Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Running for office wearing a "fuck the government" t-shirt? I'll vote for you.

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It's a little hard to see in this photo, but I got these free tissues the other day advertising the candidacy of Ouyang Ruilian (歐陽瑞蓮) for city council, and she's totally wearing a black Sunflower-protest inspired "FUCK THE GOVERNMENT" t-shirt (if I remember correctly the Chinese on the t-shirts was not as in-your face as the English). Anyone who has the balls to run for a seat in the government while wearing a "fuck the government" t-shirt basically has my vote. I like a little cynicism in my candidates.

Or at least, would have my vote if I could vote. Probably. If I actually could vote I might first make sure she stood for the initiatives and policies I support. They're right there on the back of the tissues. She's against ECFA, she's against using school curricula to "brainwash" (her words) students (if you haven't heard about the uproar over changing the national educational curriculum to imply that Taiwan has more historic links to China and fewer to Japan than it actually does, you should look into it). She's broadly aligned with "the youth". So far I like her.

Either way I'd like to see pretty much any party that is not pan-blue aligned get more representation in Taipei and Taiwan generally, so I'd probably vote for her anyway.

Not that she's going to get that many votes. City councilmembers don't need many and  more than one can be elected per region, so who knows? She may be in.

The front of the ad is just as good:

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Two things I love about this:

1.) She's going for a very specific demographic - the Sunflower-supporting kids and grandkids of old dark-blue 'waishengren' (Nationalists who came to Taiwan from China in '49). You can tell by the t-shirt on the other side coupled with the photo of her at a protest, along with the "我是外省二代/支持台灣獨立": "I'm second-generation waishengren/I support Taiwan independence". There's no way any of the older folks in Da'an and Wenshan would vote for her - they regularly tug the lever for the KMT, who seem to consider it a failure if one of their candidates in this part of the city gets less than 60% of the vote. But their kids...hmm. Their kids just might, especially given events earlier this year. She's aiming to be the voice of the children of the old KMT guard who think their parents' and grandparents' politics are crusty and outdated. (Sort of like how one of my grandmas likes to say 'we are a CONSERVATIVE FAMILY' and yet you will never catch me voting for a modern-day Republican).

2.) I love that she's dressed this way too. It shows how different Taiwanese and American political discourse is. When Tsai Ying-wen was on the campaign trail we got this (scroll down), where she's backed by a pink billboard and hearts. Not to mention two candidates in that post who posed with adorable animals, including a fluffy dog in a baby stroller. The Taiwan equivalent of kissing babies?

Anyway, I couldn't imagine a female candidate, especially a younger one, wearing this in an ad or on the trail. She'd be laughed at as 'not serious' or have all sorts of sexist jokes ("Candidate Barbie!") lobbed at her. Both parties get it in the USA - Sarah Palin deserved to get made fun of for being a total freakin' idiot, but instead we all analyzed her clothes for some reason. And with Hillary it just won't stop. If she dresses too manly, she's 'not a real woman' and if she dresses too womanly, she's 'not serious'. Nevermind the problems inherent in assuming that 'womanly' = 'not serious' and that the default is 'manly' for anything anyone takes seriously or, ahem, pays a fair salary for.

In Taiwan, you can wear a pink jacket and frilly blouse, and while you may not get a lot of votes because you're a TSU candidate in two districts that are a perennial lock-up for the KMT, you won't lose those votes because you dared to wear pink, or ruffles.

In that way, I fear more for the future of the USA vis-a-vis women's rights than Taiwan. In Taiwan you can wear frilly pink clothes and win an election (it doesn't hurt to have a bobblehead cartoon of yourself giving a peace sign while you hold an adorable kitten, either). In the USA, I'm not convinced you could.

That said, in other news, this:

Jesus Christ.

I have nothing more to say about it.

And just when I was feeling pretty good about the gender gap in Taiwan...dammit.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Queens of Kingston

I figure I'll say this now, so I won't have to worry about it later.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about choosing to stay abroad, as an expat with an established life, despite my mother's battle with cancer (endometrial that, despite a hysterectomy, spread to her lung over a decade later). I can't find that post now, but when I do, I'll link it. With a prognosis of "we have many treatments and it could be several years", it made sense to stay, and to prioritize visiting at least once a year, if not always at the same time of year.

Well, that's changed. The treatments were all successful - for a time. She had proton therapy, and it took care of the cancer in her lung. She felt great. We all were high with hope that she'd be around for another decade or more.

