Saturday, June 25, 2022

Throw Eggs At SCOTUS


I was writing this whole other thing, but you know what? Fuck it. I'm infuriated. Enraged. Engorged with burning hatred. 

And as an American woman living in Taiwan, I feel both uniquely lucky and uniquely helpless. 

When the Supreme Court Republicans of the United States (SCROTUS) decided that I, as an American citizen with a uterus, do not have a constitutional right to basic humanity and bodily autonomy by eviscerating Roe v. Wade, my first thought was that my greatest desire on earth is to visit the United States, buy a dozen eggs, leave them out in the hot sun for a day or two, and then chuck them at the people who think it's okay for me to be treated like an incubator rather than a fucking human being.

I am not sure those herpes sores on the taint of America understand that they deserve to get hit with eggs, but I assure you they do. 

I'm generally not a fan of the sort of violence that grievously harms people (though some people, I won't cry for). But protest violence -- non-lethal projectiles such as eggs? -- that's fair game. Apparently doing this can result in a charge of vandalism, which I don't have a problem with. I'm not the sort to aim for the face, and anyhow, rotten egg seems like it'd be a tough smell to get out of judge's robes. The only bigger stench is the foetid pit where their souls should be. It's hard to top that, but rotten eggs are a good start. 

To put it another way, I'm not going to put a lightbulb on a chair where Clarence Thomas is about to sit. I'm not about that. But if, say, he happened to sit on a lightbulb and get glass shards in his asshole, I wouldn't exactly feel bad about it. 

Both fortunately and unfortunately, however, I'm not in the United States. As an American, I do care about the fact that the country of my birth is going straight down the shitter, however. I care about all of the American women who might, depending on what state they live in and how much money they have, be treated as more chattel than human. I remember being young and broke in America; it's not easy to travel to another state for a medical procedure if you don't have any money. I never felt that particular hardship, but I could barely afford to see a doctor locally. The pain of being broke with an unwanted pregnancy, far from a facility to get the care you need, is surely horrific. 

I've done the math, however, and having just come back from the USA, I don't really have the resources to fly back immediately to go protest. This adds a good pour of gasoline to what is already an inferno of incandescent rage. There is so little I can do besides donate to appropriate organizations. Will there be a protest in Taipei? Probably. If there isn't, maybe I'll organize one. (Frankly the only reason I'm not doing so right now is that I'm not sure what good it would do. It'd get in the local news and maybe I'd earn a few pats on the back, but that's not very meaningful.) 

It just feels so...helpless. And hopeless. 

And yet, I keep wondering if I have a right to such despondency. I live in Taiwan where abortion access isn't perfect, but at least it exists. Though proposed changes to the law don't seem to be going anywhere, the trend is toward making it more accessible, not less.

I don't live in any state where I might lose my basic rights, because I don't live in any state at all. I care about the women in the US who are facing a terrifying future, but the fact is, I'm not one of them. I'm not there. Do I have the right to feel helpless and hopeless when ultimately I still have the privilege of abortion access, which so many other American women suddenly lost yesterday?

The whole issue has now pushed me to confront the ways I'm still tied to the United States -- my  family, my passport, my home culture (as much as it might disgust me) -- and the fact that I can't really choose not to be. I've spent time in the US for family reasons before, and as long as I have close blood ties there, I might have to again. Even if I were about to renounce my citizenship, which I'm not, I can't just not be from the place I am from. 

But I can promise you I have thought about it. 

If there were any chance of my moving back there, ever, that has now evaporated. I already wasn't planning to, but now I actively refuse to consider it. Perhaps it's where I'm from, and perhaps I'm a citizen. But Taiwan is my home. If I ever have to leave Taiwan -- say, if China successfully invades and kicks me out -- I certainly won't return to the USA. 

But I will probably visit, and I still think we should throw some fucking eggs at fucking SCOTUS.

I’m also not interested in any talk about bipartisanship on Taiwan right now. It’s not that I don’t think it matters; rather, now is not the fucking time. If you were unaware that advocating for Taiwan as an American is disproportionately hard on Americans with specific anatomy, I hope now you are. I don’t care if Republicans also support Taiwan. I want nothing to do with them. I don’t care if you (the reader) and I agree on Taiwan issues, if you are anti-abortion. As of now, if you are anti-abortion, we are enemies. Period. 

Oh yeah, and if you voted for the guy who packed the court with these fuckhags, not only do I advise you not to read Lao Ren Cha -- it's not for you, and I don't want it to be for you -- but if I know you in person we are no longer on speaking terms. Even if I don't know you, we are enemies. I don't want to hear about "unity or "not judging others" or "finding common ground". I quite literally do not care. You didn't respect my humanity enough to not vote for that shitstained hemorrhoid, so I owe you nothing. Not kindness, not civility, not a single fucking word.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

No, the DPP didn't "brainwash" Taiwan into "forgetting it is Chinese"


She couldn't have engineered a turn away from Chinese identity because she was elected after it happened!

I keep trying to write this post, and I keep failing. Or something happens in my life -- this week it was a migraine -- and I sort of wander away. Part of it might be that I keep trying to give it an "article-like" opening even though this is a blog, and then I get bogged down in trying to sound a certain way, and it comes out all weird. 

So, if I have any hope of saying what's on my mind, let's forget that and jump right in. 

Anyone who advocates for Taiwan online will eventually come across a particularly virulent strain of poor reasoning and straight-up falsehood: that Taiwanese identity is robust because the DPP made it so, and that Chinese identity in Taiwan is on the decline because, again, the DPP "brainwashed" Taiwanese into thinking it was true. This is often used to lament the 'letting go' of an understanding that Taiwan is part of some concept of China, or 'forgetting one's roots' because data show Taiwanese in general have moved away from the notion that having ancestral heritage in China means they are Chinese.

I've been seeing it more these days, which might be attributable to it becoming a CCP troll talking point, though many real people seem to hold it as a sincere opinion. Another possibility is that it's harder than ever to point to unclear or inconclusive data to claim that, at best, Taiwanese don't know what they want. We know most identify as solely Taiwanese, and we now know that although the infamous 'status quo' survey is often (ahem almost always) poorly analyzed, that most people see the status quo as sufficient to consider Taiwan an independent country -- no name change needed.

Or maybe people are just jerks, or acting out the fantasies their KMT parents taught them, and pinning it all on the opposition. I dunno. I'd rather look at the problems with the argument than speculate about this.

Chinese identity is not the default

The first issue is easily dispensed with: "Taiwanese forgot their true heritage, that they are Chinese" absolutely begs the question. It assumes that the default state of Taiwan is Chinese identity, that Chineseness is the baseline, the neutral state, and any change from that is the only thing that can be "political", and therefore the only thing that can be engineered or forced onto a population.

This is wrong. 

Remember when I said in a recent post that every KMT accusation is a confession? (Not originally my words, by the way). This is one, too. They accuse the DPP of using state power, including education, to force an identity on Taiwan. But that's what they did! The KMT implemented an education system that emphasized Chinese identity and either outright ignored Taiwanese history, or reduced it to a footnote within a greater Chinese framework. The KMT forced Mandarin on people who didn't speak it natively, actively banning other languages in school and government and highly discouraging their use in public (as in, speak Taiwanese or Japanese and we'll be watching you and maybe we'll send Officer Chang over to your house to check out your book collection, and if we can't find any "communist" literature we'll say we did anyway.) The KMT banned discussion of their own repressive acts in Taiwan. The KMT destroyed markers of Japanese culture in Taiwan, including not just language but modes of dress, temples and shrines. The KMT censored songs simply because the lyrics were Taiwanese, even if they held no inherent political meaning. In a twist that's going to matter later in this post, the KMT's own action to repress these songs is part of what led to them being used as acts of political symbolism! 

