Monday, October 31, 2016

An excellent article about marriage brokerage in Taiwan

Have a look at this - a well-done, thoughtful article about marriage brokers and "foreign brides" in Taiwan.

It reminds me of a person I met in Lishan. She was the wife of the owner – a youngish (mid-thirties maybe) Vietnamese woman married to an older Taiwanese man with a withered leg. I noticed that she called him “laoban” (boss) – as in, laoban would like to give you some pears. Laoban says breakfast will be ready at 8. Laoban can lend you a portable stove if you want to make tea outside. We were chatting, and I felt comfortable enough to ask her how she liked Taiwan. Her answer was that Lishan was a bit colder than she was used to, especially in winter, and it was hard to get used to living in the mountains. But her husband was kind, she loved her children and it was “better than Vietnam”.

I have not written a lot - anything, really? I can't remember - about this, because I don't have much to say that goes beyond the obvious. At least that's part of it.

Another part is that it's too easy to get shunted into this stereotype in other people's heads of being anti-"foreign bride" (I'm using quotes because I do not think it's the most appropriate term, but it is commonly used and being against it - in this term - is what causes that stereotyping) because you are somehow anti-interracial marriage (I'm not) or anti-immigration (again, not). Certainly a large number of people who express anti-"foreign bride" sentiment are doing so for ridiculous ethnic reasons - "Taiwanese men should marry Taiwanese women", "they're corrupting our culture" and all that. That's stupid and I won't justify it with any more space, but I do want to point out there are other reasons to find the industry problematic.

I'm somewhat against it (check out that hedge, pretty impressive huh?) because it's exploitative - the women often come from families with few or no economic choices, hoping for some financial gain from signing on to be a foreign bride, end up going through brokers who take most of the money and very often end up in abusive situations. Ending up in an unequal situation with a man who expects an 'obedient virgin' is often the best outcome - the worst ones end in running away or death. These women and their families deserve better than to try and improve their lot through these bottom-feeder brokerage firms.

This is not to say that I think all marriage should be based on love or other airy-fairy notions of "finding the right person". That's a privilege I get to enjoy because of my socioeconomic status, but I'm well aware that marriage in the past was almost always an economic alliance between families who were either maneuvering to get ahead or didn't have many choices. I'm also aware that in much of the world this line of thought persists, often because it must. If two people want to form a legal partnership to form a family unit and the main emotional driver is economic rather than romantic, who am I to tell them how they must feel before they are allowed to marry? For this reason I am also not against marriage for immigration purposes - the system in most countries makes it difficult to immigrate otherwise and is often deeply unfair, so when people game the system that's the system's fault, not the people's.

It's just rather obvious in the case of wives being 'selected' from other Asian countries by Taiwanese and Korean men that the woman is hoping for economic betterment that is not likely to come.

I also hesitate to voice another opinion: that men marrying women from abroad because Taiwanese women, thanks to educational and economic empowerment driving modern Taiwanese feminist thought, have in many cases decided not to marry (or want to, but will not marry any dude who expects a 'submissive' wife, will not be treated like the property of her in-laws and will not bear children or give up her career on command and certainly does not intend to remain a virgin for some future husband). It undermines feminism in Taiwan: men's attitudes don't change as quickly when they are not forced to confront the consequences of their misogyny. It also undermines the idea of women's equality everywhere, given how their "brokered" wives are often treated: by the men themselves, by the brokerage firms, by the men's families and by the woman's families in their home countries, too.

Why have I hesitated to say that? Because again, that sort of feminism is something I get to enjoy because of my socioeconomic status. Many if not most Taiwanese women are able to enjoy it too. It is often not, however, an option available to the Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese and other women who come to Taiwan as newly-acquired wives. In some cases, they may even buy into a worldview of obedient wives who care for home, husband and in-laws and dutifully bear and raise children.