But it came back - this time in her lymphatic system. All treatments with a hope of remission have been exhausted, now there's only palliative/stabilizing treatment. Is there an outside chance it could truly stabilize? Sure. Is it likely? Well...

Anyway the prognosis is "about a year" - maybe a little more, maybe a little...less.

So, I've made the choice to move home. Not permanently, but still, I'm going to have to find work etc. and get used to life in the Hudson Valley. I'll probably end up working in Poughkeepsie, Kingston, White Plains...who knows. I'm going to leave just before Christmas.

At least, everyone else seems to think it's a choice. I have a husband, a career, an apartment and two cats in Taipei: I suppose theoretically I could have made the decision to stay and just visit. But I don't see how that's a viable option - moving home is the best of a raft of choices made under terrible circumstances.

Brendan will stay in Taipei and look after the apartment and cats - he'll probably get a roommate for our lovely, but tiny (and yet surprisingly outfitted with storage) guest room to help with rent. So, uh, if you know someone who needs a furnished room, especially if they don't want to stay very long term but are here to study Chinese or something, send 'em our way.

I'll be back...whenever I'm back. Between the cats, the apartment and the double unemployment, I don't see how we can both make the move right now, when we intend to continue our life in Taipei. We'll try to figure out a way for him to visit a few times, although it's going to be hard, as we're basically draining our savings to send me home, right at a very inopportune time. Well. We started from scratch after Turkey (we needed to take that trip - not only for my lifelong dream of going to my ancestral homeland on Musa Dagh but also to get our CELTA certificates). We can do it again. If there is one thing we are both good at doing, it's finding and pressing the reset button.

My sister will also be moving home - who knows for how long.

So what about me? And, for the purposes of this post, what about any settled expat who finds themselves in this situation?

Well, I find it really helps to:

1.) Look at the one more-or-less good thing to come out of the whole nightmare. If you have more than one thing, great. For me, it's that rather than a hellish surprise, we have a "prognosis". What that prognosis is is a sign saying, "this is literally the worst thing ever, but you get to know in advance so you can spend time with your loved one". At least I have this year. A tragedy like a car accident is horrible in that you just don't know - you'll never know when you say goodbye if that's the last time you'll ever see that person. A prognosis means that you have the time to make a decision and to make the most of the time. I'd much rather that than a phone call in the middle of the night.

2.) Own your decision. I am not doing this for work, and I'm certainly not doing it for my marriage (although that is strong - very strong, probably one of the strongest ones you might come across. If there's one thing I have 110% faith in, it's that Brendan and I will be okay). I have to put my education on hold. My sister and I are doing this so that we can treat our mom like a queen for the next few months, and have family time we would not have otherwise gotten. Knowing that, when I say "own your decision", I really mean it. My job prospects are better in New York, where I could easily get a job in a language center. I wouldn't be any sort of New York elite but I could live on that. But what "own your decision" means isn't "decamp for New York City because the Hudson Valley has terrible job prospects for my qualifications, and I don't want to work in Kingston anyhow", but "I'm doing this for my mom, so I need to be near my mom". And that means the Hudson Valley if at all possible - not New York. That means living at home if I can. If I have to wait tables or scrub floors, I will (although it is a truly unfortunate restauranteur who hires me to wait tables - I'm a terrible waitress). You can't half-ass something like this. To quote the ever-quotable Simpsons, you've got to use your whole ass.

3.) Don't overthink it. It is not possible to "do the math" and think of an optimal time to come home, because that's not how prognoses work. You just have to pick a time and do it, and not think too much about the variables, because you can't predict them. You can't predict if it'll be 8 months or 2 years. You can't predict exactly what kind of work you're going to do or how you're going to get there (my biggest worry is transportation - I'm not a confident driver and we don't have an extra car anyhow. My sister is going to try to source one, and we're going to do our best to carpool). You can't know exactly how much money you'll need - you just have to do what you can and figure out what's possible from the options life hurls at you at any time. I'm lucky - I know my family will give me a roof over my head and food in my stomach, and that my sister and I will stick together through this - which mostly involves my making sure she is financially okay, and her making sure I have transportation as I'm not a confident driver. Not everyone is so lucky, but it really is about accepting a level of ambiguity in how the future will play out, and being ready to re-evaluate at any time from the options at hand.

4.) Don't expect much. This is an offshoot of "don't overthink it". Life hasn't handed you the option of finding a job you like near your family that will allow you to save money, until it does, if it does. It hasn't handed you a graduate school scholarship, nor has it handed you (okay, me) tuition for Delta Module 2 in New York. So it's unproductive to expect that those things will fall from the sky for you, or that you are entitled to them (if someone reading this is ever in my situation, you probably aren't that concerned about Delta Module 2, but I am). As above - if your priority is your loved one, then own that, and everything else can be compromised on.