Arguably, the KMT engaged in this far more than the DPP ever has, which I'll get into further down.

Unless you take as a default that Taiwanese should think they are Chinese, and therefore it's okay for the KMT to force that identity on Taiwan but not acceptable for others to deconstruct it, this is inherently a political and non-neutral series of actions. I don't take it as a baseline that Taiwan is Chinese -- and why should I? Most Taiwanese don't either! Besides, historically China either didn't rule Taiwan, or ruled only part of the island. To that end, Taiwanese history overlaps with Chinese only to a degree, and I'd argue it's not a very great degree. Most of Chinese history is not relevant to Taiwan (just about anything up through the Ming Dynasty) unless you're talking about ancestral, not national, history as the island of Taiwan wasn't ruled by China in those centuries. And the few centuries where they do overlap, well, China not only didn't rule the whole island for the most part, they treated it as a backwater worth little attention and even fewer resources.

Perhaps the settlers' ancestors came from China, but from a political perspective, that ceases to matter after a few generations. The 1949 diaspora came more recently, but they were always a minority and their grandchildren have closer ties to Taiwan for the most part. It's fundamentally a flawed assumption to believe Chinese identity in this circumstance is immutable.

So, what is the default identity for Taiwan? 

The default identity for any group of people is what they want it to be. Not in an "I'm 1/16th Cree so I have decided I'm First Nations even though I don't participate in the culture and have always been treated as white" way. I mean in a "we live this identity and bear the full weight of it, so we get to decide what it means" way. 

Whether it's Chinese people furious that Taiwanese don't see themselves as Chinese, or white wannabe anti-imperialists who talk big about accepting different identities unless that identity is Taiwanese, in which case suddenly 23 million people don't get a say, it astounds me how people can be so two-faced. That is, talk one minute about how nobody else can tell others who they are or dictate their history to them, and the next about how Chinese say Taiwanese can't be Taiwanese, so we can't recognize Taiwanese identity out of respect for China. 

How is it not just important but imperative to respect every identity, but then whip around and call Taiwanese identity separatist, ethno-nationalist or even Sinophobic/anti-Chinese? 

How can you insist, if you are Chinese, that nobody else can explain your heritage and culture to you (which is true) -- and then feel comfortable explaining your version of Taiwan's heritage and culture to them? 

If you're not Chinese, how can you go around insisting everyone respect gender and sexual identity, heritage identity and neurodivergence (all great things to respect, and I agree) and then dismiss Taiwan as the one identity you don't have to respect? 

If you're an Asian American, how can you consistently leave Taiwan out of identity debates, and in some cases simp for the Chinese government, totally disrespecting your fellow Asian Americans who happen to be Taiwanese? 

Finally, if you're Taiwanese American (including the descendants of the KMT diaspora), how cam you tell Taiwanese in Taiwan that your grandparents' vision of an island they only briefly inhabited is the only correct one, and they better fall in line? How can you insist that your legitimate and valid view of yourself as Chinese must therefore apply to all Taiwanese? 

It boggles the mind! If Taiwanese say they are Taiwanese, fucking listen to them

(If the majority said they weren't Taiwanese, you should listen to that too. But they don't.

This is especially true as the tenor of pro-Taiwan discourse has trended increasingly towards accepting that some portion of the population will disagree. This is fine, as people have a right to their own views and identities. It is imperative, however, for the pro-China side to offer that same respect. Currently, I don't see that this is the case.

Seriously, I'm starting to think the fastest way to tell a real anti-imperialist for a straight-up fraud -- or a truly socially-conscious person from a self-righteous jerk -- is to bring up Taiwan. If you're not interested in respecting Taiwanese identity, I now assume you are a hypocrite who doesn't respect identity unless you personally approve, and therefore not worth my time.

Get your timelines right!

The final issue takes longer to talk about. It's a straight-up reverse cause fallacy in which time, for people who believe the DPP "forced" Taiwanese into "forgetting they are Chinese", apparently moves backwards. Or at best, it might be considered a cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy in which one historical trend is falsely fingered as the cause of another roughly concurrent trend.

For the DPP to credibly be the evil masterminds engineering Taiwanese identity, they'd need to be in a position of sufficient power or influence before the movement away from Chinese identity and toward Taiwanese. Otherwise, how could they have effected the change? With what exactly would they have forced their nefarious plan through, protest signs and...frequently getting arrested? 

Seriously, just look at the timelines. In what years did Taiwanese identity spike? First, starting around 1995, when it overtook solely Chinese identity, and climbed steadily until 2000. That's significant, and I'll talk about it in a moment.

It overtook "Taiwanese and Chinese" identity between 2006-2008. At that time, the DPP's star was falling thanks to the rumors swirling around Chen Shui-bian, reaching what might be described as a nadir with the election of Ma Ying-jeou.

A lot of people seem to think Chen was some sort of ogre forcing Taiwanese identity through schools and society, but during his presidency, Taiwanese identity rose far more slowly than in the preceding years, with a few dips. If he was trying to evil-villain Taiwanese identity to greater prominence, he didn't do a very good job. How could he have, when the legislature was still KMT-controlled?

The next significant spike hit around the Sunflower Movement, with the increase leading up to it following the descent of President Ma into deep unpopularity. "Aha!" you might shout. "It does follow the rise and fall of political party influence!"

Not so fast. Ma was still in power, and the legislature majority KMT. People often reference education as a site of struggle where these sorts of so-called "brainwashings" are engineered, but Ma's big education policy was to make the curriculum emphasize links with China, not Taiwanese identity! If anything other than the Sunflowers led to a spike in Taiwanese identity (and there was one), it was the electorate's reaction against policies like this, not the government's evil plotting.

Besides, if the DPP were able to control local identity so much before Ma, then how did Ma get elected in the first place?

The Sunflowers themselves wielded a great deal of cultural capital but not much institutional power, so while they certainly impacted the national conversation and societal beliefs, they could not have engineered or masterminded any sort of authoritarian changes intended to "brainwash" anybody. They occupied the legislature but weren't elected to it. They protested lawmakers, they weren't lawmakers themselves. 

Some will still claim that perhaps it wasn't Lee, or Chen, or the Sunflowers responsible for this "brainwashing", but Tsai. If that's so, explain how Taiwanese identity actually dropped a bit in the years following her election -- that is, when she began to actually wield power?

It's true that the most recent spike occurred around the 2020 election, gathering momentum from its 2018 "nadir" (well, compared to the years surrounding it. Overall it was no nadir at all.) But Tsai was already in power then and had not managed to elevate Taiwanese identity in the previous two years. It's unlikely that her knockout defeat of Han Kuo-yu and re-election caused this spike. Rather, they were probably the result of it. Fears about China and the overall incompetence of the KMT candidate are more likely possible causes.

Think about it: in what universe does "you elected me, therefore I will brainwash you" make any sense? Just in terms of, y'know, linear time?

To put it succinctly, if the "evil DPP" was "brainwashing" Taiwanese into thinking they were Taiwanese, how is it that Taiwanese identity hit milestones around the time KMT presidents (and legislatures) were elected, and leveled off or dipped a bit after DPP ones were? 

It's not even post hoc reasoning. It's just backward.

More likely, these changes occurred naturally, and the DPP was the beneficiary of changing public sentiment regarding identity, not its architect. Just as likely, they were a reaction against the newly-elected KMT turning back towards China once again -- so if anything caused a shift toward Taiwanese identity, it was probably (and unwittingly) the KMT!

