if he crinkles up his nose at you because you have a crease imprint on your skin? That's your fault and don't you forget it!

And now that you feel terrible about yourself and really insecure that your boyfriend won't like your human skin, spend your money on this makeup! Look! A concealing foundation so you can hide yourself!

This girl used it, and now her skin is perfect and glittery and Adorkable Boyfriend is gazing at her adoringly! BUY IT NOW.



I realize that makeup commercials are of a kind, and that a lot of advertising (especially advertising aimed at women) relies on making someone feel inferior or subpar before convincing them that their flaws can be healed if they buy this Shiny New Thing, but this particular commercial makes me so much angrier than the usual bullshit. At least other bullshit tries for a veneer of being about "empowering women (with makeup you can buy!)" or "maybe she's born with it" or "be a new sexy you with plumper eyelashes (because your current eyelashes are hideou - - I mean because you deserve to be sexy, it's all about what some guy thinks of yo - - I mean GIRL POWER!)".

But this commercial is really the worst - it just goes straight for the jugular of insecurity. It doesn't even put up a pretense of "this is for you, to look your best" or "our product is really high quality" - it dives right into "if your skin is imperfect in any way, your boyfriend will gasp in horror at the sight of you!" It's straight-up telling women that it's their job to hide imperfections and look perfect for men (not for themselves - you never see this girl crinkling up her own nose in the mirror - it's so male gazey it physically hurts to watch), not men's job to understand that women are real human people and sometimes look imperfect, and that they're just going to have to deal with that fact or be very, very lonely.

And it's struck a chord with me, and made me think about how I could complain about sexism in Taiwan after seeing this steaming heap of crap on taxi TV (seriously, bring back HTC pop singer guy or something, or the penis guy in his shiny blue suit whistling his bluebird song), but really, I can't.

I can only think that this is still a problem worldwide. Back in the USA I still see similar commercials. In any given country - including Taiwan, which is otherwise not a bad place in Asia to live if you're female, compared to the rest of Asia anyway - and any given culture, it's still seen as women's responsibility to look good, and those they're expected to look good for are the other half of the population, not themselves. I could imagine seeing such a commercial on TV in the USA. Even though I know that there is a greater pressure on women in Taiwan to take care of their appearance, or a greater feeling of responsibility for maintaining their looks.

Complaining about it - even directly to the sexist marketing folks who scripted this utter tripe - isn't going to do much. I can only hope that I'm not the only person annoyed by this fistful of garbage, and that prospective customers just don't buy the product in question.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Nyaungshwe, Kakku and Inle Lake in Photos

NO LADIES!! photo 1781092_10152271997516202_153456581_o.jpg

This is one thing that really bugged me about Burma, and which bugs me about religion in general. There's this idea that men are closer to Nirvana than women in Burmese-style Buddhism (which I believe is of the Theravada school? But don't ask me) and so there are temples and shrines that men may enter but women may not, or that men may get closer to, and women have to stay back from.

I know, I should be openminded and whatever, but no. I call BS. I don't really care if someone's religion says that women are somehow less than men, it doesn't mean that belief is any less sexist. It just means that religion's creed includes teachings that are sexist. The veneer of religion doesn't make it any more acceptable, or any less bigoted/misogynist.

Plus, hey man. Pretty sure Buddha himself never said anything about women being lower on the rung of reincarnated beings than men, and plenty of Buddhist deities are either androgynous and sometimes depicted as women - like Guanyin - or, and I'm pretty sure I'm right about this - are all-out female.

Kind of like, in the USA, when people use "Christianity" to claim that women shouldn't do whatever thing, or they should act a certain way, or they should submit themselves to men, or that they can't be leaders, or that they can't have control of their own bodies and healthcare. Uh huh, no. First, just because you claim your religion says as much doesn't make it not sexist - it's just that your religion has sexist teachings and so your belief in those teachings is also sexist. And second, the Bible says all sorts of things, but Jesus himself never said any such thing, so I call bullshit on that idea anyway.

So I guess we can mark Burmese Buddhism as yet another religion I am not interested in participating in, because I won't participate in religions with sexist teachings or rules. That and the whole not believing there is a higher power thing, too.

Phew. Anyway.

 photo 1421032_10152271917736202_831358170_o.jpg

At Inle Lake, the cost of accommodation on the lake is currently stratospheric - and being the high season, isn't negotiable. So we stayed in the pretty little tourist ghetto of Nyaungshwe. It wasn't bad - lots of amenities and tourist infrastructure, had its own interesting things to see, lots of food choices which was great given the state of my digestive system - but don't think for a second that Nyaungshwe is indicative of what Burma, generally, is like. Far from it. And after a couple of days I was sick of it and really couldn't wait to get out.

 photo 1655558_10152271917921202_960936685_o.jpg

On our first day there, we arrived via the dreaded night bus. I got sick on the night bus - not motion sickness, although the winding mountain roads certainly didn't help. It was something else, that had me puking for half the night - yes, into bags, which I then had to deal with until the bus stopped and I could throw them away - and left me with a mild fever the next morning. Unfortunately, we had another 4am arrival which involved another overpriced taxi ride into town (I think they do this on purpose) but I was sick and not in a position to argue.

