Thursday, January 31, 2019

British-style curry in Taipei!

The rice is really something, isn't it?

I don't feel like writing about current affairs so close to the New Year (though you'll probably see something from me over the holiday) but I wanted to quickly add this spot to get Indian food in Taipei - or more accurately, to get British Indian curry in Taipei.

The two are not the same - while I'd have trouble explaining the exact difference, there is a distinctness to British curry house curry, and the cuisine of India, although ostensibly the items are the same. One clear difference is in Britain's carry-out culture. I've never tried to get a takeaway dinner in India - I'd always either just eat home-cooked food or go out (I assume it's possible, I've just never done it). But in the UK, aluminum containers with cardboard lids in paper bags, with the dishes written illegibly on each container are part of the experience. Extra points if the curry sloshes about a little and the paper bag gets a nice big oil stain.

So I'm happy to say that this style of curry is available in Taipei, at the Brass Monkey (just north of MRT Nanjing Fuxing). The curry menu is available here, and you'll notice that they have all of the British curry house staples. You can also eat in, and you can call ahead if you don't want to wait up to half an hour for them to prepare your order (or just show up, order takeaway and have a pint of Old Peculier while you wait). You can also eat in.

Not being a 'big, popular bar' person (I'd rather sip my whiskey in contemplation at a tiny bar if I go out at all) I don't go there much, although it is the best place I know to get British beer on tap in Taiwan. In fact, I found out that this was even a thing through Facebook, and had to try it for myself.

Having spent the past two summers in the UK for graduate school, I ate a fair amount of carry-out curry and I have to say...Brass Monkey's curry is British curry. Period. The gravies are the same, the rice has food coloring to give it a confetti look, and the bag even got oily. Look!

Delicious oil

It's really important to stress this: they'll get a place on my Indian Food in Taipei page, but it's not quite the same as other Indian restaurants, and is not trying to be, because it's specifically meant to be British curry. If you're missing Hyderabad and come here for your curry fix, you won't get quite what you want. But if you're missing, say, Exeter or Surrey or Swindon or Leeds, you absolutely will.

The only thing missing is that the writing on the takeaway boxes is legible, sadly.

Ugh, I know what that says! I'm not supposed to have any idea what's what! 

Just as an FYI, I keep that "Indian Food in Taipei" page updated regularly as a sort of community service, because otherwise reviews are scattershot across blogs and Facebook, and tend to go out-of-date as places close and open, and quality improves and declines.

I'm probably going to make it a page alongside the other links just under my title picture so people can see it there, as I do go to some effort to maintain it. And I do that because, having lived in both India (well, one semester) and Britain (two summers), and being someone who cooks Indian food herself and holds her ability to make it to a very high standard, I feel basically qualified to be the person who reviews Indian food reliably.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

For the former colonizers of Taiwan, equality feels like oppression: my latest for Ketagalan Media

Because apparently Lao Ren Cha is all about the sensational (but true) stories today, let's all take a look back at last week's insanity (again)!

This time, I look at retired entertainer Lisa Cheng slapping current Minister of Culture Cheng Li-chiun in the face at a Lunar New Year banquet, over what she called Minister Cheng's desire to "eradicate" Chiang Kai-shek, "discredit" his "contributions" to Taiwan and "demolish" Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

Note my liberal use of scare quotes. None of what she says about Minister Cheng is true, yet she slapped her anyway.

Why? Because she's lashing out at the perception that the group she identifies with, who were once the dominant/default/ruling social class in Taiwan (by force, no Taiwanese invited them to swoosh in like they owned the place), is being oppressed (lol) when, in fact, society is simply moving towards greater equality. She's retreating to identity politics and letting her insecurity and fragility get the better of her.

Anyway, I talk about all this and more in my latest for Ketagalan Media.

Let's hope this week is less of a dumpster dive for news, seeing as last week was basically a crazy parade of people acting badly. Oh man. But at least it produced a little worthwhile commentary for this tired, nihilist blogger?