So, what else?

Well, I will be back. Don't give up on my little blog just yet.

In order to keep some sense of normalcy until I go, I'll keep doing what I usually do, so you can expect updates here.

I'll occasionally blog while I am away, but it might be largely quiet. I do want to maintain some sort of connection to Taiwan.

And, does anyone know where I can confirm for absolute certain that I can leave Taiwan for up to 5 years without losing my APRC? It used to be 6 months. I need to know, as I may well be gone for more than 6 months (I would be heartbroken to be away from Brendan, but overjoyed at getting more time with my mom if so - with emotions like that, it's hard to feel anything other than numb).

Oh yeah, and:

5.) Know that you are making the right decision. If you're an expat with a terminally ill close family member or loved one, what would you regret more: spending the time you have with that person, creating lots of memories, or staying abroad, knowing you may only see them once more, if ever again? Most likely you'll regret the latter more than the former. You could make an argument for staying - I think a lot of people with families, even if they don't have children, might - but, hey, I don't know about you, but I know I'd regret not going.

Oh, hey, and if anyone knows of any good ESL teaching jobs in the Hudson Valley, send 'em my way.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Confucius Institute vs. British Council THROWDOWN

Some thoughts on the "I'm not defensive, YOU'RE DEFENSIVE! You don't understand our 5000 years of Chinese culture" reactions in this article: US Universities End Confucius Institutes, Chinese Reactions

1.) "You just don't understand Chinese culture" is a surefire sign that you're looking to guilt others into not pointing out your agenda. It's a sign of guilt, not a defense of innocence (in that way it's not so different from "I'm not racist, some of my best friends are ______"). 

2.) American movies may contain American cultural characteristics but that's not the same as purposefully crafted and disseminated propaganda. And it's stupid to imply that American cultural products never criticize or show America in a bad light.

3.) Sure, the BC and Alliance Francaise exist, but they don't disseminate Western cultural propaganda. You can tell the difference between "promoting culture" and "propaganda" this way: if a political party with an ideology is solely in charge of determining the content of such an institute's promotion, it's propaganda. If many different voices are heard from various parties in determining the content, it's probably not.

4.) "Harmony in diversity" MY ASS. Try telling the Tibetans that.

5.) Another way you can tell the difference between cultural promotion and propaganda is this: go to BC or wherever and ask them about unflattering/bad events in British history. The person you talk to will, while not openly denigrating Britain, will probably be honest with you about what happened and why it was wrong. Go to a Confucius Institute and ask a Chinese teacher about Taiwan or Falun Gong and see the stone-face you get.

6.) As a friend pointed out, Confucius Institutes exist within schools and universities, which are meant to be bastions of academic freedom - so when a government puts limits on what can be said in an entity within such a space, it's a big fat problem - it denigrates academic freedom to not be able to discuss certain topics. British Council and Alliance Francaise exist as independent institutions, and are not affiliated with schools and universities. That right there is a big problem. If the Chinese government wanted to open schools abroad in the same way, through legal means, and insisted that teachers hew to CCP propaganda within them, while Westerners would criticize that, they would be able to do so. If you didn't like it, you wouldn't have to take a class there. You could...enroll in a class at a local university! Whereas with Confucius Institutes in universities, often if you want to study Chinese, you have to go through them. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Why I Like Taxis in Taiwan

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Mr. Lin's Kung Fu Action Movie Pimp Taxi!

So, all I tend to hear from other expats is - the fact that taxis in Taiwan (at least in the cities) are cheap by Western standards, convenient and ubiquitous notwithstanding - mocking of taxi drivers, or a litany of complaints detailing why they dislike them. They play annoying music, they take routes that cost more money, they are terrible or unsafe drivers, they smell. Lucy even shot one for not speaking English!

From Taiwanese, I often just hear that a.) taxi drivers are often ex-convicts who couldn't get another job, or b.) you shouldn't trust them, especially if you're a lone woman, especially late at night. Or I hear from both that they are unsafe drivers.

Okay. They can be very unsafe drivers and sometimes the taxis have a bit of an unwashed-body twang to them. I'll give you that.

But I like them. I really do. Urban Taiwan is Urban Taiwan in part because of the taxis, which I use as a stopgap between not owning (and not wanting to own) my own transportation, and public transportation. If I need to go somewhere that would be far easier to get to in a car, I take a taxi. I treat it like my own on-call Zipcar-with-driver service.