Let's rewind. What happened in 1995, when that first spike happened? Well, Lee Teng-hui offered imminent democratization, and the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis. Who got elected in 1996? Lee, who despite ushering in a more nativist approach, was KMT, not DPP. Who controlled the legislature and most mayoral posts? The KMT, though the DPP had a loud minority and the coveted Taipei mayoralty. A voice, but a minority or subordinate one in terms of power structures.

If it could not have been the DPP -- again, they lacked the actual power -- and the KMT was, if anything, reacting to a broader social change, the only reasonable explanation for the shift towards Taiwanese identity is probably best explained not by the machinations of political parties, but democratization in general. Democracy: that amazing thing where either party can be elected!  

No, education is not the cause -- it's the effect

"But the education system was changed to emphasize Taiwan in the 1990s," some might shriek. "The evil DPP pushed for that, it's their fault!"

Not really, though. Yes, textbooks were slowly deregulated and curricula decentralized. Local history and "getting to know Taiwan" were introduced. The 228 Massacre could finally be discussed, and the role of local languages in education debated (the preeminence of Mandarin still remained, however). But the authorities allowing these changes on their preferred timeline were the KMT, not the DPP, though you could say they were forced to make concessions to the opposition and even adopt some of their nativizing rhetoric into their own platforms as a result. Do not forget, however: the KMT retained most of the actual power. What's more, these changes merely allowed Taiwanese history, society and geography to be discussed in an expanded version of a "local curriculum" where Taiwan was still ultimately treated as part of a larger China, or as the site of the ROC on Taiwan, not a nation in its own right. 

If simply talking about Taiwanese history and not hitting or fining children for speaking their native languages in school is enough to turn people from Chinese identity to Taiwanese, then Chinese identity in Taiwan must have been resting on pretty weak legs to begin with, eh? Maybe that alone could topple a popsicle-stick house, but not a monolith. So either it wasn't the cause, or Chinese identity was a stick house. Regardless, the final authority that approved these changes was the KMT, not the DPP -- a KMT reacting to this social change to retain power, not engineering it. 

In other words, democratization, national educational curriculum changes and the move toward Taiwanese identity all happened around the same time. They probably didn't cause each other (although if any one of them is a root cause of the others, it's probably democratization -- don't quote me on that, though). The common cause of all of these effects was a reaction against decades of brutal, repressive KMT rule and enforced institution of Chinese identity, not some sort of evil DPP plan. Not only is there nothing wrong with wanting to learn about one's local history,  but a push to do exactly that -- and decouple that history from some larger story of a larger civilization as well as talk about the parts of that history that don't overlap with it -- usually follows a change in identity. It doesn't cause it.

That's the case, at least, when the push to do just that comes from a newly democratized society, or a minority voice in the government who can't change the rules at will. Chinese identity through education was a top-down project, fed to schoolchildren through the education system by the KMT. Taiwanese identity entered the education system from the bottom-up, when the DPP didn't have institutional power. 

A quick summary for the tl;dr crowd

The DPP certainly played an important role in pushing for democratization and being that minority voice once the KMT stopped arresting and torturing them (though remember, the last political prisoners were still in jail in the early 1990s!). They pushed for changes to the education system, but ultimately needed KMT acquiescence to realize them. The KMT caused a backlash thanks to its own repressive rule, and stands guilty themselves of forcing Chinese identity on Taiwan, which was not a neutral act as Chinese identity was not the default state in Taiwan any more than Mandarin was always the lingua franca (it wasn't). Even if you try to argue it by timeline, it doesn't match up and if anything is backwards reasoning. 

Whatever you want to name as the cause or origin of Taiwanese identity, it was not the DPP. If anything, they were an effect of that change, and to some extent, you can say the KMT did this to themselves. 

But really, if you absolutely need a "cause" (do you?) -- look no further than democratization. Do you hate democracy? I sure hope not. 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Book Review: Bestiary

I have a flaw: while I’m fine with innovative storylines and narrative choices, I prefer novels that follow a conventional plot structure. I don’t like meandering. I like strong characterization and clear narrative flow, choosing it every time over highly metaphorical or poetic prose. 

This makes it somewhat difficult to read Taiwanese literature, which is far more tolerant of that ‘meandering’ and heavily-applied metaphor, but I accept it, because I want to read Taiwanese literature. Perhaps one could say that this pushes a reader out of their West-centric literary comfort zone, opens the mind. And perhaps it does. Certainly, it’s offered more chances for surprise, revelation or unexpected fondness. Yet I still prefer the comfort food of a conventional page-turner. 

All this is to say, I ended up enjoying K-Ming Chang’s Bestiary — a modern, fabulist novel that features Taiwan but takes place mostly in the United States — more than I thought I would. 

Especially as it took me nearly three months to finish. 

I want to start with what I didn’t like about Bestiary, so I can end with what I absolutely did. 

Chang’s prose is distinctive and singular; these are reasons to love it, and also to struggle with it. It’s loaded with simile, to the point of overload until you realize the choice is conscious. Everything is like something else. Nothing is ever just what it is. Nothing is ever described in a straightforward way: you get the impression that the family, Taiwanese living in Arkansas, are very poor, and you get some idea of how they’re connected to missionaries. It’s unclear whose father is whose, which generation moved to the US, whether the mother or daughter is narrating or exactly where they are when things happen. 

There is a lot of effluent: snot, blood, sweat, urine, and other human juices practically soak the pages. This leads to an extended metaphor about holes: in the body, in the ground, things that birth and excrete, as well as ingest. It takes awhile to get to the central plot: the daughter in the story starts turning into a tiger, which is related to an old story from Taiwan (or is it China?). Aunts have snakes in their bellies, a brother tries to fly. It’s an extremely human-body centric series of fables set in something like the modern day. In fact, I wasn’t exactly sure when it was set, but my brain kept defaulting to the late 20th century. Why? No idea. 

The starting point of the novel is the fable or children’s tale of Hu Gu Po (虎姑婆), though the actual story is never told directly in Bestiary. According to the fable, Hu Gu Po eats children to become or stay human. The only way to avoid this is to lock the door and sleep when you should. A child who isn’t sleeping lets her into the house because she’s disguised as her aunt. Hu Gu Po then eats her brothers ears and toes, and is going to eat the girl until she’s tricked into boiling herself.

This is obviously a terrifying story to tell children (aren’t most fairy tales?) but aren't Western ones similarly horrid?

Other fables play out in Bestiary, exploring the difficult ties of family and history, tying in Taiwanese Indigenous fables with the 1949 diaspora and what the protagonist’s grandmother lived through, being fed stories (and more than stories) that didn’t come from her land or people.

Of course, something has to happen among all this simile-and-metaphor laden fabulism, and indeed, the protagonist has to use her powers as Hu Gu Po in a dramatic confrontation with her grandmother. I’ll leave the actual plot there partly to avoid spoilers, but partly because the plot arc, so intent on its similes and metaphors, was not entirely clear — at least to me. 

In other words, I felt character development and straightforward plot points were sacrificed for fabulism to the point that I’m not entirely clear on why the climactic moment played out exactly as it did, and it sure took awhile to get there. That is, it made sense within the story of Hu Gu Po but felt a little unearned in Bestiary.

Only in retrospect did I see the attempt to escalate the story’s tension to that moment, I didn’t feel very much for the characters as individuals: they felt more like stand-ins or human symbols. Nor did I feel much for the letters from Ama that kept popping out of the holes in the backyard (if this sentence is not clear, honestly, you have to read the book). They were clearly intended to be stream-of-consciousness, but that style often reads to me as simply not making a lot of sense. 