You pay your admission into the Inle Lake tourism zone here - $10 US dollars which goes straight to the military junta (YAY.) and they collect it from you in the most annoying way possible - kids with tickets accost you when you get off the bus at 4am insisting you hand them $10 or the equivalent in Burmese kyat, at 4am when you're disoriented, cold, also accosted by taxi drivers and have barely slept or just been shaken awake (take your pick). You might almost be convinced the whole thing is a scam and no such fee exists, because it's collected in the shadiest, least reputable way possible, but it is, in fact, a real thing.

 photo 1614311_10152271917981202_1843040689_o.jpg

Our hotel had no beds for that "night" - they seemed surprised that we didn't want to walk around a deserted, freezing, unfamiliar town at 4am while I had a mild fever (huh! ya think?) and that we'd rather find another hotel for a few hours or curl up in the lobby somewhere. The owner finally kindly pointed us to a nearby hotel that did have a quick room we could check into for a few hours. I slept off my fever, choked down the free breakfast - not that it was bad, I was just sick - and slept again until it was check out time, at which point we trudged back to the hotel we'd reserved. We met a friendly couple named Dick and Florence and arranged to share a boat with them for a lake tour the next day.

At about 3pm I finally felt like I was able to walk - slowly - around town, so we checked out a few temples, stupas, a local soccer game between kids' teams, walked past some souvenir shops and travel agencies, and then I managed to very slowly eat a plate of gnocchi in tomato sauce and a can of soda water.

 photo 1622336_10152271918326202_272918359_o.jpg

That stayed down (yay!) so we walked some more until sunset, when I took photos of the temples and stupas in silhouette (above).

After another rest - lots of resting that day - we walked down to Green Chili, a touristy Thai restaurant which was breezy, with large open windows and verandahs, and beautifully decorated in marble, shell, rattan and teak. It was very Southeast Asian Contemporary Chic. I got a nice bland plate of pad thai and something fizzy to settle my stomach.

One thing that bugged me was that at places like this in other countries - Thailand, India, China, Guatemala even - you'd see upscale or even mid-range tourists (and Brendan and I are solidly mid-range now, our roving backpacker budget days are over) at such places, but you'd also see well-to-do locals there, or young modern couples on dates, too. Cafe Mondegar in Mumbai gets as many local visitors as it does foreign ones. The very nice traditional Malayali homestay we booked in Kerala had young, well-heeled local couples staying there too. Guatemala Antigua's best restaurants have local clients. Some of the nicer places I went to in Bangkok were just as full of well-to-to Thais. Nicer restaurants and shops in Shanghai had wealthy locals sampling their wares. In Burma that simply was not the case. Although there are some very wealthy Burmese (most of them have questionable relationships with higher-ups in the military), generally speaking the upscale touristy places only had foreign patrons, and never had any local ones.

And that says a lot about the local economy and standard of living.

On the other hand, while these nicer places exist solely for tourists - locals clearly just can't afford them - they do provide employment that would not otherwise be available if they did not exist. At Green Chili, for instance, while I am certain none of the staff could actually afford to eat at the place where they worked, they all looked put-together, well-fed and rested. They had incomes. They might not have that if Green Chili didn't exist.

 photo 1890426_10152271996686202_749198287_o.jpg

The next day we boarded a boat for Inle Lake. Fishermen with "traditional" nets and boats hang out where the Nyaungshwe canal meets the lake, posing for you and soliciting tips in return. Hardly the rural, idyllic, traditional community you might expect (or that the photos imply) but on the other hand, locals do deserve to gain from the tourists visiting their lands.

 photo 1939937_10152271996691202_1205933891_o.jpg

 photo 1540399_10152271996651202_738104345_o.jpg

 photo 1149465_10152271996726202_291732097_o.jpg

We went to Nampan Market, which was great once we ran the gauntlet of souvenir shops - the back end of the market where locals shop was interesting. To get there we had to not only climb out of our boat but also clamor over other people's boats.

 photo 1932584_10152271996776202_1985600268_o.jpg

And at the souvenir stands, you can see all manner of fake crap. Or maybe this is real, and it doesn't matter that it says "Five Dollars" in Chinese but "One Dollar" in English! :)

Somehow I don't think this coin is real. Call me crazy... photo 1547991_10152271996851202_582522248_o.jpg