Forget the butt-wiping, let's talk about sexism on EVA (and other airlines in Asia)

Gotta say, dudes, I don't want to write about this. I just don't.

I tried to avoid it - like, okay, this was pretty gross and could be a post about sexism in the Taiwanese workplace, especially as it relates to flight attendants (one of the most sexist work environments in Asia, to be frank, and EVA Air is known for specifically hiring beautiful flight attendants). I have to? Maybe it'll just go away as some sensationalist garbage and I can write about something that doesn't make me want to gag.

But, as the story progressed, I realized that, gross-out factor and tabloid-like sensationalism aside, it was a real story of sexist workplace culture, and therefore...ugh. FINE.

So, as I'm sure you all know because we're all news bottom-feeders at heart (myself included), earlier this week news broke that an EVA Air passenger with mobility issues requested that a flight attendant help him lower his underwear, keep the door open and wipe him after using the restroom onboard. She initially refused, but he insisted he could not do these things on his own. He also, according to Focus Taiwan, made some disturbing comments at the flight attendant, which I won't publish here but you can read about literally everywhere else. While the passenger did have mobility issues, frankly, if he is going to fly but can't use the bathroom on his own, he needs to be traveling with an assistant who performs these duties in an official capacity, or not at all.

That's not what I'm here to gawk at, specifically. This should be open-and-shut: passenger harasses flight attendant (this surely counts as some form of sexual harassment, given his comments), flight attendant complains, airline intervenes, supports their employee, and at a minimum, the passenger is banned for life.

But no, of course that's not the end of the story, because the world is a horrible place and really it ought to just burn.

According to the Focus Taiwan article linked above:

Moreover, it was revealed that the passenger in question defecated in his underwear on a previous flight in May 2018, after which the airline did not place him on a blacklist, but rather left frontline flight attendants to deal with the man every time he flew with the airline, the union said.

CNN reported that EVA Air is insisting his previous flights were without incident, but that:

At the Monday press conference, the flight attendant was accompanied by a representative of the local flight attendants' union and fellow EVA employee. The union representative told reporters the man had flown EVA from the US to Asia numerous times. He had defecated in his seat during a flight last May after the crew rejected his demands, causing a foul smell in the entire cabin for over 10 hours, the representative said.

Taiwan News provides some potential background to previous incidents, so although they're not a source I care to link to, I will here.

So, this isn't an issue of a one-off incident in which a passenger made an unreasonable request, and the flight attendant was too flustered to forcefully refuse him (after all, her job is in customer service). It's entirely likely that this passenger has a history of such behavior, and that EVA Air, in the past, has not protected its flight attendants from it.

Like I said, working as a flight attendant one of the most sexist work environments in Asia. While I have said that of all the countries in Asia, Taiwan has the best gender egalitarianism (and meant it, and will defend it), that doesn't mean it's perfect, or even particularly good. Just better than other countries in the region, and that's not a particularly high bar to clear. And in this particular sector, the company culture is a throwback to the 1950s.

What's more, the same article reports that he has another flight with EVA booked this May, with no sign from the airline that they are intending to blacklist him or refuse to let him fly. It's quite likely that the company will, yet again, "leave frontline flight attendants to deal with the man".

EVA also noted that:

Later Monday, EVA issued a press statement saying flight staff are perfectly entitled to refuse passenger's requests they consider inappropriate. They also pointed out that the male cruise captain also helped the passenger in question during the flight.

The company also said it backs the flight staff completely and are prepared to offer assistance, if needed, to sue the passenger.


"You've spent your entire career being told you have to do whatever it takes to please customers, and you know on some level you were hired mostly for your looks anyway. Our official rules state that you may refuse passenger requests, but let's be real. If the passenger complains, you'll be in trouble for not providing good service. However, we will be sure to tell the media that you could have refused the request, even though we both know you couldn't, really."

