Showing posts with label downsides_of_expat_life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label downsides_of_expat_life. Show all posts

Friday, December 20, 2019

An awkward conversation on Andrew Yang and identity (which is not actually about identity)

Andrew Yang (48571504852).jpg
By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America - Andrew Yang, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link



Before I even begin, let me say that I know there are issues surrounding a non-Taiwanese person writing this. Taiwan is my home, but I'm not from here. I look different and am therefore treated differently. My cultural roots are different.


So, before you read this, go read Catherine Chou's excellent piece in Popula about this issue. (The only thing I'd change is that the article does not specifically call the ROC a colonial entity. It is one -  however, I doubt she'd disagree with me on that, or at least not too strongly.)

It's hard to pull a quote as it's all fantastic, but here you go:



As the PRC has risen in might, it has consistently tried to erase the island nation’s unique political and cultural identity, making it clear that any attempt to shed the ROC framework, or otherwise formalize its independence under the name of Taiwan, might be met with invasion. 
This makes the silence around Andrew Yang’s Taiwanese-American heritage that much more striking. In December 2016, then president-elect Donald Trump was lambasted for taking a phone call from Tsai Ing-wen, the moderate, wonkish president of the ROC, by liberal American commentators demonstrating little knowledge of the relevant geopolitics. In September 2018, Peter Beinart penned an article in the Atlantic proposing that the US secure peace in East Asia by allowing the PRC to take over Taiwan, an argument that has aged poorly in the wake of the Hong Kong protests and the continuing revelations of the internment camps in Xinjiang. As part of a coordinated campaign of intimidation, the PRC recently pressured dozens of multinational corporations to describe Taiwan as ‘Taiwan, China’ or ‘Taiwan, Province of China’ on their websites. 
Given the obvious tensions, it’s worth asking why there’s been so little discussion about what it might mean for international relations to nominate a Taiwanese-American as the Democratic presidential candidate.


With this in mind, I don't want to come at the Andrew Yang identity debate from the angle of talking about how he should identify. That's a personal decision. He can identify as he wishes and I am supremely unqualified to critique the choice (or non-choice) he makes.

Yang's choice does seem to be a non-choice: he's identified as both Chinese and Taiwanese, though he only seems to pull out the word "Taiwanese" when not many people are paying attention. Otherwise, he's either Generic Asian, blunting his Taiwanese family history - though to be honest that's about as much as white America can often process - or using "Chinese".

What I want to add is this: the choice itself isn't the only point. It may not even be the most important one.

When someone makes a choice (or non-choice) between Taiwanese and Chinese, that choice is not made in a vacuum. It's not a level playing field. There are consequences to identifying as Taiwanese - for a US presidential candidate, these could include angering China (a country he'd have to engage in dialogue with if elected), alienating Chinese-American voters, and spooking other voters who read media reporting of the issue. China has made sure there are consequences; this is an intentional strategy. There are far fewer consequences to identifying as Chinese - fewer people are angered. Fewer friends lost. One less whiny big baby government throwing a tantrum. For a candidate, fewer voters alienated.

And on this unfair playing field, Taiwan always gets screwed. Because there are (intentional) consequences, it takes real guts to insist on Taiwanese identity on a public stage. Even privately, I've heard stories of Taiwanese and Taiwanese-Americans losing friends for refusing to acquiesce to the idea that Taiwanese are Chinese.

So to choose not to go down that road is not a mere matter of personal identity. These are not two neutral choices that come with equal consequences. 

I'm not judging that on a personal level; we all make choices about how we present ourselves based on how that will be received, and as I don't inhabit a Taiwanese body, I can't truly know on a personal level how it feels to face this specific set of choices and how they might impact me. Yang specifically faces much steeper consequences for making that choice than most of us ever will; it's important to understand that. 

But, as someone who loves Taiwan, would fight to defend it, and considers it her true and only home, Yang's choice also has consequences for me, for people I love, and for Taiwan. Shying away from the choice to be Taiwanese has implications regarding one's foreign policy, how they'll handle China, and whether they will stand up for Taiwan.

Despite Yang having Taiwanese ancestry, I simply do not trust that he will stand up for Taiwan, or that he is the best choice for Taiwan.  Any candidate regardless of background will face some consequences for choosing to stand with Taiwan policy-wise. 

Besides, I am someone who loves Taiwan enough that I've seriously considered whether I'd die to defend it (or more broadly, what it stands for). Again, it is my true and only home. Yet I don't get to choose to be Taiwanese; someone who looks like me, with my cultural roots, simply can't do that, yet. Taiwan is multicultural in a regional sense, but isn't in the same way that many Anglophone countries are; it's accepted that anyone can be American, but not that anyone can be Taiwanese. I accept this.

It's enough to say I'm an ally; I'll leave it at that.

I don't know if that will ever change, but if I were in a position to stand with Taiwan and make a real difference, I would do so.

As Catherine notes, in a perfect world, Taiwanese is a chosen identity. 




It does sort of hurt to see someone who could choose it, in a position to make a real difference to Taiwan, not do so consistently.

I think it's fair to say that in a world where Taiwaneseness can be freely chosen without the consequences deliberately set by China, Yang (and others) would be more likely to choose it. It's disappointing that we don't live in that world and so he hasn't, although he's under no obligation to do so. 


Regardless of identity, does Yang stand with Taiwan?

If he had an informed Taiwan policy that was good for this country, I wouldn't care how he identified or what he said about it. As above, that's personal. In the end I'll support who is best for Taiwan no matter what they say (or choose not to say) about their background.

Sadly, that person is not Yang. His statements on Taiwan are a mélange of unenlightened, status-quo, China-benefiting pap:



Perhaps his lengthiest public comments on Taiwan so far came in October, when he told CBS reporter Nicole Sganga that ‘the Taiwan issue has been with us for decades’ and that a ‘positive continuation of the status quo should be one of our top priorities’, including ‘a relationship that works for both Taiwan and China’.