Although some of the souvenir stall crap was actually very pretty, I was not in the mood to bargain for its true worth (because you know they'd insist it was real silver and therefore worth tens of dollars, when in fact it's plated nickel and worth maybe $2) and, honestly, can make most of that beaded stuff myself anyway.

 photo 1957952_10152271996911202_526503765_o.jpg

 photo 1498760_10152271997016202_379827688_o.jpg

 photo 1795287_10152271997056202_688703603_o.jpg

We also got taken around to all the local "factories" that showcase traditional industries. I have to wonder how traditional these workshops are, or even how traditional the goods are - I'm sure they're locally traditional to somewhere, but I'm not convinced they're all local to Inle Lake. But the weaving "workshop" was nice enough, and I got a pretty peacock blue silk scarf for a good price (real silk as far as I can tell, but I'm pretty good at telling).

 photo 1888910_10152271997216202_1744055224_o.jpg

 photo 1654796_10152271997226202_1728432821_o.jpg

 photo 1890413_10152271997246202_538218129_o.jpg

We also went to Inthein, where we saw more stupas (I was getting a little sick of stupas and Buddhas to be honest) and the Jumping Cat Monastery where the cats no longer jump - differing accounts say the monks got sick of the tourists encroaching on their eating and prayer time, or that the original cat trainer died. But it was pretty nonetheless.

 photo 1655727_10152271997726202_1953099392_o.jpg

 photo 1801247_10152271997776202_1602280407_o.jpg

 photo 1957853_10152271997956202_351902062_o.jpg

 photo 1907868_10152271998031202_1007576927_o.jpg

 photo 1655039_10152271998101202_1145928528_o.jpg

 photo 1614475_10152271998131202_912207045_o.jpg

Also - "Surprise!" brand men's boxers.

I wonder what the "surprise" is. it is a size large, after all.


"Surprise" Brand men's boxers....I wonder what the surprise could be. photo 1559519_10152271998201202_1166436507_o.jpg

We boated through the floating gardens as the sun set, which was lovely...

 photo 1622546_10152271998376202_103624099_o.jpg

 photo 1655510_10152271998586202_2050627469_o.jpg

...and headed back into town.

The next day we hired a taxi to Kakku, an area with yet more stupas, with the idea that we'd go to the Taunggyi wet market and stop at a few Pa'O villages (Pa'O being a local ethnic minority) on the way.

And we did do that, and it was nice, but Kakku is basically more stupas, and the villages are basically more villages.

 photo 1899609_10152271998711202_2069835898_o.jpg

 photo 1801310_10152271998846202_67621806_o.jpg

Honestly speaking, I was starting to tire of villages because, while they're nice to visit when people are welcoming or you have a reason to be there, after awhile I felt like we just didn't have a reason to be there. I felt like an intruder, an encroacher. Like I was wasting people's time. During the day they tend to be empty anyway, as most households are out tending their farmland. Although nobody was ever unfriendly - in fact, most were curious and thought it was a riot that we were there - I did, after awhile, feel like I was just some rando who was all "hey can I check out your living room?" or taking a photo of a guy with a plow and a bull, like "I'm gonna take a picture of you working!"

And I felt like, how would it be if a bunch of tourists from some other country got on a tour bus and stopped in the "village" of my hometown in upstate New York. And some of them hired a taxi to rove around the country roads, and decided my parents' house was picturesque, and knocked on the door and were all "hey we're just visiting, can we walk around your yard and take some photos! It's so lovely and traditional and picturesque!" and then wanted to take a picture of my mom on her computer in the living room doing her job. Maybe they could go to my dad's office and take a picture of him talking to his boss.

 photo 1614320_10152271998896202_1134117543_o.jpg

So even though we had a Pa'O guide, who was welcome in basically any Pa'O home, and it was totally not a big deal, I did start to feel like exploring local villages was getting a bit...silly. Although Grandma here seemed to enjoy having her photo taken. She posed very seriously.

 photo 1614497_10152271999031202_1098553897_o.jpg

And to go to Kakku, you have to have a Pa'O guide. You don't actually need one to get the point of the place - a bunch of ancient stupas in the countryside - but you won't be allowed to go without one, because the stupas are on Pa'O land. I don't mind that at all - if you've got a popular cultural relic on your land, your people deserve to benefit from that and from those who'd like to see it (only foreigners need the guide: it's free for Pa'O and non-Pa'O Burmese alike). And while I suppose you could choose not to eat lunch, if you do eat at Kakku your only choice really is a Pa'O restaurant (run by Pa'O - it's not Pa'O food. In fact most of it is "Chinese style" food) that, while good, is a bit overpriced. Otherwise there's nothing for miles around and only a string of teahouses that don't appear to serve food nearby.

 photo 1912551_10152271999171202_1308968708_o.jpg

 photo 1912184_10152271999221202_2125169575_o.jpg

But our Pa'O guide was a nice kid who had a locally-bound "copy" of Headway Upper Intermediate in his bag and was excited to practice his English, and we enjoyed hanging out with him.

 photo 1795288_10152271999286202_1141705963_o.jpg

 photo 1795941_10152271999336202_253377888_o.jpg

Finally, we hired the driver who took us out there to take us to the two local vineyards - yes, Myanmar has at least two vineyards: Aythaya and Red Mountain.