I don't expect every reader to understand this, but many of us who's held a customer service job have dealt with this tacit set of rules. There's the rule the company touts as official policy (you may refuse the customer), and the rule you know you are actually expected to follow (you'll be in trouble if the customer complains). If you're a woman, there's a whole new layer to it in which official policy may state that sexual harassment is not allowed, but everyone knows the real rules are "if a customer gets angry because you shut down their harassing behavior and complains, it's going to be a problem for you."

Note, for instance, that EVA is essentially saying here "we back our staff....buuuuuuut we're still going to let this man fly again and they'll have to deal with him". And, of course, "we'll help you sue him if you want, buuuuuuut we're not going to take any action ourselves."

That, readers, is how you know there's a tacit set of rules in place. If the rules actually were the rules, this guy would've been blacklisted already.

And that's what makes Asia such a frankly difficult place to work. Laws typically prohibit gender discrimination and sexual harassment. If you file such a complaint (especially a gender discrimination complaint to the government), they will take it seriously. I would know - I looked into doing so once, to a former employer who had sexist work practices, but ultimately chose not to as had no documentary evidence aside from one contract with some vaguely sexist guidelines, only eyewitness testimony.

But...good luck getting your employer to back you. And you know that men who target women at work tend to be quite good at making sure not to leave a paper trail or even witnesses. It's one of those rights that women in Taiwan often call "看得膽吃不到" - you can see it, but you can't eat it. You know you have the right, but good luck actually exercising it.

And this is gearing up to be just such a situation, with EVA continuing to take a weak position on the customer's behavior and not doing much to actually protect its employees. Or as CNN put it:

Supporters of the cabin crew have also blamed the corporate culture of many Asian service-sector companies that insist the "customer is always right" while, according to critics, ignoring employees' welfare -- especially after it was revealed the passenger appeared to be a repeat offender.

This post wouldn't be complete without a tirade about why, if this is service culture in Asia, it's no wonder there are so many creepo Western guys here looking to get off on their fetishes with Asian women (who, as in this case, may not be consenting). When employers in all manner of hospitality industries take this attitude (or, in some cases, cater specifically to it, but at least at hostess bars/KTV you know what you're getting into), men who think they can treat women like garbage come here and, well, get away with treating women like garbage. It's no coincidence that this man had repeated incidents on Asian airlines. He knew he could get away with this, and it looks like that just might happen.

There is something we can do. We can write to EVA and let them know that as potential customers, we expect them to treat their flight crew better. This is one time when voting with our wallets might have an effect: not buying EVA tickets in solidarity with the flight attendants would surely get the airline to reconsider its weak-kneed response. When we see behavior like this in public, we can stand up and say something, even if it might be awkward or uncomfortable.

And I don't just mean Westerners. I know I have plenty of Taiwanese readers. We - all of us - can do this. Because the treatment of women in these positions has got to stop.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Alliance for a Globally-Oriented Taiwan kicks off

If you're reading this at all, you're probably wondering what happened to me all month. Yeah, well, I'm wondering too. I've been doing a pre-Lunar New Year deep clean of our apartment as I'm not particularly busy with work. Also, the election's still got me down.

Not because my "team" "lost" (they didn't, really: the NPP is the closest thing I've got to a team I root for, and they performed better than anyone expected, including perhaps, quietly, the NPP themselves). People I don't like win elections all the time and I don't fret about it for two months.

No, what causes a sinking feeling in my heart every time I think about it is a far bigger problem: that, although it would be political suicide for the DPP to make a big deal out of it, interference from China was real, and terrifying. We can't prove how effective it was, but there sure seemed to be some effect, and if that's the case they will try it again. And again. And they very well may win. Yikes. I just...can't.

So, let's talk about something positive instead.