You have to be really ignorant of how things work in the Taiwan Strait to think that this situation 'works' for Taiwan. It is begrudgingly accepted by Taiwan for lack of a better alternative, thanks to Chinese bullying and fears of war. But 'work'? Not unless you think Taiwan wants this and wants to be the ROC, and believes in 'One China'. Data consistently show that on all counts, it does not.

This situation works for China, and helps the US avoid taking a clear stand in support of Taiwan. Nothing more. Yang should know that. Why doesn't he?


Yang stated incorrectly that the US has a ‘mutual defense treaty with Taiwan’. (The Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty was abrogated in 1979, the year that the US established formal diplomatic relations with the PRC. In its place, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which governs arms sales to Taiwan and allows for the maintenance of an unofficial embassy on the island, the American Institute of Taiwan.) Yang also failed to clarify that under the ‘status quo’ Taiwan is already independent from the PRC.


Taiwanese, Chinese, American, hyphenated, whatever: I would have hoped that, given his familial ties to this part of the world, that he'd know better and be a better ally to Taiwan.

And Catherine has already done a fine job of pointing out the erasure of Taiwaneseness, even (especially) among Asian-Americans:


The sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen recently described Andrew Yang on Twitter as the ‘first Chinese American presidential candidate’ and responded to evidence of his (sometime) identification as a Taiwanese-American by arguing that the ‘difference between [Chinese and Taiwanese] is much more nuanced’ than her critics seemed to think and that ‘there are Taiwan-born [and] -raised folks who identify as Chinese, not Taiwanese’. Her statements, however, overlook trends in present-day Taiwan, where 73% of people ages 20 to 29 identify as Taiwanese only. Polls now consistently show that fewer than 5% of people living in Taiwan identify as Chinese only. [Emphasis mine].

At this rate, I'll end up quoting the whole piece here! I try not to do that but no matter, I do believe her voice is more important than mine on this issue so it's great if her words take up real estate on my blog.

Angry people will say "stop playing identity politics", "don't tell people how to identify", "that's just ethno-nationalism" or some variation on that theme, and then use that rationale to go ahead and just lump Taiwanese in with Chinese.

In other words, they insist that nobody can dictate identity, and then go ahead and decide how Taiwanese should identify by erasing their existence and considering them Chinese. They seem completely unaware of how the second half of that equation completely negates the power of the first.

Everyone else gets to be proud of their roots and identify how they wish, but when Taiwanese want to do the same, their desire is called 'nationalist' or 'ethnocentric' or 'divisive'.

Erasing Taiwanese identity this way is the result of an intentional strategy on the part of China to influence such dialogue, but people who engage in it seem ignorant of this.

Those same people then go on to have earnest conversations about what identity - including more specific identity - means to them, without considering how this attitude makes it difficult for Taiwanese to do the same. To stand up and be fully themselves, however they may choose to identify and articulate it.

How is it that we agree nobody can tell anyone else how to identify, but Taiwan isn't supported as a potential identity by the very people who say that? Do they realize they're playing a part in the intentional strategy of making it difficult to choose Taiwaneseness?


If you don't see it, consider this: Hasan Minhaj did a whole segment on the Asian-American vote, listed the various ethnic groups under the hypernym 'Asian', interviewed a candidate whose ancestry is from Taiwan, and still managed to not mention Taiwan at all. 

If that's not a case of an Asian-American erasing the possibility of identity for other Asian-Americans, I don't know what is.

What's interesting here as well is that every time I've heard Yang's non-choice discussed, it's under the assumption that he must waver on whether he is Taiwanese American, Chinese American, neither or both because his parents must be KMT diaspora (that horrible term 外省人 which I hope, along with its twin 本省人 will cease to hold real social meaning as expeditiously as possible, for many reasons.  'KMT diaspora' is the most neutral term I could come up with; it includes those who came here not as oppressors but refugees, though many were oppressors and some refugee attitudes supported that.) 

However, that's not the case:




This is backed up by the thread that follows.

Frankly, I don't care where Yang's family comes from or how long they've been here. It's just really interesting that many people have made this incorrect assumption. 


It's a perfect illustration, in fact, of why it shouldn't matter. A few generations on, plenty of grandchildren of KMT diaspora are strong supporters of Taiwanese identity. Many of my friends are - I don't care where they came from; I care about what they think regarding Taiwan. And plenty of people whose families have been here for far longer hold Han nationalist or anti-Taiwan views. Yang is a good example of a person with old Taiwanese roots who still isn't exactly in Taiwan's corner.

It's sad but not surprising, by the way, that Taiwanese identity is associated with 'ethno-nationalism' but Han supremacism/Han chauvinism isn't, even though it's ethno-nationalism in favor of an ethnic Chinese state. Whereas Taiwaneseness is by its nature anti-ethno-nationalist - if Taiwanese and Chinese are ethnically/culturally similar - whatever that means - but Taiwan doesn't want to be a part of China despite this, Taiwaneseness must be founded on something else, no? Something more values-and-history based?


At the end of all of this, considering Yang's freedom to define his own identity, all I can say is this:

If you think allies of Taiwan who can vote in the US are going to support Yang just because he has Taiwanese roots in some sort of identitarian frenzy, you're sorely mistaken. At least regarding me. I don't want 'the Asian guy' - by going that route, he's Generic Asian-ed himself out of my consideration.

There is something to be said for an Asian-American simply being on that stage; it's an important moment of representation. However, as I'm not Taiwanese, I can't speak to whether having Andrew Yang and his non-choice is specifically an important moment for Taiwanese-American visibility specifically. I'd think not, but it's not for me to say.

To repeat my earlier point: his personal identity choice and what he says about it matter less than whether his stated policy beliefs as a presidential candidate show he's a Taiwan ally. I want the socially liberal candidate who is best for Taiwan.

Identity aside, that person is Elizabeth Warren, not Andrew Yang. 


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Update: Speaking up works - YouBike will allow foreign residents to register

Here's the great thing about Taiwan - when something actually gets done, it happens so efficiently and with such personal care, that it can be astounding. 