All but one of the whites from these two vineyards were excellent (Red Mountain's blanc was far too sweet). I didn't really the red that Red Mountain served in their wine tasting, but Aythaya's red, though not earth-shattering, was good. We brought back a bottle of Aythaya red and Red Mountain white.

 photo 1780059_10152271999371202_1579796902_o.jpg

 photo 1658421_10152271999481202_360281115_o.jpg

 photo 1796837_10152271999611202_1605066391_o.jpg

 photo 1614372_10152271999856202_1508203142_o.jpg

 photo 1889045_10152271999871202_990814591_o.jpg

 photo 1798921_10152272000096202_266563949_o.jpg

 photo 1909281_10152272000051202_893011231_o.jpg

 photo 1553248_10152272000301202_1036502942_o.jpg

 photo 1956899_10152272000321202_997185152_o.jpg

In the end, Nyaungshwe was nice. Inle Lake was nice. Kakku was nice. I'm happy I went. But after a few days the touristiness was really starting to annoy me, and I wanted out. I needed out. Like a cat behind any closed door, I was desperate to get out.

Not because I think I'm "better" than other tourists. Not because I think my presence in a place is better than some other tourist's presence there, or that if I'm there it's "authentic" but if a tour group is there it's not.

More that lots of tourists in one place would be fine, if that place retained its own local culture. And some places do. New York manages to continue to be New York despite the tourists. Bangkok is the same way if you avoid Khao San Road (and I do!). Large cities can absorb large numbers of visitors, I guess.

But often, what you get instead is this international, homogenized, detached-from-local-reality "traveler's culture" that is basically the same in most of these spots. Nyaungshwe really wasn't any different from, say, Ayuthaya (Thailand), or Bukittinggi (Indonesia), or Yangshuo or Dali (China), or El Nido (the Philippines), or Hikkaduwa (Sri Lanka) or the various towns along the coast in Goa (India)...or how I imagine places like Manali, Rishikesh, Bali Island, Angkor Wat etc. are, although I haven't been to those places.

They're really not much different from each other, these places, although they once were quite unique indeed. Now it's all the same stuff - souvenir stands (sometimes selling the same souvenirs! I once saw a batik on the wall of a friend of a friend's house, which she bought in Thailand - exact same batik as the one I bought in Dali. As a joke I once bought Brendan a preposterously fierce-looking carved wooden mask at some shop near Lake Taal, and saw the same one for sale in Sri Lanka), "Italian" food (banana pancakes are passe, now it's all about Italian food for travelers in Asian countries), well-appointed Thai restaurants, travel agencies.

And if you've seen one traveler's ghetto, you've seen 'em all, so I was ready to move on. Not because I think I'm better than other travelers - my presence contributes to these places and their atmosphere after all - but because I didn't feel like I was getting anything new out of the experience at that point.

One major reason why I kind of hope tourism to Taiwan never fully takes off. Sure, I'd like to see something kickstart the economy, but I'm not sure it's worth the cost of homogenizing Taiwan. I'd hate to see this country dotted with these same-same-not-even-different traveler's ghettoes.

 photo 1891327_10152272000451202_1972926172_o.jpg

 photo 1780221_10152272000696202_1418243410_o.jpg

Then we booked bus tickets to Bago, where we'd stop for a rest before continuing on to Kinpun, the "base camp" for the Golden Rock up on Mt. Kyaiktiyo. We were happy that the bus would leave at 2pm and arrive around midnight - that's more like our regular sleeping schedule and it suited us just fine to get in late and then sleep through the night before heading on to Kinpun, three hours south.

And then, the guy booking the tickets called up the bus company, talked to them about the schedule, put down the phone and said "today is your lucky day!"

I thought - great! The bus is a day bus, it leaves earlier and we don't have to take another freakin' night bus! 

"The bus schedule has changed."


"Now the bus leaves at 7pm and gets in at 5am, instead of leaving at 2pm. Isn't that great?"


The poor cherub looked embarrassed when he saw my crestfallen face. I tried to be polite - "actually I hate night buses. I can't sleep on them at all."

Sadly, it was the only bus available and we had to take it. I wasn't sick anymore, so at least I could count on my buddy Dramamine to get me through it. So I girded my guts and got on the bus, and once again got no sleep at all until we arrived.

But this time we were smart and pre-booked a hotel for the night we were going to be on the bus, so when we got in at 5am we could immediately collapse into bed and wake up whenever we darn well felt like it (before noon, anyway).