To wit:
  • A part of why I like them is that it's one more way in which Taipei has freed me from having to drive, which I don't enjoy. I don't mind it in rural areas or on quiet suburban roads, but city driving, or even built-up suburb driving, drives me up a wall (pun intended). Open-access highways are the worst, but narrow city streets, many of which are one-way, with difficult-to-navigate "turn only" or "no it's the next turn, but now you're in this lane so you have to turn" roads, are only narrowly the second-worst, and massive highways full of passing cars and "quick get over a lane, our exit is coming" or "the on-ramp lane is about to end - merge! merge!" highways are just as bad. Basically if it involves driving around other drivers, I hate it. So taxis are automatically better than Zipcars because in one, I don't have to drive. So having my own on-call taxi service, that is, one I can actually afford (ever taken a taxi even in an urban area in the USA? There's a reason why locals generally don't and it involves their wallet) is one of the best things about Taipei life. 
  • They tend to be chatty, and I'm chatty. With a little effort you can get them off the usual "how long have you been in Taiwan? You speak such good Chinese. Where are you from?" track and onto more interesting topics. They tend to be pretty open with their opinions, too, so it's not hard generally to hear their opinions on sensitive issues, including political issues. They tend to lean a certain way politically so their opinions are not varied, but they are usually very entertainingly given. It's great for learning new ways to insult Ma Ying-jiu. I have had some fascinating conversations in taxis, and gotten good recommendations to boot.
  • You get some very interesting decorations. Taxi Chic that I love includes dashboards that have been turned into, basically, little temples with swinging amulets and idols and bronze Buddhas and occasionally actual incense, or the Pimp Taxi as above, or Nightclub Taxi with the purple LEDs along the floor, or Macrame Taxi with the wooden bead seat covers. And the best one of all - the time I took a taxi where the guy had covered the entire inside - I don't just mean the dashboard or something, I mean the inside doors, the backs of seats, the ceiling, everything - in the semi-transparent plastic tops from soft drink takeaway cups, which were layered over LEDs connected to a self-rigged power source (which couldn't have been safe...) that blinked in random patterns. The windows and other glass surfaces, except for ones he needed to see out of -  were decorated with carefully layered brown duct tape and clear packing tape in Mondrian-reminsicent geometrical art shapes. It was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
  • I can't speak for safety statistics overall, but I have never felt in danger from a taxi driver in Taiwan. Once, I left my purse (which had my passport in it as well as my wallet and other important items) in a taxi. Someone helped me call the broadcast station that would reach taxi drivers. By the next day, my purse was turned in to the police, and I could go down to the central station and pick it up. Everything was there, including the cash. Another time, Brendan left his phone in a taxi, the day before we were to leave for Shanghai and then the USA. We called him and he eventually was able to get back to us. Through a friend's help (as we were out of the country), the phone returned before we did. 
  • It is probably true that a high proportion of taxi drivers are ex-cons or other people who've been shafted by society. But, hey, they're working a job to earn money rather than resorting (or re-resorting) to petty crime to get by. Whatever they did before, what they are doing now is legit and they don't deserve to get made fun of for that.
  • I actually kind of like schmaltzy Taiwanese language pop from the mid-twentieth century. I don't listen to it at home or for fun (although 流浪到淡水 is on my playlist - I'm trying to learn it for KTV) but I enjoy it when it's around. I don't get a lot of exposure to Taiwanese - a language I am trying through slow osmosis to pick up, to some degree - in Taipei. So I'm grateful for what I do get.
So, come on, although I won't deny that they disobey traffic laws and their cars are fairly likely to smell (I've heard a lot are actually homeless and sleep in their taxis at night the way a lot of rickshaw drivers do in other countries), let's give Taiwanese taxi drivers a break. 

Anyway, I like 'em. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

You Know You've Lived in Taiwan Too Long When...

...from a dare issued by Taiwan Explorer to match or surpass this post (which are personal thoughts, no judgement here).


You know you've lived in Taiwan too long when...

1.) You think of mayonnaise as a normal salad dressing. The salad contains corn, peaches, raisins and shrimp.

2.) You go to a 7-11 in your home country in your PJs, buy a can of beer, open it and drink it in the store, then try to take a nap in the store after asking if they received the package your friend sent you, and you are shocked - SHOCKED! - when the police show up.