Of course, this assumes that something is done properly in the first place, which isn't always the case (see: every English language education initiative the government has ever announced).

But yesterday, YouBike did (mostly) the right thing, and so fast that the news cycle could barely keep up with it. 


After the news broke that YouBike's new insurance scheme wasn't available to foreign residents or tourists, and therefore foreign residents and tourists could not register their EasyCards to use YouBikes normally but would have to go through complicated and expensive processes each time they wanted to rent, we positively tsunamied them (I made a new verb!) with complaints. 

Within a day those of us who complained by e-mail received a reply that they would talk to the Department of Transportation about the issue, and then they actually did so. Now, foreign residents would be able to register their EasyCards to use YouBike on December 24th. (This is quite acceptable; it will surely take time to update the code).

The city government even released a statement acknowledging the volume of complaints:



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I honestly believe that in the country I come from, those complaints would have simply been ignored. If a solution came, it would be long after the fact with no clear notification made. (Not that any American cities except New York have remotely acceptable public transportation in the first place, mind you, and even New York's transit smells end-to-end like pee). If you were lucky you might get a form letter in reply that did not actually address your issue in any substantive way.

There are good and bad things to say about the course of events. I'm in a positive "we got stuff done!" in a positive mood, so let's start with the good.

What we've learned from this is that speaking up works. It works!

There were a lot of comments on social media saying we were just "complainers", "first world whiners" or "guests in this country" who should never complain, or that we couldn't possibly get the problem fixed so the only choice was to accept it.

What they didn't realize was that this wasn't whining, it was strategy. The more people make noise, the more likely the problem will get fixed. If even 5% of the people who read this post wrote to the city government, that's still several hundred e-mails they received. 


And we did get the problem fixed, so all those "don't complain, you can't change it" people were simply wrong.

That doesn't mean everything's great because the problem is solved, however.

Tourists still have to go through the more cumbersome process of one-time rentals, which require an NT$2000 deposit on a card which is not refunded for up to 15 days. The process also takes a lot longer, and it's frankly silly that Taipei city encourages tourists to get EasyCards but then doesn't make them useable for YouBikes. The city rolled out YouBikes in part to appeal to tourists, and routinely recommends tourists use them (here's one example, originally published in Taipei magazine. Making rentals annoying and expensive for tourists is self-defeating when all they have to do is add code to the system that opts foreign visitors out of the new insurance scheme that caused this whole mess. 


And, of course, the quick turnaround we got on this issue does highlight "expat privilege" to an extent. I discussed the issue with a few students who said they didn't think of the Taipei city government as particularly responsive, and we may have gotten the problem solved in a day simply because we were foreigners. Not only that, but we were mostly (though not entirely) white "expat" foreigners who tend to get preferential treatment.

To be frank, that almost certainly played a role. Let's not pretend it didn't. 


Which means that, if we can make change by speaking out as a privileged group, maybe we should do that more often, in service of goals that benefit people who are more likely to be ignored by the powers that be.

Finally, there's the fact that this simply should not have been a problem in the first place. I doubt it was active discrimination, but rather that the impact of the new policy on non-citizens was simply not considered. That results in discriminatory impact. Discrimination can exist in impact just as much as intent (if not more so).

To avoid these sorts of issues in the future, the government can't just passively ignore the foreign community and pretend that's the same as 'not discriminating'. It has to actively consider its actions through the lens of understanding that the city it governs has foreign residents, too, and that its tourism strategy should be coherent and synchronized across departments. 

Monday, December 16, 2019

Youbike discriminates against foreigners

Untitled


It feels as though every time life in Taiwan for the foreign community gets better - websites improve, companies will take our resident visa numbers rather than saying they're "invalid" - it's inevitable that soon, it'll also get a little bit worse. Two steps forward, one step back.

Today, the issue is YouBike.

The Facebook group Taiwan Foreign Residents' Association confirmed just a few hours ago that YouBike, once open to registration by all residents, including foreigners who have made Taiwan their home, now does not allow foreigners to register their EasyCards for use with YouBike.

Apparently, the reason is that YouBike now offers personal injury insurance, and such insurance is not available to foreign residents, therefore, no new registrations will be allowed (they had been allowed previously).


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Of course, there is no reason why they can't offer foreign residents this insurance. We pay taxes and pay into NHI just as citizens do. Many of us - myself included - also pay into labor insurance. We pay our dues, and deserve equal treatment.

Suggestions from YouBike staff so far have been to recommend that we register with a local friend's information - you know, like we're criminals trying to hide - or have a friend rent a bike for us (because of course, we should all have Taiwanese friends with nothing to do willing to come out and meet us every time we want to rent a bike, and also be available to us at our destination when we return the bike. Yeah, right). The other workaround is to rent one on your bank card with a one-time registration and NT$2000 deposit.

Nevermind that NT$2000 - around US$60 - is a lot of money in the local economy for something as simple as a bike ride. You do get the money back, but imagine if you rented a YouBike every day. Your bank account would be a mess, with that $2000 deposit coming and going daily. Apparently it can take up to 15 days to be refunded, but if you ride YouBike every day, does that mean every 15 days you have to hand the government NT$30,000 in deposits? If you ride it twice a day - say, to and from work - that's NT$60,000, more than the average local salary.

How is someone supposed to stay on top of their finances that way? Do they expect that foreigners will only rent YouBikes occasionally? I know people who rent one every single day. 



The other suggestion, apparently, is to giggle at the person calling because there are no other options.

Let me be clear: this is discriminatory. It is unfair. We have made Taiwan our home. We live here, work here and pay taxes here. YouBike is a government project. It is simply not acceptable to withhold government services to foreigners as though we are second-class citizens. Unwanted, untrustworthy.

Is this the face Taiwan and YouBike want to present to the world? The famous hospitality and friendliness of Taiwan, oh, except you can never truly live here as a normal person, we'll always make life difficult for you for no reason at all?