And the final part I haven't said a lot about this before is that when I write about something I usually like to have some idea of what the solution might possibly be - whether I suggest it or not. In this case, I don't. No idea. Certainly better information in a variety of languages should be made available online to women in bad situations. I don't even know who to begin to push to fight for the government to budget for the translation of this information from Chinese into Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian and Tagalog. Certainly more services should be available, and it shouldn't be a huge, uncertain hassle to stay in Taiwan or get help or even find out one has rights if one is in an unhappy or abusive situation. I won't go so far as to say that marriage brokerage firms need to be abolished, though personally I would like to see that happen. But if a woman wants to pursue marriage to a Taiwanese man for economic reasons, I don't want to take away her ability to do so. Heavy regulation in Taiwan doesn't seem to result in much enforcement let alone change, so I simply have no idea.

Of course it's a thorny issue to imply that Taiwanese society would do well to focus on raising its boys to be equality-minded men, if not outright feminists. They should - I'm not shy about saying that because I'm a 'foreigner'. It probably would do a lot to address the issue of Taiwanese women who want to marry staying single because there aren't enough feminist men around that they're willing to marry (and implying any woman should just give up and accept a more traditional role to land a man is offensive: I will not entertain it), and the men who would otherwise marry them. It's thorny because there's an implication that such a change would reduce the number of 'foreign' marriages so Taiwanese men could 'marry their own', which is not what I want to imply at all. I just think everyone deserves a fairer shake.

Whew. How's that for awkwardly stumbling over language to try and express my thoughts on a difficult issue? I hope you enjoyed this Cirque-de-Soleil level of contortion.

Go read the other article. It's better.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fighting to keep Chiang Kai-shek's birthday holiday? Really?


Just checking in - I'm still working quite hard collecting stories of immigration troubles, and a few of them are truly tragic. But, I've got to fact-check and figure out how I'm going to structure this post, so it's looking like it will be something of a longer-term project. Bear with me, and I'll keep people updated. I have a few more people to interview, some folks to call, some visits to make etc. before I even start writing. This is on top of preparing to go to grad school and doing a TEFL professional development project involving action research. Oh, and working too.

I also have a really nice long post on Yunlin County coming up, so keep an eye out for that.

In the meantime, I just have to say I'm not sure what to make of the whole 'seven holidays' snafu. It took awhile to even figure out which holidays are being cut (turns out it's the 7 extra days we randomly got this year and not some other holidays). This stands to reason, but was not immediately obvious and I needed to be sure before I commented.

So...I dunno. On one hand, I am all for more holidays. Taiwanese work far too long, and laws limiting employers from forcing them to work too much overtime are not very effective; at least, they are not enforced well at all. In such a pro-boss hierarchical culture I am not sure they ever will be, though Taiwan has surprised me before. And I certainly do not think the "one day off, one flexible rest day" is a good idea. Everybody knows they'll have to work on that day and probably get cheated out of overtime pay (even if they don't, some people would rather have that day off anyway). This is a country where bosses regularly force workers to ignore typhoon days to come in, which is deeply illegal! It's just window dressing on the real goal of re-instituting the six-day work week, and it's bullshit.

I honestly think we should have more holidays, and days off on Friday/Monday for holidays that fall on a weekend. But I can't really wrap my head around the protests to the cuts of these particular holidays.

Some of them are fine - Teacher's Day, Constitution Day (created so Chiang Kai-shek's wife, Soong Mei-ling, who was a Christian, could have Christmas off). But some of them are totally batshit - who in their right mind wants Retrocession Day or Chiang Kai-shek's birthday, or even Sun Yat-sen's birthday (less offensive but equally a KMT import rather than a reason for an authentic Taiwanese celebration)? It's really odd to see a bunch of Taiwan-identifying civic activists and labor rights protestors rallying around the Legislative Yuan - the same sort of people who fought against CSSTA and are generally strongly pro-Taiwan and pro-independence - to save the holiday reserved for a murderous dictator, the worst person Taiwan has ever known.

(Side note: I find it hilarious that Chiang Kai-shek's birthday falls on Halloween, because his ghost truly haunts Taiwan still).