3.) You just do. not. even. when your friends in your home country tell you that "street soda" (eg. drinking a beer as you loiter on the street) is actually illegal. HOW CAN THEY LIVE IN SUCH A DICTATORSHIP.

4.) You take universal health insurance for granted.

5.) When thinking about local political candidates, before you can make a decision on who you support, you need to know what their bubble-head cartoon avatar looks like.

6.) You have an entire closetful of protest gear: a red shirt, a "Taiwan Independence!" flag, a 火大 towel, several headbands, a fake sunflower, a sticker that says "I don't need sex, because President Ma fucks me every day!"...

7.) You tried to improve your listening comprehension by watching the Taiwanese news, but first you realize that the video playing has nothing to do with what they're discussing and it's messing with your schemata. Also your local friends tell you not to bother.

8.) You never buy tissues because you get them for free.

9.) When visiting home: "what do you mean I can't get a massage? It's only 10pm! There's got to be a blind guy who's still giving massages!"

10.) You have at least one buxiban horror story...even if you never worked at a buxiban (friends' stories count). Did I tell you about the time my boss told my coworker that she shouldn't date the guy who works in the tea shop downstairs because "you have so many corporate clients - why get a stone when you can get a diamond?"

11.) You now understand that nightlife options include bars, nightclubs, shopping for cell phone covers, karaoke, 7-11 and shrimp fishing.

12.) "I'm sorry I can't come, my grandma wants to have dinner" is now an acceptable reason to cancel on someone 3 hours before an event.

13.) When you hear about a fight breaking out in the Legislative Yuan, you launch into a story about what happened the last time a fight broke out in the Legislative Yuan.

14.) You have done at least one thing you would never, ever tell your parents back home. Because I love you, I will tell you mine. We (not my idea, but I was in on it) hired a stripper for my sister for her birthday. We took her to a KTV and he came out dressed like a police officer (not in the uniform that it's illegal to wear but like a traffic cop jacket) and we were all "There's someone you need to talk to...it's the...POLICE!"

But don't tell our parents.

15.) You have taken at least one trip to the countryside, randomly met some locals, and they invited you along on some adventure and you went, and it was the coolest thing ever and one of your best memories, and you never even learned their given names, but you think of them as basically your most awesome friends.

16.) It would not shock you at all to take one of the following taxis:
- inside covered completely in traditional Chinese fabric
- so much religious stuff on the dashboard that he basically has his own portable temple
- two words: pet goat
- one armed driver
- guy who spends the entire ride with his hands off the wheel ranting about how much he hates the president
- guy who covered the entire inside of his taxi with the tops of to-go soft drink cups layered over hand-wired LED displays blinking softly through the plastic (I'm not making that up)

17.) You live in Taipei, and someone from back home or in another city mentioned how they drove somewhere and you're all "Drive? What is...drive?"

18.) At least once, someone's been all "do you want to eat this duck tongue?" and you've been all "YES SIR!".

19.) You ask your students where they went on the weekend and the majority answer "I slept and I watched TV" although you know that can't be true because if everyone sleeps and watches TV all weekend, then why are all the tourist destinations so crowded?

The rest answer "Costco", and that makes sense.

20.) At least once, you have found out that some little town in, I dunno, Miaoli County is famous for this one agricultural product or food that is only in season for a few weeks a year, and the best of that product is found on one hill outside of town, and that one hill has one restaurant or farm that makes/grows it the best, and it's at its absolute best one weekend out of the year which everyone seems to know telepathically or something, and you actually go to that town at that time of year, with the rest of Taiwan, and you all stuff your face with it, and then you go home.

For us it was strawberries in Dahu.

21.) "Paisei" (排謝) is now your word for everything.
"I'm going to be late for work - paisei."
"I need to get out of this elevator - paisei!"
"Your Chinese isn't very good, actually." "PAISEI...asshole."
"No, you can't take my taxi, I'm waiting for someone who reserved." "Oh, paisei."
*bump* "Paisei, paisei!"
"Your homework for this weekend is..." "Awwww, teacher, no!" "Paisei! But you have to do homework!"
Back home in a Chinese restaurant: "Hey, you live in Taiwan. Can you read that calligraphy?" "No, that's some Wild Grass Ming Dynasty stuff." "Oh, I thought you spoke Chinese." "PAISEI."

22.) When you say "this restaurant/cab/dentist's office looks like something out of a kung fu movie", you mean it as a compliment.

23.) You now have "guanxi" (關係) and you understand what that means. Your life suddenly starts running very smoothly and you will never, ever do anything to screw that up even if you are really pissed off about something.