If Taiwan wants to open up to the world, to be an international nation and Taipei and international city, it must do better. It cannot treat foreigners like undesirable scum. We are not criminals. We work and pay into the system like everyone else, and so we deserve the same transportation benefits as everyone else. Period.

Even tourist deserve better - part of the whole point of YouBike is to encourage tourism by helping people get out of the city. Taipei Magazine routinely suggests tourist itineraries that use YouBike - how do they expect tourists to use it if they can't even register with the EasyCards they're going to get? Do you really think they'll pay NT$20,000 for every YouBike rental on their visit, to be refunded long after they leave? It's ridiculous!

It shouldn't be hard for the time being to create a registration system that opts out all registrants without a National ID. Hopefully the law will be changed to allow residents to participate in the insurance scheme, but for now that would be a sensible workaround.

In fact, what happens if a friend does register for you, and there's a crash? Does the insurance apply? If not, can't you sue, as technically the insurance was activated upon registration? If that's the case, doesn't that just create more confusion? If current users can still access the system, what happens if they are in a crash? The workaround suggestion negates the rationale for the change.

Finally, aren't the format of ARC and APRC numbers supposed to change soon, to match national ID numbers? What happens then? The whole thing is a mess. It doesn't make sense, meaning the reason boils down not to regulatory issues, but idiotic, discriminatory, self-defeating and short-sighted decisions.


Do better, Taipei. Do better, Taiwan. And do better, YouBike. 


If you want to complain to YouBike, you cannot contact them from their website because that requires a national ID card number. ARC numbers are not accepted. But you can email or call them:

City Hotline: 1999, ext. 5855 / 02-89785511
service-taipei@youbike.com.tw

Or, you can send a complaint to the Taipei City government under the "simple petition system" here. You can leave the National ID section blank (unlike on the YouBike website).

I suggest you do all of those things. Let's make them feel this.

This is what I wrote:

Hi, 
I'm writing because it's becoming well-known in the foreign community in Taiwan that Youbike is no longer offering Easycard registrations for foreigners who live here, even if we are permanent residents or otherwise have a resident visa. 
This is unfair and discriminatory. We pay taxes and pay into National Health Insurance (so insurance issues should not be a reason to discriminate). I personally have lived here for over 13 years; to say that I cannot access the same services as other Taipei residents makes me feel like an unwanted, second-class citizen. Is this the face Taiwan and Youbike want to show the world? That they are unfriendly - even hostile - to foreigners? 
Having to put down an NT$2000 deposit is simply not fair for people who have built their lives in Taiwan. We are not tourists. We are *residents* and we live, work and pay taxes like *residents*. We deserve to be treated like *residents*, not "scary foreigners" who can't be trusted. We are not criminals! 
Taiwan must do better, and Youbike must do better.
I am sure that this story will hit the media soon, so I request kindly that the policy be changed as soon as possible to end all unfair discrimination against the foreign community here. 
Best regards, 
Jenna Cody


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.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Taiwan needs to figure out how to treat foreigners better

It pains me to say it, but Taiwan has some deep discrepancies between the human rights ideals it claims to espouse, and how it treats not only its own citizens, but also those who come to Taiwan to study or work.

Instances of Taiwanese universities using the New Southbound Policy as basically a vector for scamming Southeast Asian students are starting to feel not like horrifying exceptions, but the norm. It's happened now with not just Sri Lankan students (news of which broke just months ago) but Indonesian ones as well, at more than a handful of universities.

These universities take government subsidies meant to help them attract students from Southeast Asia, and then use them to pay brokers to bring students over. These students are then assigned jobs in factories, and attend class only a few days a week, if at all. These factory jobs are called "internships", but they aren't learning opportunities - they are basic blue-collar work - and they aren't even allowed for first-year students, and certainly shouldn't be taking up most of one's week, as work is limited to 20 hours/week for foreign students here.

These are scams aimed at getting free labor - or even labor that has paid to be there, as some of these students are paying tuition to do this. They are violations of human rights.

Taiwanese people would not accept this happening to their own citizens, so it disgusts me that it seems to happen so easily to foreigners.

The "university" system here isn't the only vector for abuse - how domestic workers (who are predominantly female) and fishing boat workers (predominantly male) are treated, not to mention regular factory workers, is obscene. 

Taiwan is trying to take a big step forward by reducing its economic dependence on China through re-invigorating ties with Southeast Asia through the New Southbound Policy. But the high-minded ideas of the central government just aren't trickling down to those meant to actually implement it through outreach (including businesses, employers and universities).

Attempting to take advantage of a government policy aimed at improving the country to line one's own pockets is not unique to foreign residents or the New Southbound Policy (certainly this happens in the domestic sphere as well - just ask how property developers circumvent the "green space" law by giving politicians reduced-price apartments they can flip and profit from, or how some local politicians take advantage of local charities). However, I can't help but think in this case, there's an element of racism at play.

If this were happening to Taiwanese, the outcry would be swift and condemning. Instead, the government "will conduct an investigation" (hardly decisive action they need to be taking). This after it's obvious that those in government who set up the programs with universities - if they can even be called that - knew how likely it was that they would try to take advantage of both the government and the foreign students. If they weren't aware of this possibility, they wouldn't have talked to the university presidents in person and warned them off doing exactly this. 


Initiatives like the New Southbound Policy aren't going to work if the people in charge of actually implementing various initiatives are using them merely to take advantage of Southeast Asian people. They're not stupid, guys. They know that there's a lot of racism against Southeast Asians here. They know that these scams exist. They know that they can't necessarily trust these programs. And neither the people nor the governments there are going to stand for it. They are already angry.

I'll say it again: if Taiwan continues to be known for treating Southeast Asians badly, and is seen as using the New Southbound Policy for their own enrichment with little concern for the effect on Southeast Asian people or economies, it's not going to work. The New Southbound Policy will fail, and we'll be stuck with a choice between China strangling our democracy or our economy - exactly the thing we seek to avoid. 