All this means I'm not sure which side to take here. I want holidays but not those holidays - an angle I don't see reported in the press at all. I fear my views might be closest to those of the KMT and that is really terrifying and not okay.

I also want 5-day work weeks, and I want holiday make-up days for those that land on a weekend. Basically, I want the government to tell the Boss Class to shove it, that they have to give their workers adequate time off whether they like it or not.

So I think I'll abstain from this protest and instead rally quietly for, I dunno, Formosa Day (commemorating the Kaohsiung Incident), Nylon Cheng Day, Declaration of the Republic of Formosa Day (for the date in 1895 when Taiwan declared independence and held onto it for several months following the departure of the Qing), Sunflower Day (haha, probably not going to happen), White Lily Day, Democracy Day.

As much as I want more holidays for the working people of Taiwan, I just can't bring myself to insist that we should keep stupid buttclown Chiang Kai-shek's stupid birthday, and it will never stop being weird to me to see pro-Taiwan activists demanding it.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Tell Me Stories: Your difficult immigration experience

I would like to write a blog post on 老人茶 about immigration issues affecting permanent foreigners, considering my situation (wanting citizenship and not being able to get it).
I'm interested in stories about that, or having children who could not stay (or not being able to stay yourself), or being concerned this might someday affect your kids for those of you with younger children. Stories on trouble finding non-teaching work locally, being unable to get an APRC would also work, as well as issues buying property and obtaining credit - the focus will be on the ways that Taiwan discourages foreigners from building a life here so it all ties together.
So many articles focus on just one issue - Taiwan-born "foreign" children, citizenship, work rights - but they are actually all related and reveal they hypocrisy of talk in Taiwan about wanting to be more international and move away from ethnic nationalism.
There is a lot already out there I can link to, but if anyone has something specific they'd like to add, please let me know. 

You can leave a comment with your contact information - I won't publish it but will get in touch. Or email me at a lovely burner account I created just for this: 
I would put my real e-mail here but I have been harassed before, Such is being a person with a vagina and some opinions on the Internet. 
I can't do much, but at least I can blog.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Master Hunt

If you've noticed that in the later half of this year I haven't been the most consistent blogger in terms of frequency of updates, it's because I actually have some exciting news!

First, I've been published! This isn't my first publication (I worked for a regional newspaper before I started college, and more relevantly have a story relating one of my experiences in Taiwan published here) but it is my first academic publication. It's not even all that academic, because I don't work at a university, don't have academically-based postgraduate education (my Delta is technically equivalent to a Master's but is more of a professional degree than an academic one), don't have a research budget and, thus, can't really do hard research. But, I did enjoy writing it, and hope you check it out - first link in this paragraph. I explore teaching note management skills as a method of introducing learner autonomy into the classroom, with an exploration of my own note-management teaching strategy.

Second, I've been accepted to grad school! I'll be starting at this program at the University of Exeter in July 2017. It's a program with a special schedule made for people like me who can't just up and move to England, or somewhere else, for postgraduate study but don't have a lot of options where they live. I applied quite early, but I was ready to and the platform was open, so I don't feel too weird about that. I would have gone this year if I'd had the money. That's what took away my blogging time, to be honest.

Anyway, I have a few thoughts on my process of researching, choosing and applying for Master's programs as an American in Taiwan. I am sorry to say that while there are some good things, it's mostly bad news. That is unfortunate not only for Taiwan, but also the USA.

A dearth of options in Taiwan

My biggest hurdle was finding a good program - I started in Taiwan but just couldn't find one that quite met my needs. I may not be in Taiwan forever, so I did need something from a school that is highly regarded internationally. I'm sorry to say that nothing on offer in Taiwan fits the bill. NTU is the only university of international repute, and doesn't offer my desired program. That doesn't mean other universities are necessarily "bad". They are not, however, universities whose degrees will get you noticed abroad.