24.) You started out thinking "man, Taiwan is so far away from everything, you can't even get good whiskey here, just that Suntory crap" (or insert your imported product of choice here) but now will spend an hour talking to your student or local friend about good whiskey (or whatever) and the many places in Taiwan to get it. You once were blind but now you see.

25.) It is completely not weird to you that you use the post office like a bank and the 7-11 like a post office.

26.) Speaking of 7-11, you now understand it as less a store and more a lifestyle. You consider it an extension of your own house and regularly go in your PJs (and are not the worst-dressed person there). After buying what you want, you go back to that part of your house where you can not buy items for sale...i.e., your actual house.

27.) Your friends back home are all "I had to work overtime three times last month, the boss made us stay until 8pm, my boss is so mean" and you're all...

28.) You start to get the local jokes. Like, apparently there is a real guy whose name is Yang Gan-ning (I won't write it in Chinese just in case he Googles it and finds this blog - he's real) and at his company they usually introduce presenters firstname-lastname in the Western fashion, so they introduce him as "Gan-ning Yang". That is HILARIOUS to you, but all your friends who don't speak 台灣國語 don't get it at all.

29.) You seriously consider getting a tiny dog, naming it Doo-Doo, and carrying it around in a handbag, regardless of your gender.

30.) Pole dancing for the gods at temple festivals doesn't shock you at all. In fact, if you go to a temple festival and there's no guy hitting himself with a spiked club or pole dancers gyrating on Jeeps driving around town entertaining men, women, children, grandparents, priests, office workers & everyone else, you think that festival was "a little disappointing".

31.) This 'food truck' thing you've heard about back home sounds great, but you just can't get excited about it. As far as you're concerned, if it doesn't have a name like "East Mountain Duck Heads", "WOW! Frog Eggs!" or "Pig Miscellaneous Soup", it ain't shit. Also, does Portland or Brooklyn have a Beijing Duck Truck? Not yet? Well they suck.

(Actually, apparently these do exist in the USA, but the top result seems to be Los Angeles and you have to drive if you live in Los Angeles so it doesn't count).

Borrowed from here


I wanted to just link but the photo doesn't appear on the page...so here ya go:

33.) Your friends back home - when they finally figure out that Taiwan is neither Thailand nor is it in China - say something like "it must be so hard living in a country where they...treat women like that. Do they still force them into arranged child marriages and make them abort female fetuses after scrubbing floors all day?" and you're all, "bro, no. We've got a long way to go, for sure, but actually of every finance or investment company I've done training courses at, the General Manager has been female. And if not the GM, some other executive, usually the CFO. Women tend to run the household budgets even if they don't work, although many do, and of those, many do so because they want to and have highly professional jobs. A lot of women are choosing not to marry. Although there are issues with reporting and room for laws to be strengthened and better-enforced, there are a whole bevy of more-or-less effective laws that encourage gender equality. Taiwanese women have paid maternity leave, which is not something American women can say, and we almost elected a female president, whereas the US hasn't even managed to run a female candidate in the big race!"

34.) You've nearly been killed at least once by some jerk on a scooter passing a stopped bus on the right just as you were disembarking. You, uh, may or may not have thrown your water bottle at him, and called him a "douchewad".

35.) You've long since stopped trying to translate your favorite foods into English - because 油條 are delicious, but "grease sticks" are not.


36.) You come to understand that Chinese is an elegant, ancient language steeped in history, culture and proud tradition...

...and that it sucks, because you can't express many strong emotions in it, as it was standardized as a formal lingua franca for the linguistically fractured Chinese nation.

And you started out thinking that all those dorky tech guys in glasses who worked at, I dunno, Advance-Teck Industries Ltd. Hukou Branch were total wet blankets, until you found out that actually they're the best language resource there is to learn how to say what you really want to express in a language far better suited for it...Taiwanese (and that they aren't wet blankets at all).

Then you find out that there are actually a lot of great things you can say in Chinese if you start utilizing plays on words (who knew that if you deployed "chrysanthemum tea" correctly, that it could be taken to mean "anal juice", as in "that fifty-cent government shill is drinking Xi Jinping's chrysanthemum tea"?), and now you may well have the most colorful vocabulary in Greater China.

...or maybe that's just me.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Today's Rally: Pass The Damn Marriage Equality Bill Already!

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Or as I call it, the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Freedom, because it's really insane that this bill has been purposely delayed for so long, and insane-r that its homophobic detractors changed the language to allow three-way marriages, group marriages etc. in the hopes that that would kill the bill (assholes).