One of the things that has really impressed me about Taiwan is how this country consistently pushes itself to live up to its purported ideals: democracy, freedom, human rights. It's not that other countries don't do that, but Taiwan seems (to me anyway) to make more progress more quickly than other parts of Asia, and the struggle just seems more visible here (and more accessible in terms of being connected or understanding, on a personal level, the bleeding edge of the push for social change.)

But we have to admit that Taiwan, as much as it may be a place one can love deeply and make a commitment to, is far from perfect. That's true not just in terms of how it treats its own citizens, but how it treats foreigners here. It has ideals, but as things stand right now, it simply doesn't live up to them. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

American voters in Taiwan (or anywhere overseas): be vigilant about your absentee ballots

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How is this undeliverable to the address on the label they themselves provided? 


There are a few good things to being American (y'know...a couple. One or two.) One of them is the ability to vote from overseas, so you don't have to fly back to your designated polling place or skip the election. Although there are good reasons why Taiwan doesn't have absentee voting (mostly that it would be a huge security risk in terms of China tampering with the votes of Taiwanese residing there through any number of means, but it's hard to make an argument to allow absentee voting for everyone but those residing in China), that means voting in Taiwanese elections means flying back. That, or don't vote.

I've realized in this past election, however, that one's absentee ballot is not nearly as guaranteed as it might seem. I had trouble myself, which is how I became aware that this was an issue.

I did an informal poll of American friends here in Taiwan, most of whom had no problems with their ballots in the last election, but those that did all had similar stories to tell. They were also far higher in number than I am comfortable with: about a quarter of the people I asked had trouble. That number should be in the single digits, or approaching zero.

So, what can go wrong with your absentee ballot?

My husband and another friend encountered a suspicious issue: Brendan's ballot mysteriously disappeared (he did something about that and emailed a new ballot, which was accepted, in time for the election). Just today he received his original posted ballot back, marked as "undeliverable", even though - and I cannot stress this enough - he used a label with the address that his own board of elections had provided. It was their envelope - how could it be undeliverable to their address? And the address on it was clear.

My friend also had a ballot returned as "undeliverable" despite, again, using the envelope that was provided by the very organization he was sending it to. There is just no good reason for this to be happening. He had a family member bring it in person to the election office, but that should have never been necessary.

My own ballot took far too long to arrive: I mailed it three weeks before the election, on October 17 (my state allows you to download and print your ballot, but not to email or fax it back) and only realized on election night that I could actually check the status online. I was dismayed to find that there was no record of it having been received. Mail from Taiwan is generally reliable and takes about a week, so I was understandably nervous.

I called the elections board that should have received my email, only to have it confirmed: there was no record of my ballot being received. As another rule my state has is that absentee votes need to be postmarked the day before the election, it was too late by then to send another ballot. I had no idea where it ended up, and no way to track it as it hadn't been sent by registered mail (because I truly didn't think it would get lost). Another Facebook friend had the same thing happen to him - same congressional district, coincidentally. Same Board of Elections.

The bigger issue for me wasn't that my vote in this election might not have counted - my choices for Congress and Senate won - but that I had never before thought to check the status of previous ballots. I had just assumed they'd been counted. I had to wonder: was my entire adult voting life a lie? Have I been a non-voter this whole time when I thought I was casting ballots?

My story has a happy ending too: the day after the election the system finally marked my ballot as received. However, that was not a foregone conclusion.

Even more worrisome? I was able to check the status of my absentee ballot as an overseas voter. Another friend who is absentee but domestic (same state, different district) had no way to check that her vote was received. She'll literally never know.

Of course there are also the issues with absentee votes simply not being counted - as we're seeing with the absolute fuckshittery (Brendan's word, credit where credit is due) going on in a few states, signature matching issues and voter roll purging (at least as an absentee voter you'll find out early if Republicans are trying to suppress your vote because you won't vote for their racist, sexist rich-people bullshit. And yes, I am saying one party is entirely responsible.) These issues are in addition to everything else going on.

It's quite worrisome that it's hard to know if one's vote is going to be counted. It's not something to be dismissed. People died for the right to vote; it's worth taking seriously. Civic engagement matters. A lot of the bullshit that gets passed goes through because otherwise good people don't vote. Because the youth - who frankly, tend to end up being right on classic liberal issues like marriage equality - don't turn out to vote in the same numbers. A lot of things could change if more people voted (including better candidates so we'd feel more empowered to vote for people we actually want in office).

So, what can you do about it?

1. Vote early. That gives you weeks or possibly even months to ensure that your vote is in and counted.

2. Drop off your ballot if possible. That might mean sending it (in a third envelope that holds the two required ones) to friends or family who can take it in personally, or bringing it to your embassy if that's possible (I know that's possible in the UK but don't know if it is in Taiwan. I'll check. Does anyone know?)

3.) Keep tabs on your vote. Don't do what I do and blindly assume it will be received because the mail is reliable. Wait a week then check the status every few days. If the election is getting close and your vote still has not been received, send another through more secure means.

4.) Spend some money. By this I mean, send it registered mail (which I've been told doesn't actually do anything, but so far everything I've ever sent this way has been received) or, if you want to be really sure, send it by Fed Ex or some other guaranteed service where someone must sign for it. I hate this, because it amounts to a poll tax for ensuring that your vote is received, with no other way to be absolutely sure that something you send will get there. But, it is a way to make sure you do vote.

5.) Don't vote for dagweeds! Seriously, don't vote for authoritarian dipclowns who want to do things like cut important government funding ("we want less government" often translates into cutting funding for things like making sure elections run smoothly, updating voting machines/procedures/etc. and hiring enough poll workers.) Don't vote for buttparrots who say we shouldn't count every vote because "they're probably fake anyway". Don't vote for turdburglars who try to close polling locations, purge voter rolls in suspicious ways and don't seem to think it's important that voting machines run out of batteries, aren't set up (as in, they're found locked in a closet later, never having been used) or have confusing user interfaces that cause people to mess up their votes, or which may be insecure. Don't vote for people who try to convince you that voter fraud is a prevalent issue, when it's actually extremely rare. SERIOUSLY STOP VOTING FOR THESE PEOPLE. JESUS H.Q. CHRIST. IF YOU DO THINGS WILL ONLY GET WORSE. And I would say that even if the people doing it were on "my" side - though, to my knowledge, no one on "my" side is engaging in this crap.