It’s probably me, though. I’m too bricklike. Square, literal. 

You might think from all this that I’m forcing myself to say I enjoyed Bestiary  — like a tasting menu at one of those fabulously expensive restaurants that turns steak into frozen bubbles or some such, when all I wanted was a bagel. That’s not the case! 

The prose also contained moments of pure beauty, both in terms of wordsmithing and cutting to the heart of history, society and family:

I told myself that it wasn’t stealing if the thing had only been stolen once. Two acts of thievery canceled out, became something more like salvaging. 

Her fist flying into the door like a dumb bird. 

It’s summer and the sky is vomiting.

We met inside our mouths. I found the seam under her tongue and undid it. 

We have no history, only stories. 

She asked if I knew the story of Hu Gu Po, a story about the cost of having a body. The cost was butchery. She said there were no tigers on her island and there had never been. The story had been born somewhere else, brought over by men and stuffed into the bellies of women who didn’t want it. The women gave birth anyway, to daughters that did not resemble them. 

It’s just gorgeous writing, isn’t it? I’d say good enough to struggle through a story that meanders a bit too much, plot points that don’t always feel earned, and a too-heavy dose of metaphor. Not every simile works as well as these; some gargle awkwardly. I got a little tired of all the bodily fluids. But the lines that sing are downright hypnotic. 

I’m not being quite fair when I say it took me three months to read Bestiary. It took me three months to get through the first half or so. I finished the second half in two days. After a certain point, it pulls you along, if you let it. 

I’m not sure how much a reader who hasn’t spent time in Taiwan would get from the layered meaning, but as someone who lives here, the story does speak volumes — again, if you let it. 

Monday, June 6, 2022

All the unfounded "evidence" Ma Ying-jeou used to attack the DPP on 6/4 (Part Two!)

Does this look like the face of a liar to you?

It's easy to spout bullshit. It's easy to lie, or take a kernel of truth and present a slanted and ultimately inaccurate perspective on it, calling your take the real truth. It's been done since the birth of political discourse because it's efficient, it's simple, and people will believe you.

What takes a long time? Refuting someone else's lies and bad takes. That requires reams of free time and tracts of verbiage. 

Fortunately, I type fast and am in quarantine, and a blog has no word limits. Why not debunk every accusation Ma Ying-jeou hurled at the DPP in his offensive post on June 4th? Sure, he briefly mentioned the Tiananmen Square Massacre, but it's clear what he really wanted to do was compliment Xi Jinping and trash his own country's democracy and elected leader. 

At least, he wanted to trash Taiwan's democracy. I'm reasonably sure he believes that China is his country and Xi Jinping currently leads it. 

Regardless, the crux of his argument is worth refuting point-by-point. Much of what he references was barely covered in English-language media, if at all. He uses specific terms even the most fluent second-language Mandarin speakers might be unfamiliar with (I know I was). And there are people who will believe it. 

I discuss the entirety of his statement in my previous post. Here, I'll address the specifics, starting with the middle of the post where he goes into detail.

Although Taiwan still flies the banner of democracy, under the Democratic Progressive Party's governance, it has gradually slid into "unfree democracy":  closing television news stations, liquidating opposition parties, "checking the water meter" of the people [this is a slang term], interfering with the judiciary,  an all-around 'greening' [turning pro-DPP] of independent agencies, revising the law to exonerate the corrupt former president [Chen Shui-bian], using internal propaganda to mislead citizens and sowing hatred simply to follow the 'political correctness' of the so-called 'anti-China protection of Taiwan'. International public opinion turns a blind eye to these initiatives, which harm Taiwan's freedom and democracy, but I am deeply concerned.

There's a lot to cover here, so let's go point-by-point, news item by news item.

"Closing television news stations"

The television station in question is CTiTV, which has severe editorial integrity issues and has been known to broadcast disinformation.  

It was done because they breached regulations several times and were routinely broadcasting false information without fact-checking. They were also found to lack editorial independence from their owner, pro-China Tsai tycoon Tsai Eng-meng, whose Want Want group receives funding from China. Want Want China Times Media Group (of which CTiTV is/was a part) was also accused of taking orders directly from the Chinese government. The original Financial Times piece is here, but paywalled.

Even if you oppose the closing of CTiTV, it wasn't done to crush dissenting voices. Plenty of pan-blue networks are still on television, and CTiTV is still alive on 
Youtube. While other networks may have fact-checking, editorial and general quality issues (including pan-green ones, which are hardly a bastion of fantastic journalism), CTiTV is the only one the NCC has actually refused a license renewal to. Typically a network won't fall afoul of the NCC if they plausibly believed false information was true at the time it was broadcast.

Some critical responses to this incident described Taiwan's media environment as being solidly "green" -- Han Kuo-yu even stated that "90% of media is pan-green" during the 2020 election -- and taken CTiTV's downfall as a harbinger of some sort of authoritarian DPP crackdown. That's simply not the case. It's true that by viewership the pan-green channels dominate (at about 66% as per the above link), but that doesn't mean that pro-DPP news channels are the only choice; it means more people choose to watch them.

In other words, it's possible to sincerely disagree on the NCC's decision, but it's not possible to credibly call this a grab to dominate the media or a sign of "Green Terror". 

"Liquidating opposition parties"

This probably has to do with transitional justice. Essentially, Ma is saying here that money the KMT can be credibly accused of stealing over the decades of its brutal, corrupt, totalitarian rule should not be taken from the KMT and given back to the nation it was stolen from. Not great.

"Checking the water meter"

This is Internet slang for the police entering a home on false pretexts, for example, to say that the home's water meter needs to be checked when it doesn't. It's also a catch-all for general intimidation of anyone who opposes you -- usually through a real-life visit -- while making excuses for your presence. 

The KMT likes to complain about this -- Alex Tsai at one point said it would lead to a modern Wuchang Uprising which...what? At first I thought it was pure projection: one thing I've learned in life is that people who make preposterous accusations against others either have engaged in those actions themselves, or want to. If someone (or a group) is screaming "all these bad actors are doing this to me!" but offers little evidence that it's happening, chances are they're the ones actually doing it, and trying to deflect scrutiny. 

Certainly, when I think of police intimidation to quell political dissent, the KMT has far more of a historical legacy. There is flimsy evidence for the existence of a "Green Terror", but the "White Terror" is a matter of historical fact. And frankly, even in modern times the KMT is not blameless.

However, a few cases did pop up after a search. Apparently some police showed up at a KMT think tank symposium saying protests could break out as the discussions were related to upcoming referendums, and protests were happening elsewhere. The KMT insists it wasn't a public event and only the press was notified, calling the excuse for the police presence "farfetched". In another incident, an elderly woman was visited by police after posting disinformation about the then-upcoming 2020 election.

Neither of these incidents, if true, looks great. However, the symposium was not stopped and no one was arrested or harmed. (I also couldn't find any proof that there's some DPP-led crackdown on freedom of expression). The woman was asked to explain her post at a police station in accordance with the Social Order Maintenance Act -- not great, as authorities paying someone a personal visit over something they've said sends a specific kind of message given Taiwan's political history -- but as far as I can tell was not arrested or further troubled. 

While the DPP is hardly perfect and their methods of handling disinformation potentially problematic, neither of these incidents definitively proves that the DPP is turning Taiwan into an "unfree democracy" or instituting a reign of "Green Terror". 

"Interfering with the judiciary" and "turning independent agencies green"

These accusations are more vague, but seem to refer to a variety of issues. This KMT News Network post is barely readable (no, it's not a machine translation) but provides little actual evidence of judicial interference, stopping at an insistence that it is happening. The KMT took a comment about the "Political Investigation Office" out of context in regards to the recent by-election between gangter Yen Ching-piao's son and DPP candidate Lin Jingyi -- there appears to be a lot of booming anger but very little actual evidence that anything illegal took place.