There are MA TESOL and MA Applied Linguistics/Applied Foreign Languages programs in Taiwan: Shi-da, National Taiwan University of Technology and other schools offer them. Many are taught in English. They would not, however, help much internationally. Also, testimony of what one actually learns on these programs from a friend who did one in teaching Chinese turned me off to the idea of studying in Taiwan. He was, shall we say, less than impressed.

I have heard that there's a Master of Education program available through a small university in the US that allows you to take classes here, but that was something someone told me - I haven't found any evidence of its existence in my research. Anyone?

Columbia University Teacher's College Tokyo would have been an option, but they are apparently closing the campus - at least, a friend of mine went there so I know it's a real thing, she says it's closing, and I can't even find a reference to it existing online. Not that it matters: the tuition was similar to that in the US, and I can't afford US tuition. So, studying in a fully face-to-face program from Taiwan was quickly dismissed as 'not an option' for me.

Distance programs aren't great options

There are a number of distance programs: Nottingham, University of Southampton with the British Council and more in the UK (many, many more - I couldn't possibly link to them all), USC and Anaheim in the US (these were the only two distance programs I could find) - but I didn't want to do a distance Master's.

Why? The first reason is that, rightly or wrongly - and I happen to think wrongly - distance-learning postgraduate degrees tend to get the side-eye from academic institutions looking to hire, even if they are from reputable institutions (they also run the risk of not being recognized in Taiwan). The second is that I did distance learning for my Delta. It was fine, but I want something different. I want to actually meet people in person and have real-time discussions using my actual voice.

...neither was going abroad

So, I looked into what it would take for me to do a face-to-face Master's outside of Taiwan. Brendan and I are super-solid, I knew we could weather this, though I didn't particularly want to be apart for a year or two. I looked at King's College, Durham, University College London and more in the UK (not even going to bother with links, you can Google those yourself) and very few choices in the USA, because I honestly could not afford US tuition. I also looked at York University in Canada, but couldn't have afforded to live there and pay tuition. The same is true for the universities of Melbourne, Brisbane and Queensland, which I also researched. I looked at Germany, as well, but most schools (at least the ones I looked at, including Bonn) want you to pass a German proficiency test even if you are taking a program in English. I doubt I'd have the time to learn German at that level,

My country of origin is not affordable

In fact, I only looked at two face-to-face programs in the US: Columbia (because if I'm going to commit I may as well aim high - also I wouldn't need a car in New York and it's close to family) and SUNY Albany, one of the bigger campuses of my state university system and the only one to offer an MA TESOL. State university tuition would have been "cheaper" (cheaper than Satan's own private university pricing, so that's hardly a consolation) and at the time I was thinking I could live with my grandfather. He's since moved and that is no longer an option.

This is where I throw a lot of shade on the USA.

Total tuition for the programs noted above that are based in the USA:

USC Rossier School of Education (online) - approximately $50,000. They bill it as being the same as face-to-face: you videoconference the classes and they treat you as though you are 'there'. You're not residing there, though, so I do wonder why the tuition has to be as high. They don't need to worry about space, maintenance, grounds, utilities or security during my residency because there isn't one.

Anaheim University (online): A little over $20,000, including inexplicable fees such as a "graduation fee" and a "thesis fee" (which is apparently to print and bind your thesis, but $450? Are they binding it in unicorn leather? What the hell?) I appreciate that they are trying to break down exactly what your $20,000 is paying for, and I appreciate that their tuition is more similar to what UK schools charge. But the breakdown doesn't make them look good. My 'graduation fee' is all the fucking money I pay for my fucking degree, not some $300 you tack on. No. Not Okay. Also, I have some serious side-eye for charging for an online degree what UK schools charge for a face-to-face degree. Why exactly does it have to be that high?

SUNY Albany MA TESOL without state certification (which I don't need) - face-to-face: $12,000 and change, per year, 2 year program so $24,000 total. For in-state tuition.

Columbia University - face-to-face: fuck that I'm not even going to bother, what the fuck makes them think a fucking English teacher can afford to pay that shit back, fuck you, a fucking pox on your house!