Friday, October 12, 2018

If you think Taiwanese have no sense of humor, perhaps that's because you don't get it.

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I hear it a lot: some expat dude (it's usually, though not always, a dude) who decides to hold forth and grace us with his deep knowledge of and wisdom about Taiwan, and proffers what he feels is a gem of intercultural knowledge: that Taiwanese have no sense of humor. 


There's even a blog post out there mentioning this, but I'll do the author a favor and not link to it. Obviously, I don't agree

This is often accompanied by the oft-repeated nugget (what kind of nugget I'm not sure) that Taiwanese don't understand sarcasm. 

It seems to be a common double standard - that it's okay for us to stumble around like idiots in the local language (and it is okay, by the way, as long as you try), but if someone isn't William freakin' Shakespeare in English, it must be some issue in "their culture" or their DNA which makes them "incapable" of sarcasm, jokes, being engaging, making a clear point, saying no, or whatever. Hmm, so you don't think that maybe it's just that they, like you, aren't perfectly fluent in the foreign language they are using and so they struggle with some higher-order language competencies which they are quite capable of in their native tongue? We don't think we "lack a sense of humor" if we can't properly crack jokes in Mandarin or Hoklo, so why do we apply this standard to Taiwanese learning English?

Personally, I find some of my Taiwanese friends, acquaintances and students deeply hilarious, some darkly funny, some basically normal (not particularly funny but able to enjoy a good joke) and some cold and humorless - just like I do any other people.


With that in mind, please enjoy this unintentionally hilarious "rap" from campaign staffers for Taipei mayoral candidate Ting Shou-jung (丁守中). I'm sure they'll get all the Kool Youngsterz to vote for them with this jammin' tune!


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台北的未來在他手中??



This isn't even the first time a KMT candidate has come out with a completely ridiculous song to try to appeal to the Cool'n'Hip Kidz, although it's more polished and overall less wholly inexplicable than this total head-scratcher from KMT chair Wu Dun-yih.

And, from a friend, there's this...um, song? From former Taichung mayor Jason Hu (胡自強).

Ting - or rather, his staffers, as I don't think Ting himself could loosen up enough even to sing this zipped-up family-friendly extended jingle - are basically singing "Taipei's future is in your hands, Taipei's future is in my hands, Taipei's future is with Ting Shou-jung! He's keeping watch for you, he's defending your dreams, Taipei's future is with Ting Shou-jung!"


Wow, inspiring.

Now, to get the taste out of your mouth, check out the wonderfully sarcastic parody rap from EyeCTV, which is well-known for its sarcastic mockery of old ROC diehards and has come out with some trenchant Daily Show-like political satire in the past. 

They're taking the original catchy, dorky, deeply annoying tune, stealing some of the language choices, and turning it into what sounds like another stupid rap, but actually hides a pro-ROC, pro-unification, Chinese chauvinist old-school KMT style propaganda message. Most notably, it replaces "Taipei" with "China", with an old ROC map of China in the background.

It has all the old lingo, including "counter-offensive" (反攻)which is associated with old Nationalist slogans, includes the phrase "unification is not a dream" (another common propaganda message) and then goes on to say that it - that is, unification - is the "bright, sunny dream" (青天白日夢) of all "Chinese sons and daughters" (中華兒女). "Chinese sons and daughters" is propagandistic term which calls to mind the New China Youth (a wing of creepy, New Party-affiliated/China-supported-and-paid-for astroturfing unificationists) and the words for "bright and sunny" alluding strongly to the "white sun on a blue field" of the KMT party symbol (which is also on that blasted ROC flag).

Making this sort of joke even more culturally-specific is the wordplay at the end. Remove the "bright" (青天) part of "bright, sunny dream" and you get "白日夢", another way to say a daydream. A fantasy, an illusion. Which is exactly what "unification" is to these guys, no matter how much they try to dress it up in a dweeby hip-hop song pretending to be 'fresh'. 


Of course this isn't pro-unificationist ROC claptrap, it's sarcasm - satire, after a fashion - that thing so many foreigners in Taiwan think Taiwanese lack. It mocks the "trying to be hip" and "overly earnest" vibe of the original (something no late-middle-age uptight political candidate should attempt), while laying bare the KMT's actual beliefs as per its own symbols and past rhetoric: that Taiwan is ultimately Chinese, and that their actual goal is unification with China on their terms, not an independent future for Taiwan. No catchy tune can erase that.

The Facebook post even says that the ROC map pin he's wearing was sent by fans for the "rap" and can not be bought, with a ton of "crying" emojis.

I highly doubt any of those people reacting with the "crying" face actually wanted to seriously, unironically, own that pin.

This also shows how culture-specific some humor can be. Sure, Chad, I know you think you're so hilarious that it translates across cultures, but in fact, the reason your Taiwanese students don't laugh at your jokes isn't because they don't have a sense of humor, it's because your jokes just aren't that funny in Taiwan. Similarly, you might not find this video particularly funny. That's not because it isn't (I laughed a few times), but to really get it, you have to have be familiar enough with a culture that was just starting to shake off the enforced adherence to Chinese-style propaganda that has always sounded quietly ridiculous to Taiwanese whose ancestors have been here for hundreds or thousands of years, and who never had any intention of or desire to "take back the Mainland". 


So yeah, I'd say that Taiwanese understand sarcasm just fine, and their sense of humor is doing A-OK. If you don't see that, maybe you're the one who doesn't get it. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Taiwan has made me more skeptical of free market solutions

It is really hard to love Taiwan sometimes.