In terms of that "all-around greening of independent agencies", there have been a few accusations of nepotistic activity in various agencies, and an insistence that the NCC (the agency that revoked CTiTV's license, discussed above) has been "turned green" -- all with very little proof. 

I'm not saying that the DPP is perfect and incorruptible; that would be risible. All parties do unsavory things. However, when it comes to these specific accusations, I don't see much there.

"Revising the law to exonerate the corrupt former president"

This is getting very long, so I recommend reading the Taipei Times coverage of this issue if you want to know more. I'm not going to opine on whether the law being amended is actually unclear, or the types public funds in question are functionally the same, as I'm not an expert in that area. I'm also not going to spend a lot of time discussing Chen Shui-bian, as that's old news. 

Sure, it doesn't look great to change a law in a way that would exonerate someone convicted of corruption from your own party, although the KMT hardly has a spotless history when it comes to corruption and inappropriate use of funds (that's why the Ill-Gotten Assets Committee exists), and the article notes that they've done the same thing:

While saying that the KMT set a bad legal precedent in 2013 by amending the same article to exonerate former KMT legislator Yen Ching-piao (顏清標) from allegations of misappropriating public funds, the NPP said the DPP yesterday again set a bad precedent by forcibly passing the bill at the legislature.


Think what you like about Ma's accusation here, but remember that he's probably not too interested in discussing the KMT's similar political maneuvers.

"Using internal propaganda to mislead citizens and sowing hatred simply to follow the 'political correctness' of the so-called 'anti-China protection of Taiwan"

Look, honestly, this just sounds like mad ranting. There's no actual accusation here: Ma is just mad that society rejects his and the KMT's insistence that Taiwan is Chinese and should embrace a Chinese identity. They don't want to admit that the CCP is a threat to Taiwan and attempts at warming relations with them will only hand them opportunities to render Taiwan economically dependent on and politically tied to China, making a move away from unification more difficult. 

They simply cannot accept that Taiwanese do not think they are Taiwanese and that this angers China, and the DPP acknowledges and works with these facts. Acknowledging the general consensus on Taiwanese identity is apparently "propaganda" and being pragmatic on the threat of invasion from China is "politically correct" maneuvering to make Taiwan "anti-China". 

The KMT will never admit that their own forcing of Chinese identity -- including the attempted destruction of the Taiwanese language in favor of Mandarin -- onto an island they occupied was the "internal propaganda" they speak of. They'll never admit that the social change toward Taiwanese identity took place before the DPP took power in 2016, and in fact spiked when Taiwan fully democratized and grew throughout Ma's own administration. They'll never admit that China is a threat, not a friend. And certainly they'll never admit that Taiwanese by and large do not want to be part of China. They'll never admit that their own attempts to force Taiwanese to identify as Chinese failed, and are unlikely to succeed in the future.

There is literally nothing else there, so let's move on.

Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic has shown over the past two years that the government has not done enough to procure vaccines, and their chaotic 'rapid screening' policies show that the government's "proactive deployment" is a falsehood.  DPP leaders and the so-called "1450" [the so-called DPP "Internet army", named for an amount of money said to be allocated toward cultivating it] attack and discredit any critics [the actual phrase is "smear red"].  

I discussed these particular distortions in my previous post, but I think they belong here as well, so I'll quote myself in green:


I'll admit that Taiwan's pandemic response has not been perfect in every aspect, at all times. There have been poor decisions, politically-motivated choices and lags. However, I'd describe the overall pandemic response as sterling -- no, gold standard. Anyone who thinks that Taiwan did a poor job handling the pandemic is straight-up full of it. All you need to do is look at how the entire rest of the world save possibly New Zealand handled it. Most accusations to the contrary distort what actually went on with the early vaccine purchases or blow up small mistakes into catastrophic ones. Most of it is based on lies.

As for the "1450" Internet troll army, well, I'm sure every party has people working on influencing public conversation. I won't pretend it's beyond the pale to say the DPP has one (and the KMT surely has one too -- I recall an ad surfacing years ago promising free bento boxes to attendees of a seminar on how to post online to bolster the KMT's image, but can't find a link).

That said, I can't find any proof that the "1450" army actually exists, and it would be very weird to allocate such funds through the Council of Agriculture, no? What's more, people decrying the "1450" have been known to misattribute the origin of the phrase to mean NT$1,450 paid to each Internet troll working for the DPP. 

Basically, there are a lot of accusations and very little proof here.

In sum, Taiwan actually has done an overall excellent job handling the pandemic. When you see people online praising that, it's because there's good reason to do so. If the KMT is sore that it's not very popular now, perhaps they should look at their own poor governance and attempts to force Taiwan toward closer relations with China. 

That is to say, there's nothing here but more distortion, including some statements that I suspect are outright lies.

When we shouted that the opposition should be treated kindly in order to establish core values in common on both sides of the strait, the ruling party is suppressing or even eliminating dissidents, while falling into "unfree democracy" and "elected dictatorship." 


Ah yes, because the KMT is renowned for always being so kind to the opposition. They were so friendly when they threw the Tangwai in jail. Their torture and interrogation techniques were employed in an attempt to establish core values in common! The KMT has never, ever attempted to "suppress or even eliminate dissidents", the White Terror is called that because it was just very bright outside for decades!

Obviously, there is no evidence -- I don't even have a link -- that the DPP is doing this. I discussed the inclusion of "cross strait common values" and the impossibility of an "elected dictatorship" in my previous post and won't repeat them here. 

Needless to say, this is the part of his argument that slides from plausible, debatable issue into lies and hokum.

Not just hokum, but more projection. Didn't the KMT spend decades during Martial Law lying about how the ideals of the Republic of China included democracy, while not instituting democracy beyond the local level in which every candidate was KMT-approved?

When someone like Ma bangs on and on about what the other guy is doing, you can be pretty sure he's done it, or he's aware that the KMT has. What was it that someone said on Twitter? Every KMT accusation is a confession? Like that.

Liars like Ma follow a second pattern, in my experience: they start out with claims that, while refutable, are based on real events or issues. You have to take time and energy to actually refute them. So if you know they're garbage, you ignore them, but if you don't, you might well believe it. In any case, at least some of them might be up for some kind of real debate, even if the actual claim made by that person is fundamentally flawed. 

Then, after you've been tired out, they go for vague accusations and outright bullshit. In other words, there's a veneer of plausibility to start out, which gradually drops as the case being made grows more and more deranged. 

If you ever find yourself reading something that starts out sounding pretty good, makes a few questionable claims that are nevertheless worthy of discussion, and then devolves down the road to Crazytown, be suspicious. This is a perfect example.

🎵 Ma Ying-jeou is a sack of trash 🎶 (Part One!)


This is the first of a two-parter. You can read the deep dive into Ma's actual claims here.

I was going to write a post going after an issue I'm angry about in a sort of general, ambient sense. But this other morsel of news I'm also angry about is timely, so at the risk of blogging only when I'm angry about something, here goes.

Yesterday was June 4th, the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Certainly, in Taiwan and around the world, politicians who put out statements about Tiananmen anniversaries generally avoid the overtly offensive. Some are sharp criticisms, whereas the worst of them are simply too anodyne. 

Take President Tsai's Facebook post for example. She touched on how Taiwanese people and their leaders, as in any democracy, hold a variety of opinions that don't always agree, but can hopefully be united through transparency, sincerity and communication. She touched on the crackdowns in Hong Kong, saying they won't destroy the memories of the people. Perhaps it wasn't necessary to talk about the pandemic and vaccines, but overall it's a perfectly acceptable statement.