Especially when more than half of Taiwanese citizens support marriage equality.

So, LGBT rights activists, getting louder by the day in Taiwan, are getting fed up and starting to push for change.

And it's a good thing too. If Taiwan passes marriage equality, it will be the first country in Asia to do so. It will be a true thought leader, a truly modern and progressive society. (No, I don't believe it is possible to have a modern society without equal rights and that includes marriage equality). It will set itself apart in all the best ways. It will be a beacon of conscience in a sea of homophobia (not that the West doesn't have plenty of that too, of course). It will stand apart. Taiwan can, should...nay, must do this.

With Pride coming up on October 25th, this smaller rally had a more specific goal than "we're proud!" - it was to urge legislators to stop sitting on their hands and pass the damn bill already (it would be great if it didn't have all that 'group marriage' language in it, but I care so little about that that it doesn't change my opinion that the bill must be passed). The people support it. You know it's the right thing to do. You probably don't have any Bible-fundie "but it's my reliiiiiiigion to be homophobic, how dare you call me a bigot, God told me to think this way!" objections, so pass it.

I would estimate attendance was in the thousands - maybe not 10,000 as organizers had hoped, but pretty good for a small, poorly publicized (at least I only heard of it through a friend) rally aimed at the passage of a specific bill that, while the issue has broad support, is just not a "bring out the crowds" issue the way it is in the USA.

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One thing the protestors did was put symbolic locks on the gate of the Legislative Yuan, to symbolize one's conscience being locked by homophobia (the legislators' names and photos were chosen, obviously, based on who opposes the bill). Legislators were invited to come and unlock their locks - three did, apparently.

Wang Jin-ping's presence on this wall does not surprise me. He has no conscience, and he likely doesn't think this issue is important enough that he has to use political capital to support it against the general will of his party.

Nor does it surprise me that the strong majority of those against the bill are KMT - a reactionary, conservative party who at worst actively inhibits and at best is apathetic about social reform (that wasn't always the case - a lot of advances in women's rights were passed by then-KMT-affiliated President Lee Teng-hui at the turn of the millenium). No surprise at all that if you want to overturn homophobia, you need to kick out the KMT. I can't find the source right now but will keep looking - I have read that about 4/5 of KMT legislators don't support the bill, whereas 4/5 of the DPP do.

What does surprise me is that it seems Hsiao Bhi-khim's name is on there. Brendan and I both thought of her as an American-style progressive - I can't imagine what's going on here. If someone could enlighten me I'd appreciate it.

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Also, no rally is complete without a dog wearing a funny ribbon, sticker or outfit.

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I would love this Pride flag superimposed with Taiwan if they hadn't included the "Taiwanese" (read: ROC) flag - I don't care for it and its KMT associations, especially as the KMT is the main reason the bill has not yet been passed.

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Pan-green sentiments, such as Taiwanese independence, and LGBT rights tend to go hand-in-hand in Taiwan.

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I have this water bottle that I take to all the protests, which serves as a repository for the stickers they give out. The Chinese for the marriage equality one says "homophobia is unconstitutional". I'm not sure if that's strictly true, but that's not the point. (I'm also a fan of "I don't need sex because President Ma fucks me every day!", which is on the lower left).

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"A divorced Christian could marry a virgin - why can't a gay person?"

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I don't get this one - "even the unmarried queens all marry"?

The smaller sign says, I think, 需要恢復的是我們結婚的權利 or "the need to resume (the passage of the bill, I guess) "is our right to marry".

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More pan-green (and to be fair, pan-blue, but mostly for political convenience) sentiments intertwined with pride. This sign says that she hopes for real democracy in Hong Kong, and that we can have universal marriage rights in Taiwan.

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Has anyone else seen the Musical China Douchemobile?

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For those who can't read Chinese, it says "Long Live China: We are all one family".

Seriously, who are these guys? Who do they work for? Why are they doing this? They drive around with pro-unification crap on their cars - which would be their right, I suppose, except they also blare traditional Chinese music. A genre I generally like, but not when it's screaming out of low-quality loudspeakers on Zhongxiao East Road.

I've seen this guy at Zhongxiao Dunhua, and I think the same guy in Ximen driving down Chengdu Road. Then one passed my apartment - a red car this time - downtown.

I know the authorities won't do anything - and I'm not even sure they should, as even douchebags have the right to their slimy douchewater opinions, I guess, although the arguments they put forward aren't enough to convince me that they've passed this 'entitled to one's opinion' test - although it would be nice if they told them to cut it out with the loudspeakers. Fat chance of that happening, when soon the streets will be taken over by annoying election trucks, also blaring crap from loudspeakers. (I admit I like the election drum lines pulled along by trucks - that's kind of cool. But not the loudspeakers).