This past week, a group of 90-100 people, foreigners and Taiwanese, congregated in the Legislative Yuan to have a large-scale discussion meeting about how to implement the 'bilingual Taiwan' initiative (you might know it as 'English as a second official language', announced by former premier William Lai). Heading the meeting were legislators Karen Yu (余宛如) Rosalia Wu (吳思瑤)as well as National Development Council leadership, Professor Louis Chen of Global Brands Management Association, STARTBOARD and Crossroads.TW founder David Chang. The general attendees were a mix of teachers, school owners, recruiters, academics, NGO and nonprofit representatives, a few activists and some journalists.

One thing that was made clear was that the point is not to suddenly start forcing everyone to speak English, or spend their own money to go to cram school to study English, or to have all official documents in English and Mandarin (but not any other languages more native to or historically linked to Taiwan, such as indigenous languages or Taiwanese). The point is to develop Taiwan's international competitiveness by making it more accessible in English, and to increase the general public's familiarity with English, while potentially reforming the educational system to emphasize English proficiency. And over several decades, as that.

Put that way, it sounds quite reasonable.

The outcome of this meeting is the formation of the Alliance for a Globally-Oriented Taiwan, with more specific action items to be developed in the coming weeks. At minimum we're looking at advocacy, advisory status and policy proposals. While it has the potential to be another layer of talk, there's also the potential for it to be much more than that.

That two legislators and the NDC made sure the meeting took place, were there and paid attention to what foreigners were saying is already huge: I'm not sure it's ever happened before. For that reason alone it might have some real effect.

I won't spend too much time going over what was said by the leaders - that's been covered extensively in the Mandarin-language media and basically boiled down to "we're on your side", "we want to do this in a feasible way" and, of course, that the point isn't just to be bilingual, it's a push for greater internationalization.

Instead, I'll spend some time summarizing some of what came out of the contributors in the general audience.

Not everyone got a chance to speak (I did), but I was happy to hear that most opinions were dead-on (some I disagreed with mildly; there were just a few that I simply wasn't on board with). And yes, I do equate "dead on" with "I agreed with it", because in this particular field I will not hesitate to say that I know what I'm talking about.

There was a general agreement that we need to do a better job of teacher training in Taiwan, with ideas for this ranging from bringing in better-qualified teachers to building a teacher-training program in Taiwan from scratch. The latter is an idea I disagree with quite strongly: internationally-recognized and up-to-standard teaching certifications exist already, from teaching licenses/PGCE programs to CELTA/Trinity to Delta and various Master's programs. There's no need to build a program from scratch when...frankly, to mix metaphors, that wheel's already been invented.

The key is to make them more accessible in Taiwan. If you want to improve your teaching through formal training here, it's quite difficult: the government doesn't recognize programs like CELTA or Delta or any online programs; often for Master's programs (even reputable ones) there are residency requirements so a part-time student, even if they attend face-to-face, is going to have trouble. So we have to make these programs both available and recognized, potentially with a sponsorship program to make them affordable, too.

The owners of Reach To Teach, a reputable teacher recruiting company, pointed out that Taiwan has no program through which novice teachers can come here and work in schools (even as assistants), and the only way to work in a school in Taiwan is to come as a licensed teacher. Japan brings foreign teachers into public schools through JET by having them work as assistants as they are not qualified to actually teach; I'm not sure about Korea's EPIK program. What's more, in those countries novice teachers often earn more than trained teachers are offered in schools in Taiwan.

What everyone agreed on was that salaries in Taiwan being low for everyone, including locals, was going to make it hard to internationalize and attract foreign talent, and would not necessarily attract much local talent to English teaching, either. Before this can happen, pay prospects here simply have to get better.

Of course, as someone else pointed out, South Korea and Japan are not bilingual countries. Because, of course, countries where English is more widely spoken got that way through historical (typically colonial) means, but also because those countries routinely employ a large number of local teachers and don't rely on foreign ones.

That's really key, not only in terms of getting enough foreign teachers to do the job, but also cutting down a native speakerist view of English: that English is a White People thing, that White People go to Other Countries to teach Local People, who Learn It. But a country only becomes multilingual when locals are there making it happen. You can't import that kind of culture shift, nor should you.