Then there's former president and human dingleberry Ma Ying-jeou. I started out calling him a "garbage person" but honestly, I don't want to insult Taiwan's hardworking sanitation professionals by implying their necessary and respectable jobs might also describe such a man.

Ma spent most of it trashing the democratically-elected government of his own country, and included some brief praise -- yes, praise -- of genocidal dictator Xi Jinping. In this swash of effluent, he added a few admonitions that June 4th should be recognized and "rehabilitated", with vaguely-defined addressees. In other words, there are a few okay sentences in a big ol' gurgle of vomit. 

I'm not a professional translator and Mandarin isn't my first language, but I'll take a stab at parsing what he said in English. I think this is important because, having checked the machine translations available from Facebook and Google, the former is unreadable and the latter, while okay, will be unclear to anyone unfamiliar with the issues Ma touches on.

I've broken his words down into chunks for analysis. It's easier this way, and anyway "chunks" are a good descriptor of what Ma is spewing. At the end we'll look at why his post matters at all. 

Today marks the 33rd anniversary of the June 4th Incident. On the one hand, I once again call on the mainland authorities to courageously face history and accept responsibility so as to move forward. On the other hand, I also feel the need to use this opportunity to reflect on the fact that although Taiwan claims to be a "democracy", it is slipping step by step into "unfree democracy." It's highly worthy of vigilance.

This paragraph is hardly the worst. Note however that Ma calls on "the mainland authorities" to recognize the Tiananmen Square massacre. Yes, the use of "mainland authorities" is a huge eye-roll -- not the Chinese government, and nobody in particular -- but is expected coming from him. He'll continue the trend of calling China "the mainland" throughout the post. 

I can't imagine why he would think the Tiananmen Square Massacre deserves to be "one hand" of a larger argument -- it stands alone as its own issue -- but this is Ma Ying-jeou. 

I noticed that he couldn't even use the words "Tiananmen Square", let alone "massacre." Tsai also calls what happened an "incident" (a common way of naming historical atrocities in Mandarin), but at least she uses the word "Tiananmen." That's nothing, however, compared to the straight-up offensiveness of using June 4th as an opportunity to rant about how "on the other hand" Taiwan is so "undemocratic" that it deserves more space in a post about Tiananmen Square than the actual Tiananmen Square! 

As a quick reminder, Taiwan is consistently near the top of democracy rankings in Asia and the world. Ma alone is screaming into the wind that Taiwan is somehow unfree. 

Note as well that this "unfree democracy" tripe is one of Ma's common refrains; this isn't nearly the first time he's used it. It's pretty ironic, isn't it, that Ma is able to go online on social media from Taiwan and say whatever he likes about Taiwan, including scathing (if untrue) criticisms about its government, overall level of freedom, and ruling party. It's almost as if he has the freedom to talk about this issue. Huh! 

The world is unsettled lately. The trade war launched by the US against the mainland in 2018, the explosion of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, and the Russia-Ukraine War that began in February affect global peace and stability at each step. Therefore, I would like to remind the mainland that although the so-called "anti-China" trend initiated by the United States has complicated the situation, that the mainland can turn passivity into action and send a more positive message to the rest of the world.

So instead of talking about Tiananmen Square in a post ostensibly about Tiananmen Square, Ma decides in the second paragraph to attack the United States for starting a "trade war". I don't want to throw the Trump administration even the tiniest of bones, but was it a trade war, or was it the US finally standing up to China's unsavory trade practices, IP theft, tendency to tear up any agreements it doesn't like and realization that dealing with genocidaires is maybe a bad thing?

What's more, isn't his own party trying to rebuild friendly ties in the United States by opening a representative office, after ceding so much political ground to the DPP there? Isn't KMT chair Eric Chu there right now? It's not just offensive (and parroting the language of the CCP on US-China ties) but politically unwise to write a post about Tiananmen, and then use it to attack the United States right now. Is he trying to sabotage his own party, or does he assume this is vitriol for a purely domestic market -- that nobody in the US will pay attention to his words?

Anti-Asian hate crimes against individuals are indeed a problem, and certainly Trump harmed rather than helped in this regard. That said, the Chinese government bears responsibility for its own poor image as an institution in the United States and beyond.

Notice as well that he addresses this to unnamed authorities "on the mainland", not any specific leader or government body. Rather than scathing criticism, it reads as "c'mon you guys, all you gotta do is just recognize this so you can put a positive image out there!

Commentators kinder than me might call this diplomatic. I call it overly-gentle and downright delusional.

In October last year, Mr. Xi Jinping, the mainland leader, spoke of democracy at Central People's Congress Work Conference, extolling the principle that the people hold all the power in the country, and that as masters of the country they rule it to the greatest extent possible.  I sincerely believe this is the right direction to build a society with rule of law. If the trauma of June 4th can be truly faced and dealt with [rehabilitated], not only will it project a good image internationally, but it will cause the two sides of the strait to cease moving further and further apart.

By the third paragraph, he's praising Xi Jinping for his words and "the right direction" he's taking. This compliment is the only time he will address Xi by name in the entire post.

Nevermind that Xi's words are a straight-up lie: people in China hold none of the power, they are not the masters of their country and they don't rule it to any extent. Ma surely knows this, but he never lets an opportunity to bestow some compliments on Xi no matter how inappropriate the timing, and how inaccurate the compliment. This can't be the "right direction" if Xi literally isn't doing what he says here, and is straight-up lying! Which he of course is, and Ma knows he is. Indeed, taking the time in a post about Tiananmen Square to praise Xi Jinping is easily the most offensive part of this whole thing.

Not only that, he's praising Xi Jinping for talking about democracy and governance by the people! In a post about the anniversary of Tiananmen Square! What in the actual name of Jesus is going on here?

To quote respected activist figure Chou I-cheng, Ma can praise Xi and denounce Taiwan's democracy if he wants, but it's particularly disgusting to do so on such a significant day.

He adds at the end that such a recognition might bring "the two sides of the strait" (note: not "China and Taiwan" because he doesn't recognize Taiwan's sovereignty) closer together. Which perhaps it could, but the gulf between the two nations exists not just because of June 4th, and not just because China isn't a democracy, but because China wants to subjugate Taiwan -- and Taiwan does not and will never want to be annexed by China. 

Nevertheless, what does democracy mean when the two sides of the strait have different systems, their narratives and practices are different. Beyond appealing to the mainland, we should also turn inward and examine our own democratic development more carefully.

Democracy means the thing that Taiwan has where the people elect their leaders and have human rights, including the freedom to criticize and remove those leaders. It also means the thing China doesn't have. 

It's inappropriate and offensive to attack Taiwan in a post that purports to be about events that took place in China, especially as Taiwan is indeed democratic and China is not. 

Reading it, you'd almost think China wasn't so bad but Taiwan was a mess, when the opposite is true. 

Although Taiwan still flies the banner of democracy, under the Democratic Progressive Party's governance, it has gradually slid into "unfree democracy":  closing television news stations, liquidating opposition parties, "checking the water meter" of the people [this is a slang term], interfering with the judiciary,  an all-around 'greening' [turning pro-DPP] of independent agencies, revising the law to exonerate the corrupt former president [Chen Shui-bian], using internal propaganda to mislead citizens and sowing hatred simply to follow the 'political correctness' of the so-called 'anti-China protection of Taiwan'. International public opinion turns a blind eye to these initiatives, which harm Taiwan's freedom and democracy, but I am deeply concerned.