And I am pretty happy to report that they seem to be having zero effect - in fact, their irritating noise pollution, if anything, is causing people to be less open to their crappy Beijing shill Chinese chauvinist cause. Mostly when they drove by I noticed locals rolling their eyes or cracking quiet jokes about the losers in cars.

These folks, who are trying so hard to force us all to fall in line with their fifty-cent "opinions" (likely bought and paid for, but possibly not, some people believe this stuff of their own volition) are just showing how badly they are losing, too: absolutely nobody on the street pays them any mind beyond those eyerolls.

When an idea causes outrage, it is probably a dangerous idea: that can be both good and bad. Dangerous in that there is actually a potential it will take root (again, that can be good or bad) and go somewhere, change something.

This is not a dangerous idea. It is not taking root.

They can drive around in cars all they want, huffily insisting that Taiwanese ought not to have an identity of their own - let alone a national identity - and that as good obedient little slaves they shoudl submit to Beijing's black hole-like gravitational pull. But that won't change the truth on the ground: there is a Taiwanese identity, and it's not going away. Taiwan is, as much as ever, not interested in being annexed, and even those who think of themselves as Chinese also think of themselves as Taiwanese - and in fact, as Taiwanese first.

That still leaves the initial questions unanswered, however. Who do they work for? Why are they doing this?


Or am I the only one who's seen the Douchemobile, and it's all a sick fever dream?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Five reasons why Hong Kong is in the international news, while the Sunflowers were ignored

It's unfortunate, as the Sunflowers were a newsworthy movement that deserved international press coverage, and mostly didn't get it. Those who did cover it filled up their stories with tripe, or their editors did (and I feel bad saying that as I have several journalist friends, but it's true). Everything from the 3/30 protest being "100,000" people as reported by the government (a lie - I was there, I can tell you it was more than that. I know what a 200,000 person protest feels like, and this was about double that) to the usual line about history that is completely false, e.g. "Taiwan and China separated in 1949..." (NO THEY DIDN'T. They separated in 1895, Taiwan was independent for much of that year, though unrecognized as such, and even before that Chinese control of Taiwan was weak. And only official for about 200 years, not "thousands of years" or "since antiquity"). Or they reported the KMT propaganda about why the protest was controversial. Or, continuously reporting that the Taiwanese people are opposed to "reunification", which can't be true because there is no such thing. The PRC and ROC were never unified, so they can't be 'reunified'. Little coverage, less truth.

To the point where one might think it was an intentional brownout. It pissed me off then and it pisses me off now.

But I do see why the Umbrella Revolution is getting more press coverage. Simply put:

  • Hong Kong is fighting against actual dictatorship. The Sunflowers didn't want to change the government, which is already democratic and about as free as democracies get. They wanted to accomplish one specific task. 
  • The Sunflowers' main issues were (and are) more complex than democracy vs. dictatorship. That's simple. People understand democracy vs. dictatorship. "Well, there's this trade pact, but it's more than a trade pact, to really understand its origins you have to look back at the Ma administration's previous term and the implementation of ECFA as well as competing ROC/Taiwan identity ideologies and a feeling of increasing government paternalism and authoritarianism, and helplessness. And, it probably won't be good for Taiwan, as ECFA wasn't, but that's not the real reason we're protesting..." - it's more complicated. I understand, but you'd be surprised how many people just don't get it.
  • Hong Kong  is simply more famous and more international, with more business going through it than Taipei. Plain and simple. 
  • The Hong Kong protests actually shut down the city, or at least the downtown part of it. Taipei was never fully shut down - only the legislature. I worked normally through it and went in the evenings to lend my support (I did and still do support the Sunflowers 100%). 
  • The Sunflowers had the CCP and KMT propaganda machines working against them, after years of China successfully disseminating propaganda that convinced people to basically ignore Taiwan. HK has only CCP propaganda going against it, and they were never 'ignored' the way Taiwan has been for years. And why has Taiwan been ignored? Some very famous brands come out of Taiwan, and a lot of the factories that pump out our consumer crap in China are headed by corporate offices in Taiwan. There's no good reason for it to be so off the radar - it was intentionally done, through careful Chinese maneuvering. 
It sucks and I hate it.

But that's why it's happening. I don't think it's any more complicated than this (and this is already fairly complicated).