(Obviously not every native speaker teacher is white, I'm talking about perceptions, not reality.)

There was a huge outpouring of angst, as well. That's not a criticism; I happen to agree with much of it. The notion that Taiwan needs to 'attract' more foreign talent bothered some, who pointed out quite rightly that many talented foreigners are already here, but can't get work outside of English teaching. Some stay and teach because it's all they can do; some leave because there's just no career future here and go to Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, back to their native countries or elsewhere.

There was also an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the lack of readable English information on Taiwanese websites, including government websites. If Taiwan is truly going to become an English-friendly country, at the bare minimum all government websites need to be translated completely into (good) English.

Quite a bit of dissatisfaction was expressed over Taiwan's horrifying national examination system (including from me). I pointed out that research consistently shows that elementary-school language teachers in Taiwan are happy to incorporate more modern teaching methods into their practice, but  junior and senior high school teachers aren't, and the big difference is that older learners need to be prepared for the massive battery of mostly-useless and actively harmful exams that they have to take. The teachers themselves have said this quite clearly. There is simply no way for a language education program that actually results in English language proficiency to exist side-by-side with those exams.

The issue, of course, is that parents and some teachers fight viciously against any attempt to change the system. The parents think that more accurate assessment is somehow 'less objective' (not realizing that the tests their children are taking now aren't even accurate or related to real-world language use, and take away so much learning time as to actually harm their overall achievement) and some teachers are afraid they'll lose their jobs if schools suddenly start doing things differently. We need to work with both groups to advocate for change and convince them that there's nothing to be afraid of.

And, as usual, immigration is a massive issue. Those of us who want to stay forever - the well-secured roots of an international Taiwan - are concerned with how difficult it still is to obtain dual nationality or even an employment Gold Card. As a friend of mine pointed out, his employer (Academia Sinica) interprets the dual nationality requirements as stated to mean "we'll do what we need to do to get your application through when you get tenure". Imagine having to be a tenured professor at Academia Sinica before you can even approach dual nationality as an educator! Making it easier to move here and work is important for new immigrants; dual nationality is a core concern of us long-termers. Without it, internationalization can't happen, as we'll always be outsiders.

The downside of the meeting is that a lot of the issues discussed - low pay, lack of career opportunities for foreigners etc - are not easily solvable by the government. Even if they were, there's an entire legislature to convince. Two progressive legislators and the NDC are a good start, but it's not the end. There's a lot to be done and simply "this doesn't work! We can't get good jobs!" isn't something that can be specifically targeted, especially when locals are also struggling in a slow-growth economy.

The upside is that, again, it's huge that the meeting happened at all. People in government are interested, and listening, and that's more than I could say even three years ago. (And for us foreigners, is a big reason to support the Tsai administration). That's something, and we need to turn it into something real.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Xi Jinping is probably a terrible parent, given the way he treats Taiwan

Another day, another repetition of China's old line that if Taiwan would just agree to unify with China, that their rights would be assured under the "one country two systems" framework.

The article is strong, and includes analysis from experts who mostly actually seem to know what they are talking about. It avoids the incorrect use of "reunification", which not many reports on the issue do. It's clear that a.) Taiwanese are not likely to ever embrace unification (meaning that if it ever happens, it will be annexation, not unification); b.) things aren't great in Hong Kong; and c.) that Taiwan has "everything to lose and nothing to gain" from unification with China.

There are a few flaws, such as not dissecting Jeanne-Pierre Cabestan's assertion that Beijing's offered "reward" is "sweeter" than previous offers when in fact it's just the same old crap, and using the phrase "tensions could rise" rather than clearly identifying China as the source of tensions. But, it's good work overall and I don't want to dwell on these small nitpicks.

Instead, seeing as Xi Dada routinely treats Taiwan as a recalcitrant child (Taiwan is not China's child, but this is how he sees it), I have to wonder what kind of Dad he is exactly. Does he treat his own kid this way?

I can only imagine that conversations in the Xi household go something like this: 

Xi Dada: "Honey, come give your Dad a foot rub."