I have so much to say about this litany of accusations against the DPP.  In fact, I dive into it here.

Each is worth diving into for several reasons: they provide the "evidence" for Ma's perspective and case against the DPP in the most detail, they're commonly reported in Chinese-language media but not so much in English, and they form the backbone of the DPP's argument for why they're better leaders than the DPP.

They're mostly bullshit -- though the most plausible ones are listed first -- but breaking down why each one is indeed its own uniquely-shaped steaming turd will take a lot of time and verbiage.

It's fascinating how Ma tries to claim the high ground and make it look like he has a detailed and multi-faceted case against the Tsai administration, which is mostly founded on a heaping pile of garbage.

Finally, he seems upset that the international community has a generally positive view of Taiwan (or that understanding of and sympathy for Taiwan is growing among Western nations). Why? Does he want the world to think Taiwan is a shithole? Does he want everyone to disparage Taiwanese democracy the way he does? 

Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic has shown over the past two years that the government has not done enough to procure vaccines, and their chaotic 'rapid screening' policies show that the government's "proactive deployment" is a falsehood.  DPP leaders and the so-called "1450" [the so-called DPP "Internet army", named for an amount of money said to be allocated toward cultivating it] attack and discredit any critics [the actual phrase is "smear red"].  

I'll admit that Taiwan's pandemic response has not been perfect in every aspect, at all times. There have been poor decisions, politically-motivated choices and lags. However, I'd describe the overall pandemic response as sterling -- no, gold standard. Anyone who thinks that Taiwan did a poor job handling the pandemic is straight-up full of it. All you need to do is look at how the entire rest of the world save possibly New Zealand handled it. Most accusations to the contrary distort what actually went on with the early vaccine purchases or blow up small mistakes into catastrophic ones. Most of it is based on lies.

As for the "1450" Internet troll army, well, I'm sure every party has people working on influencing public conversation. I won't pretend it's beyond the pale to say the DPP has one (and the KMT surely has one too -- I recall an ad surfacing years ago promising free bento boxes to attendees of a seminar on how to post online to bolster the KMT's image, but can't find a link).

That said, I can't find any proof that the "1450" army actually exists, and it would be very weird to allocate such funds through the Council of Agriculture, no? What's more, people decrying the "1450" have been known to misattribute the origin of the phrase to mean NT$1,450 paid to each Internet troll working for the DPP. 

Basically, there are a lot of accusations and very little proof here.

In sum, Taiwan actually has done an overall excellent job handling the pandemic. When you see people online praising that, it's because there's good reason to do so. If the KMT is sore that it's not very popular now, perhaps they should look at their own poor governance and attempts to force Taiwan toward closer relations with China. 

When we shouted that the opposition should be treated kindly in order to establish core values in common on both sides of the strait, the ruling party is suppressing or even eliminating dissidents, while falling into "unfree democracy" and "elected dictatorship." 

I have more to say here, but I'll save that for my next post.

Obviously, there is no evidence -- I don't even have a link -- that the DPP is doing this. Name one dissident who has been "suppressed" or "eliminated" by the DPP. 

Now, how many dissidents has the KMT suppressed or eliminated in its history?

There ya go.

There are two more points worth making here: first, tying "finding common core values" to "cross-strait relations". This implies that Ma's complaint isn't that the DPP hasn't tried to find common ground with the KMT -- it's hard to say whether they have or not, as the KMT doesn't seem very interested in finding common ground with them -- but rather that they haven't tried to find common ground with the Chinese government.

This is, of course, a euphemism for refusing to engage in talks that are aimed at eventual unification between Taiwan and China, or a recognition of the (fabricated) 1992 Consensus. It means that the DPP can't and won't work with China's insistence that all negotiations and discussions must begin with mutual agreement that Taiwan is part of China and Taiwanese people are Chinese.

Which they can't -- Taiwan isn't part of China, Taiwanese mostly don't identify as Chinese, and it goes against both the public consensus and the DPP's ethos. That's literally the whole point.

That line about "elected dictatorship" is another howler, barely worth acknowledging: there is no such thing as an elected dictatorship. It's possible for democracies to be less free or even unfree -- and there is such a thing as a sham democracy (I mean, even Vladimir Putin gets "elected"). But there is no such thing as an elected dictator. If you are elected and you can be removed, you might have authoritarian tendencies, but you are not a "dictator". 

On the 33rd anniversary of June 4th, we hope that the mainland will face history and move forward, but we cannot sit idly by and watch Taiwan's democracy fall backward, or advance toward "unfree democracy" and "elected dictatorship." We must begin with ourselves and defend Taiwan's true democracy.

There's not much to analyze here: this paragraph just concludes the post and re-iterates the justification for using a post about Tiananmen Square to attack the Tsai government, Taiwanese democracy and the general trend away from identification with Chinese nationhood and ideals in Taiwan.

It is worth discussing why this matters, however. Who cares about this old fuckbucket's post? 

Well, first of all, because the media is paying attention. New Talk posted Su Tseng-chang's response calling his words a "laughingstock". KMT-friendly outlet United Daily News, widely seen as reputable, simply reposted it without comment. People predisposed towards pan-blue sentiments will read that and not see all the problems inherent in his post, or question whether it's appropriate to use the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre to attack their own government, implying that China might move in the right direction (and indeed is, according to Ma, already doing so) and Taiwan is the real authoritarian state. 

What's more, Ma still unfortunately holds a hell of a lot of power in the KMT, keeping it from reforming into a party Taiwanese might actually want to vote for (that is, one not so laser-focused on insisting Taiwan is Chinese and the CCP is a friendly government and good-faith negotiator when it is clearly neither). He's very good at rhetoric -- I might think his post is a steaming turdpile, but I have to admit it's a well-written turdpile -- he's pulling a hell of a lot of strings in the KMT, and he's probably not going away. He almost certainly has a hand in the general tenor and perspective the KMT wants to project into the world and Taiwan.

That's a shame, as he seems to have nothing useful, inspirational, thoughtful or even truthful to offer.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Everything I've learned about leaving and returning to Taiwan during a COVID outbreak

I wanna be where the people are...

We've just arrived back in Taiwan after a month in the United States. I'd read a lot about what it would be like to return, and had some idea of what our arrival and quarantine experience would be like. However, most of those posts were written before the big outbreak in Taiwan; coming back now feels fundamentally different than I suspect it would have just a few months ago. So, I thought I'd write about it. 

The rules regarding who can quarantine at home -- which differ between local cases and incoming travelers -- are not particularly clear. Yes, incoming travelers can quarantine at home if they have a residence with no other non-quarantine people, and their residence isn't subdivided into multiple addresses. Brendan and I are quarantining together, so yes, two travelers returning on the same day can stay in the same residence. No, you do not need two separate bathrooms. 

In fact, nobody will even check your apartment. I already kind of knew this from a friend in a position to know these things -- if your apartment meets the "one person per residence" requirements, I was told that "the CECC doesn't care about how many bathrooms you have." Somehow, however, I had this idea in my head that upon arrival or perhaps the day after, someone would come and inspect our quarantine quarters. That didn't happen (and thinking about it now, I don't see how it could have). I'd spent a lot of time fretting about this, when it amounted to nothing at all. 

But let's rewind a bit and talk about the requirements both to leave and return. Many people insisted that to board the plane in either direction you'd need a PCR test, which would be a considerable financial outlay. That turned out not to be true: to leave, you need whatever the airline and arrival country require. For us, that was a rapid antigen test done at a lab. We did this at minimal cost at Taiwan Adventist Hospital, which we chose for proximity as well as ease of registration (of all hospitals offering tests, theirs was the only one with a website that made sense.) It was also one of the few offering antigen tests, not just PCRs, and didn't extort foreigners (Tzu Chi, I'm looking at you -- your discriminatory fees should be illegal and I'm thinking of filing a complaint.)  Choose something nearby as you'll have to return for your results. 