From The News Lens, which really hits it out of the park when they want to, Taiwan's bus drivers face atrocious conditions, and it impacts public safety:


If the driver is at fault for a major accident they will have a strike against their name, and if they accumulate three major strikes then they will be dismissed; the drivers who have accumulated two major strikes will usually spend their days off making up for their “accidents.” This is seen as a "voluntary service" so their names will not show up on the work schedule, but of course they only have time for this when they are not working.


The result is that even though they have a day off, they end up working every day of the week, and the day after volunteering, they have to drive the bus, but as they are still tired, they will probably cause another accident, receive another strike against their name and will therefore have to volunteer again… completing the vicious cycle.

and

If the driver causes an accident, the Public Transportation Office (PTO) will check their work hours within the last three days, but the company will have the legal team tamper with the shift records, so that it says the driver only ever worked a maximum of 10 hours a day, even if they have worked more....

This meant that each person in the law team shouldered the responsibility of forging documents, something we could not hide as the documents have our seals stamped on them. If the company was charged with fraud, then whichever team member was on duty that particular day would have to bear all legal responsibilities, and would be seen as an accomplice....

If the records were not changed, the company forced that team member to bear the financial burden of the fine, either upfront or from their salary. I have also witnessed the company force the rest of the legal team to pay for a fine, after the original team member had resigned. It was the most ridiculous situation ever and really emphasized how unjust the company was.

...and so much more, but go read the article. 

All of this could be avoided, and service remain the same, if they just hired more people.

But they won't, because there is no mechanism in the market that incentivizes them to not be two rungs above slavers (I'm being generous - they get two rungs!) and politically, everyone knows about these endemic problems, everyone knows companies skirt the law, and yet enforcement remains lax. It can't be anything other than intentional.


This is also why I'm skeptical of total free market solutions to problems: free market solutions generally hinge on consumers having the power to create change, but I see no way to do that here. Many people must ride the bus - some for economic or location reasons, others because they have reasons why they can't drive (I'm not willing to drive in cities, for instance, and it would be compromising another value of mine to buy a vehicle.) They can't refuse to board until conditions get better for drivers or the buses are safer to ride. They might prefer happy, rested, fairly compensated drivers, but they will have to get on that bus whether it happens or not, so companies have no market-based incentive to change their exploitative behavior.

Neither is there a solution in which people just don't take those jobs, forcing companies to offer better conditions to get new hires in the door: they just plod on, understaffed.

I simply do not see a solution here that does not involve some enforcement of government regulations. 

Yet, not solving these sorts of issues is not acceptable.

The government has sure fallen down on this one too, but unlike corporate overlords (whom we have no power to wrest from their cushy jobs), we do have some power to insist on elected officials who take labor violations seriously and are willing to fight the rot they know is in the system. Even the proposed solution in the article: to note the driver, time, place, license plate and route number - involves engaging the government, not using the miniscule droplet of power the market affords you.

I don't hold out much hope that a political or governmental solution would do much good either - not yet, anyway. Taiwan just hasn't developed a labor movement the way some other democratic have, most likely because they left Martial Law (and the rampant exploitation that could not be escaped under that system) not long ago. There hasn't been a lot of time to evolve.

While there may be some slight cultural factors, generally I believe people are people. They all know what overwork means. They all know what it is to be exploited. There's no "Confucian" ideals here keeping rotten work conditions and low pay in place. It's not passivity either: have you been to the major protests, the ones that have changed the country? Taiwan may pose as a passive country on its face, but when it gets down to tacks, it's not.

Y'all pirates. And that's great. I just want to see Taiwan take that "let's protest this shit 'till their on their knees" attitude they have toward political problems and apply it to businesses and labor issues too. And really do it. Like, occupations and hundreds of thousands, strikes across the country. 


You've burned it down before - you forced the KMT to allow democratization. That was you, not benevolent leaders kindly giving you freedom.

Now it's time to burn it down when it comes to labor. Don't wait for bosses and CEOs to do better - they won't. It is only by great force of will that I am not overtly calling them "scum". Bring them to their goddamn knees. Force them.

You've done it before, and you can do it again. 


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Of peanuts and monkeys

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This is perhaps the third time I've written about this in a week, but I just have more to say.

I've been thinking about a few issues I'd like to [try to] tie together: reactions to my post about how long-termers in Taiwan aren't here for the money but are aware they're being undervalued, the general state of English-language media in Taiwan, and English as a second official language in Taiwan.

When I wrote about long-termers and low pay here, most reactions were supportive. The negative ones landed into two groups: those who think NT$66,000/month is fair, or even good, pay for a job that requires several years' experience, high level skills and (unfairly) a Master's from abroad, and those who said the pay wasn't important because the job would be good for someone who would be in Taiwan for a few years and would likely just want to beef up their resume.

So, let me toss some word salad about why both groups are wrong before I move on.

In terms of fair pay, the fact that pay is too low in pretty much every other sector doesn't make $66k for this sort of job acceptable. If you can make just as much money (or more) as a Dancing English Clown at a cram school, a job that requires no qualifications, experience, education, training, professional development, skills, talent, work ethic or consistent sobriety, why would you seek to improve yourself so that you might qualify for a higher-level job, especially one that states right in the ad that you'll be doing consistent overtime in a stressful environment?

And why would you want to take all of that education, experience and skill to make just about enough money to drink at Bar 7 and live in a shared flat or rooftop cesspit with paper walls, if you have any hope of saving meaningfully? Because after you pay your student loans on that foreign Master's degree and save NT$30k each month, that's about what you can afford, if you have no dependents. If you've gotten a postgraduate degree, learned Mandarin and acquired translation skills and experience, you are probably not 24 anymore, and would rather live like an adult.

Others say that this job is aimed at young Taiwanese Americans spending some time here but not planning to stay, or for those looking for a springboard to gain experience. This also misses the point: first, this isn't a newbie job. This could have been an excellent post for an early-mid-career bilingual professional writer, editor or translator, who might well have stayed on for years improving not only their own work, but elevating the English-language output of MoFA as a whole. It could have been a boon to both some lucky long-termer and to MoFA, who would get excellent work in turn.