Formosa: "Ew. No. That's gross, you're gross, your feet smell and I'm not going to do it."

Xi Dada: "Come on, don't you want to give me a foot rub?"

Formosa: "I literally just said I don't want to do that."

Xi Dada: "If you give me a foot rub, I'll let you take out the garbage!"

Formosa: "Um, I don't want to take out the garbage or rub your feet. I especially don't want to rub your feet so that I can take out the garbage."

Xi Dada: "Oh, honey, but...if you give me a foot rub, you can take out the garbage! Won't that be great?"

Formosa: "Did you not hear me say two seconds ago that I don't want to take out the garbage?"

Xi Jinping: "If you take out the garbage, you can take out your own garbage with my garbage."

Formosa: "I only have a little garbage. I can take it out myself. You have a ton of garbage. I would be totally buried in it. That's disgusting and I said no."

Xi Jinping: "But honey...don't you want to take out the garbage? You can do that if you rub my feet!"

Formosa: "For the last fucking time, I don't want to give you a foot rub, and I don't want to take out the garbage, so why would I agree to give you a foot rub so I can do another thing I don't want to do?"

Xi Jinping: "Why are you so difficult? This is a wound on our family! It's a matter of family pride that we all agree on."

Formosa: "I don't agree with that and never really said I did."

Xi Jinping: "You used to say that!"

Formosa: "Back when I was forced to. Now I'm not. I never actually believed it and you know that. To be frank, I'm not even sure you're my real Dad."

Xi Jinping: "But I'm offering you so much! I keep sweetening the deal and you keep turning me down!"

Formosa: "What makes it sweeter?"

Xi Jinping: "If you give me a footrub, you can...take out...the...garbage!"

Formosa: "That's not sweeter, that's the same thing you offered me before and it's terrible."

Xi Jinping: "Your cousin gave me a foot rub and took out the garbage and he loves it!"

Formosa: "No he doesn't! You forced him to give you a foot rub and take out the garbage and now he smells like your feet and is covered in garbage!"

Xi Jinping: "That's not true."

Cousin Hong Kong: "That's true."

Xi Jinping: "This is a wound to our family pride!" 

International Media: "Oh no! Tensions the China household!"

Formosa: "Um, I just live nearby and I don't know why this jackass says he's my 'Dad', so - - "

International Media: "Shhh!" 

Xi Dada: "A WOUND ON OUR FAMILY PRIDE!! We as a family can never be truly happy until Formosa rubs my feet and gets her reward of taking out the garbage! That's what everyone wants!"

Formosa: "No, it's not what anyone but you - - oh whatever. I'm not going to do it but I'm done telling you why."

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Why Chinese government spying is the scariest sort: an explainer

I'm in the US for the holidays, and a segment came on some silly morning show (they're all silly) about how China is "revolutionizing" shopping and payment through cell phone payment apps at a far higher rate than the US. Or, as the silly hosts of this silly program described it, "China is decades ahead of the US in shopping technology".

And I made a remark about how that's actually terrifying, because the Chinese government watches essentially everything you do on your cell phone in China, and can and will use it against you. They don't even try to hide it. That everyone I know who is knowledgeable about cybersecurity in any way uses a second dummy cell in China for all of the apps there that come packaged with nasty spyware.

The person I was watching the program with looked duly horrified - after all, the silly segment by that silly host on that silly TV show was making China out to be this amazing technological wonderland of the future (the tone was similar the one taken in this article, but if anything less critical). What I was saying was totally at odds with that.

She came back with "you know, I'm sure the US government does that too, we just don't know about it."

Sure. I mean...kinda. But it's not at all the same thing. I don't blame her for her reaction, by the way - when your exposure to current affairs in China comes entirely from Western media, and mostly Western media that is uncritical about China but highly critical of domestic affairs, interspersed with ads for Shen Yun (with no context whatsoever pointing out that a.) the Chinese government hates them, which is great but also b.) that they are owned by a wealthy cult-like religious organization which is not great), then this would be your natural reaction.