In comparison, the distance programs in the UK cost about 7,000 pounds, and face-to-face cost about 15,000 and change - for the whole program. This is for international students - don't forget that. What that translates into in US dollars is changing by the day, but suffice it to say the total tuition for an international student (did I mention international), not in-state or even a citizen, is cheaper than going to my own state university in the US which is supposed to be the affordable option.

My program at Exeter is quite a bit less than that, and I'm an international student.

English teaching isn't a particularly highly-paid profession - I could never have afforded to pay back US tuition. It's just not feasible.

It is really sad that my own country couldn't make it possible for someone whose career requires postgraduate education, and who would certainly do well in it, to actually get it.

This is a prime reason why I do not intend to return. Why should I give "back" something to society through teaching and education that society doesn't see fit to give me? I appreciate my basically okay public education through secondary school but the US tertiary and postgraduate system is completely, and utterly, fucked. I want nothing to do with it.

But thanks, UK!

To end on a high note: when I got my offer letter I walked down the street alternating between feeling like this, and like this.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Public celebrates Sun Yat-sen's founding of Taiwan


Citizens across the country celebrated Sun Yat-sen's founding of Taiwan 105 years ago today. Known as "Double Ten", the holiday celebrates Taiwan's founding just over a century ago on October 10 from volcanic eruptions creating an island where there had previously been open sea.

"On October 10, 1911, Dr. Sun raised his arms, sang the incantation, and Taiwan rose from the ocean. This is why the Portuguese named it Ilha Formosa, for the island's great natural beauty, when they came to the region in 1544," explained former president Ma Ying-jiu, who was on leave from his new post-presidential post as an exhibit in Madame Tussaud's.

"Before 1911, there was no Taiwan," explained Taipei resident Chang An-lo. "Now, there is Chin- I mean Taiwa- I mean the Republic of China. Happy birthday!"

In 1911, what was then known as the Chinese Sea (property of China) was a popular open-water fishing spot, where fishermen from China had been recorded plying their trade since ancient times. Then, visonary thinker and revolutionary Dr. Sun determined that an island should exist in that spot. He opened the Ancient Book of I-Ching, found the chapter on inciting volcanic activity, waved his arms in the precise circumlocutions proscribed by his ancestors, and caused modern Taiwan to erupt from the sea floor.

Despite a few visits to his creation by Dr. Sun, his successors appeared unaware that the island brought into being by their mentor was birthed with a full population that spoke Japanese, Taiwanese and several aboriginal languages, many of whom had neither ever visited China nor spoke any language familiar to the majority of Chinese.

"I remember my grandmother's stories about how Dr. Sun caused her to come into being," noted an Atayal village elder known as A-mue. "It all sounded very exciting."

China and Taiwan separated in 1949 after a brutal civil war forced the KMT to flee from China to the Republic of China. Before that time, China and Taiwan had been united without any division since antiquity.

Taiwan before it existed c. 1910

"Happy birthday, Taiwan!" said Auntie Ho, while turning down the volume of the TVBS show she was watching.

"But, in 1911 Taiwan was a Japanese colony," countered neighbor Pubic Wang. "Double Ten has nothing to do with Taiwan really."

"Ssssshhhhhhh," Auntie Ho replied. "Stop complaining so much. Nobody likes a complainer who doesn't understand history and our 5,000 years of culture since 1911. Taiwan is a democracy now so we can all give our opinions, so please stop giving your opinion after I give my opinion. I love my flag, which is the flag of Taiwan."

Taiwan before it was created by Dr. Sun Yat-sen in 1911

Taiwan after 1911

Stated Wang, "The flag of the Republic of China - which was not conceived in Taiwan, still depicts the KMT sun, which shows that Taiwan still has a long way to go if it is to carve out a distinct identity and future from its authoritarian pa--"

"I said shh! We should celebrate all of the wonderful things the Republic of China has given Taiwan, like 228 Peace Park, the Jingmei Human Rights Museum and a national holiday!" snapped Ho. "Without Sun Yat-sen, you wouldn't even exist!"