We also thought travel insurance would be smart. Unfortunately, affordable Taiwan-based plans require you to pay up-front and then make a claim, which I didn't want to deal with. US-based plans are based on residency, not citizenship, so aren't available to us as they only cover international trips out of the United States and back. I called Allianz to ask about this and got horrible customer service ("well, I think we have an office in China," they told me. "But I don't live in China," I said. "It's the Republic of China!" You can guess how I replied.) Other plans like World Nomads would cover us but were far too expensive. We ended up going with IMG as they have a network in the US, offer COVID coverage and trip+health insurance, and had the lowest prices. 

You'll need the antigen test results and a travel declaration (generally available through your airline's website) to fly out, as well as proof of vaccination. Leaving Taiwan turned out to be the only time we had to prove our vaccination status; I'm still happy I obtained an international yellow card at Taipei Medical University Hospital. The digital certificate also works and is free (the WHO-issued yellow card costs about NT$900), but what can I say? I'm analog. Again, hospitals have very unclear procedures for registering for this service. At Taipei Medical, in theory you can register online for "family medicine". In practice, none of the doctors on the menu seem to have any availability -- it's better to call (no, the receptionist won't necessarily speak English.)

Arriving in the US is nothing at all -- there's no quarantine, nobody checks who you are or where you're going, you're just released into the country as though there is no pandemic. Returning to Taiwan, of course, is a different story. 

We ended our visit in New York City, where in theory you can get a free PCR test. However, there's a bit of an outbreak there now, and results are not guaranteed within the required 48-hour window. You might get lucky, but if you don't, you'll need a last-minute appointment and that'll cost you (the place we booked was charging $389 for same-day results). We made appointments in advance for next-day results at $175 -- the test itself is still free, but the guaranteed turnaround will cost you. Fortunately, we were able to cancel our quarantine hotel, and the returned deposits on our rooms more than covered the cost of the tests. The results will generally be emailed to you, and showing the document on your phone is fine.


Nick Kembel has an excellent post which discusses the Quarantine Entry Form, so I won't go into too much detail. The automatic screenshot system didn't work for me (it kept blipping out), but it turns out the only thing anyone will look at is that first page saying you've submitted it with a bar code. A few of the questions on the form are confusing, however. Here's a quick redux:

1.) For "purpose of coming to Taiwan", we selected "back home" even though we're not Taiwanese, as none of the other options applied. 

2.) Even though we were quarantining together, we each selected quarantining at home with "one person per residence". At no point does the form clarify that two people on the same flight can choose this. 

3.) For the test results, as we were coming from the US, we selected that we did want the saliva test, and did want the results. 

4.) On my phone, the field for my APRC number kept reverting to my passport number, so check that before you hit "next". The form also kept switching my day of birth to the 1st, even though I wasn't born on the first of the month. Fortunately, you can go back and edit the form before you submit. 

5. When noting transportation from the airport to your quarantine location, the two options are not very clear. Choose the one that is not "arrange your own vehicle". 

6.) When you're done, the system's screenshot may or may not work (it worked for Brendan but not for me). Make sure you have your own screenshot too. You can do it on your phone -- a process I found frustrating as it kept blipping out -- or on your computer, if you send yourself screenshots.

You can complete this form once you have a quarantine location and negative test result. We did ours the night before.

Upon checking in for our flight, we learned that if you don't have a Taiwanese passport, you can't do it in advance as you need to show proof of a visa (yes, APRCs obviously count). The automatic check-in machines at the airport also stop you at this point, and it took awhile for us to flag a clerk and get all of our documents approved -- negative test result, quarantine entry form submission screenshot, APRCs. This delay caused us to be in the last boarding group, which was somewhat annoying as flights are no longer as empty as they once were. 

Even with far stricter entry requirements, Taoyuan airport offered a smoother, better-organized process than Newark (or any US airport, really). Generally speaking, all you have to do is follow everyone else. I strongly recommend using the bathroom as soon as possible, if you need it, as it may be awhile before you can use one again. 

On arrival, there are two lines: one for those who received a confirmation text from the MOHW that their quarantine form was approved (check your texts when you arrive!), and one for those who have no confirmation and need it manually checked. If you have the text, click the link to open your approval page and screenshot that. 

You'll be handed your spit cup and a piece of paper with your information on it; hold onto this. You don't actually do the spit test until you exit the airport. This is slightly annoying as it means you have to carry it through baggage claim, but the process is now much faster -- you no longer have to wait at the airport for your results. 

For the first time in years, we had to actually go to an immigration counter to be let in the country, and received a passport stamp. This part was fairly easy, though I could imagine the lines getting quite long. 

At that point you'll pass through customs and follow the lines to the spit test location. Nobody will ask you if you need to use an ATM, so if you need one, speak up (I ended up having to run back into the terminal, which was allowed). I didn't need a SIM card, but it seemed like those who did were in for a long-ish wait at Chunghwa Telecom. Notably, none of the other providers' booths were still open when we arrived. That was irritating for me as I had to pay my phone bill after being away for a month, but I was able to ask a friend to do it for me. 

At some point in this process you'll be handed a sticker to wear that indicates you're transferring to quarantine, and two home test kits -- one to take on your last day of quarantine, and one to be used if you experience symptoms.

Once you leave the terminal you are sent outside to do your spit test. There's a video on how to do this set to adorable guitar music on Youtube, and instructions in the booth. You don't actually need to stand there for a full minute -- you just need to be sure you have sufficient saliva in your mouth. 

Finally, you'll be sent to the quarantine taxi line. They'll take a photo of your health declaration certificate on your phone (that's the approval text you get from the MOHW on arrival and use the last six digits of your passport number to open, or have done manually if you don't have a text message approval -- not a new document). By the time you get to the front, you'll have been sprayed down in a bit of hygiene theater, and be put into a taxi which already knows your destination. 

The next day, we each got calls from the CECC. (No visit and no snacks unfortunately. I'd been looking forward to the snacks.) They asked us if we needed help with food, water or garbage disposal during our quarantine, and let us know that we'd receive a daily text about our health -- "press 1 if you feel fine, press 2 if you don't". Nobody asked us to take our daily temperature, but of course we're keeping an eye on it anyway. This seems like a smart way to handle thinly-spread resources: someone is keeping an eye on us, but it's not as intense or scrutinizing as I'd imagined from reports of quarantining people back when Taiwan had few or no cases. 

We were lucky enough to have one of our cat sitters fill our fridge with fresh groceries using money we'd left behind, so quarantine for us is mostly just chillin' at home. Here's one thing I hadn't realized, though: I get over jet lag much faster when I can go outside, or have things to do and places to be. Without that -- especially without direct access to sunlight -- I'm feeling the effects much more strongly. I've fallen asleep both afternoons that we've been back, and just felt generally discombobulated in my new time zone. For the first time ever, I got over jet lag in the US faster than I am managing it in Taiwan; usually it's the opposite. My sleep cycle is a straight-up mess right now. We have good natural light in our living room, but I need sun. I might stick my head out the window for awhile tomorrow.

This morning we received our test results and got our first text. Otherwise, honestly, quarantine is just like chilling at home. 

All in all, despite the recent outbreak, my impression is that the government is doing a solid job allocating its resources well. The quarantine entry form is still confusing, but the arrival process is pretty smooth, and they seem to have streamlined their focus on inbound travel quarantiners.