But there is a world of difference, and it's important to know why.

I'm going to come at this from a non-expert, non-academic, non-technical point of view. If you want detailed, professional analysis go somewhere else. I've noticed, however, that the average non-expert finds these issues too dense and daunting and typically doesn't read or fully understand them. Hell, I can't claim to fully understand them (this, for example, is barely readable to me despite being highly important). Instead, I'm hoping to tackle this in a way that helps the average reader comprehend what is so terrifying about China's government surveillance, in particular.

"But the US government does the same thing!" 

This is an issue in that the US government does have some unsettling rights to surveillance and data under the Patriot Act. I don't like it either, and I've had it and other surveillance programs affect me three times that I know of, including having to sign something that allowed the US government to monitor one of my bank accounts in Taiwan, and being unable to open a new IRA in the US.

So, yes, it's creepy and horrible. Please don't categorize me as a defender of the actions of the US government.

But. But! This is really not on the same level as what the Chinese government does.

For reasons explained below, it's doubtful that the US government is directly intervening in what private businesses do, forcing them to put spyware into their devices or app/online offerings. They're not using what data they do collect in the same way as China, and while maddeningly opaque and bureaucratic, the very fact that the US is a democracy with certain freedoms of expression and information means it is still more transparent than China.

Oh yeah, and say what you will about who is watching what you do online, but the US government isn't going to disappear you because you said something online that they don't like. Even if you make suspicious purchases or phone calls, or visit certain sites, you might find yourself detained or questioned, but you won't be disappeared in an unmarked van.

No, you won't. Don't give me any conspiracy theory nonsense. But in China this is a real thing

"The US government could just be putting spyware in our phones too!" 

Maybe. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

As far as I'm aware, the US government doesn't "own" (or have some sort of control over) the various tech companies that make our stuff. The US government can't tell Apple, Google, Paypal, Venmo etc. what to do the way the CCP can tell Huawei, Xiaomi, ZTE, Baidu and Alipay what to do. It's an open secret - if it's a secret at all - that Communist Party members and officials have a controlling stake in those Chinese companies and they almost certainly do have those companies install spyware and other backdoor access to data in their products.

It is not clear at all that the US has the same thing, and I doubt they do.

The US media, for all we deservedly criticize it, is pretty good at rooting out this stuff, investigating it and exposing it in detail. We know that Donald Trump committed tax fraud thanks to an in-depth investigation by the the New York Times, to give just one example.

If the US government were ordering Apple to install spyware into their phones, or ordering Google to have government spyware installed on everyone's phone with every download of the Chrome app, while those companies would certainly not be transparent about it (seeing as they're not transparent about much), it would still likely break in the media eventually. Criticize it all you want - I do! Push the media to be better. But it's a lot better and a lot freer than in many places, including China.

If anything, you should be scared that the Chinese government, not the American government, is putting some scary things into products by non-Chinese companies. Though it's perhaps less likely as they don't actually control these companies, most of the production takes place in China and some of the components of these products are designed/produced by Chinese companies, so it's still a real possibility.

"But the US monitors our financial transactions and punishes us too, through credit scores!" 

I don't care for credit score companies either. I understand why some institutions would want a heads-up as to how well or poorly you are likely to be able to pay your bills from them, but the way scores are calculated is not nearly as transparent as it needs to be, and in some ways is unfair.

However, most developed countries have some form of credit score system, and the effects are not as far-reaching.

In China, the social credit system being developed will operate on such a greater scale than any credit scoring system that the two can't be seriously compared. A bad credit score might make it hard to get a credit card or loan (or, if it's bad enough, a bank account), and you may be denied a visa to go abroad by that country's embassy, but it won't stop you from buying flight or train tickets or from getting a passport. China eventually willEven articles trying to downplay the threat are unconvincing. It is very real, and it's the outcomes, not the details, that matter.

Even if the US government is spying on us in the same way and to the same degree that the Chinese government spies on their citizens (and, possibly, us) - which they almost certainly are not -  a system designed to force you to be a "good citizen" is not the outcome and nobody is talking seriously about building one.

If that were to change (and in the Trump era, who knows?) we still have ways of fighting back that Chinese citizens do not. We can still speak openly about it. Journalists can investigate and publish stories. If nobody will publish your story you can publish it yourself (and who knows, you might go viral or at least show up in search results). We can file lawsuits against the government. We can vote the bastards out of office. We can push for better legislation. We can take to the streets. We can fundraise for a series of legal moves, lobbying and awareness campaigns that aim to change the way things are. It's hard to do, but it is possible and, most importantly, all of this is legal.

In China, none of it is. In China, you have no recourse. You can't protest, you can't sue, you can't raise money for these causes, you can't easily investigate (nothing is transparent enough for you to be able to do so - there is no Freedom of Information Act), and you can't vote in any meaningful way.

Also, in the US, it is still possible to exist (though with difficulty) without giving the government access to a lot of your data. You don't need to use any apps that you don't want to, and you can still (mostly) pay in cash for things. In China, I hear time and time again that it is impossible to keep in touch with people without WeChat (a social media app that definitely funnels information to the government, and every expert I know says likely comes packaged with all sorts of spyware quietly downloaded on your phone) or Weibo (same). You can't hail a taxi without a WeChat-related app, and may not even be able to buy anything at department stores or go out to eat.

It's becoming impossible to pay for things in China without some sort of phone payment app like WeChat Pay or Alipay. Taxis will upcharge you to an insane degree, and some places won't take cash at all. You can't function in China without signing up for these payment apps, meaning you cannot exist somewhat anonymously in even the simplest ways. In the US, you still can.

"But Facebook and Google collect our data too!" 

They do, and that sucks. And the data seems to be mostly used for selling ads. Even though, if I have to see ads, I'd rather see ones that might interest me, I don't really want companies to refine how well they can target me to convince me to spend my money through psychological means that I often find deceptive. That said, I can and do ignore them. It is possible to not buy. You can not pay attention to ads or fake news targeted at you (another way that our data was problematically used). You can ignore memes (I do), check sources (I do), and think critically about what you are reading and seeing, where it comes from and why it appeared on your news feed or in your search results. I do.

That data is not being handed to an autocratic government (the US has many flaws, but it is not an authoritarian state. China is) to build a massive social credit system that you can't opt out of and that you can't ignore the way you can a shitty ad or lizard-brain meme. You can choose not to use any apps you don't trust in the US, and you can choose not to believe or pay attention to dodgy things targeted at you.

And we know that data is not being handed over for the same purposes, and we know the US government doesn't control these companies, because if it were, there would be no reason for Google or Facebook executives to testify before Congress.

You don't have any of those options in China, and there is no need (from the government's perspective) for either testimony or transparency. You know why.

"If you have nothing to hide, then you have no reason to fear!" 

Yeah okay um...who determines whether you have nothing to hide? You, or the horrible government that is monitoring you? Who decides if you've done nothing wrong - them or you?

Do you really trust them to agree with you that you have done nothing wrong? All the time?

What happens when you do have a complaint with the government? A legitimate complaint that is nonetheless not allowed? What if your complaint is that they disappeared your daughter, forced you to have an abortion, or expropriated your house without compensation? What if you took a trip to Taiwan and realized that the situation there was completely different from what you'd always been told, and simply wanted to say that honestly? What if you had an 'undesirable' friend who was not a model citizen like you, but you'd known them since childhood, cared about them and knew them to be a good person? What if the only way to boost your own social credit score was to disavow this friend? What if that person wasn't your friend but your brother, or mother? What if merely calling that person from your compromised phone put them in danger?

Even if you'd been a model citizen up to that point, what happens when suddenly you are faced with this choice?

Don't even get me started with "I have nothing to hide."