That is, if it had been positioned that way: as a good but demanding job with a great salary, rather than as a short-term lark for an ABC kid with a Master's who's in Taiwan.

This whole idea of getting some experience in Taiwan and then leaving actually bothers me quite a bit: there are those of us who wish to stay, and as I've written three times now, we try to contribute and give back to Taiwan in gratitude for what Taiwan has given us. Although I won't spend paragraphs bashing them, I have less respect for those who come, take what they can get from Taiwan, and then leave. It strikes me as a little selfish. I have a more profound appreciation for those who want a fair shake from Taiwan, but also want to give back to this country in a sustained way. And yet, one of those grab-and-go types will probably get this job. MoFA will have a revolving door of people who never really develop themselves and get merely passable work, and Taiwan won't benefit.

Which leads to my next point - if the national government is serious about sweeping initiatives like making English a second official language in Taiwan, it's going to have to shake up its whole attitude toward a lot of things. It can't have a MoFA attitude towards English education, asking for everything and offering nothing.

The government needs to think about employing the right people (which it can attract with the right offers), taking seriously the idea that teaching, writing, editing and translating in English are professional careers that people do over a lifetime and seeking out those people, and basically getting quality by paying for quality in terms of remuneration, benefits and work environment. There are those of us who want to stay, who can do good work, but who aren't going to be attracted by what's currently on offer. We're here and we don't want to go anywhere - if the government is serious about bilingualism, internationalism and multiculturalism, it needs to provide more enticing reasons to stay, and stop creating jobs aimed at grab-and-goers.

And it needs to take those people seriously when they point out the flaws in the status quo vis-a-vis English education in Taiwan: from a poorly-regulated cram school industry to, as a friend pointed out, the fact that students who only learn English in public schools generally don't come out having learned any English, to the way the exam system, through extreme negative washback, hinders the whole process. It needs to hire people who can then develop something better, and that's where long-termers looking to contribute to Taiwan come in. We - not just me, I'm nobody, but we - can actually do this alongside and in support roles to talented, passionate and qualified locals, but only if the will is there. We can't take a grab-and-go attitude.

This isn't true only for the government, but for the education system as a whole: from buxibans to universities, if you want talented educators who can actually help Taiwan achieve English as a second language, you need to not only give those who are already working toward this end a better environment in which to succeed, but to offer jobs that entice talented professionals, not a revolving door of Chads and Braydens who aren't implementing even so-so curricula well, and will go back to Idaho in a few years anyway without seriously considering whether they actually contributed to Taiwan.

Oh yeah, and if you are serious about multiculturalism, how about treating the many Southeast Asians who come here for work with a little more kindness and respect? Even just better working conditions and pay, not being all racist towards them, and not raping or enslaving them would be a good start.

This bleeds over into English-language media as well. Why is Taiwan News, which is essentially a gossip rag peddling the same sensationalist articles translated over from Chinese-language gossip rags, now the most recognized English "news" source in Taiwan? How'd we hit the bottom of that barrel?

Because there aren't very many jobs for talented journalists in Taiwan, either. By all accounts, the Taipei Times made a go of it once, but are now so under-resourced that even if there were talk of updating its website and media strategy for the 2010s and beyond, the resources just aren't there to make it happen. It was (is?) the English-language paper that both the expats and the Taiwan advocate Beltway crowd read, and probably never would have been a huge money-maker given its smallish target audience, but it could have sopped up the market that Taiwan News is currently engaging.

Great people have worked at the Taipei Times - and some have even worked at the China Post (believe it or not) - but they all leave. Few people build a career and stick with it, because the jobs on offer just aren't that great. We all know about the one guy who wrote a whole book on it (though you'll need a nacho bowl for all the shoulder-chips it comes with), but I've heard this from many sources. Low pay, long hours, hardly any time off (typical Taiwanese annual leave, which means not much at all), difficult environment. No wonder the best journalists they hire, if they can attract them, cut their teeth and then leave. The state of English-language news reporting suffers for it.

A friend pointed out that this has real-world consequences: she was talking about racism in Taiwanese society specifically towards Black foreigners (which is absolutely a thing), but it also has international consequences. If Taiwan News is the best we can are willing to do, and Taipei Times is offering peanuts and putting out thin content, what news about Taiwan from local sources is reaching the pro-Taiwan influencers abroad? What effect does this have on Taiwan advocacy internationally? What effect does it have on reporting on Taiwan from outside sources? Would that improve - because the state of it is pretty damn bad - if local news put out better, thicker, more compelling stories in English (and Chinese, but this post is about the foreign community)?

Could they perhaps accomplish that if they offered better jobs to committed long-termers looking to make a difference?

The long-termers will stick around - most of us, anyway.  We'll continue to fight for Taiwan in whatever way we can, and carve out niches for ourselves. I do the work I do (I have no single employer, by design) because I can get some satisfaction that way, and make sufficient money. If Taiwan wants us to come out of our little self-carved niches and join the fight for real, there have to be opportunities for us to build real careers in important and useful places, which offer adult remuneration and conditions for real skills.

If Taiwan engages the long-termers who are looking to contribute more meaningfully (and the locals too), the country will be better for it. Media, education, the government.

But if this work continues to toss peanuts our way, we aren't going to pick them up.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

And everyone who knows us knows...we didn't come for money

I promised I'd eventually pick up where I left off here, so...

Last month I came across this job posting with MoFA (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) through the Facebook group of Nihao's It Going (and for those wondering why there is no Lao Ren Cha Facebook group, the answer is that I am old and lazy.)



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No link because the ad is no longer online. That probably means someone took the job, or they'd have extended the posting dates. It's too much to hope for that MoFA realized how embarrassing that salary offer was and immediately, contritely took the ad down until they could come up with a better offer.

My mouth was agape at the requirement of a Master's obtained outside Taiwan (the hell?), so let's briefly take a look at that. What the hell is going on that the Taiwanese government is announcing openly that Master's degrees obtained in Taiwan are substandard? (I suspect for some subjects, at some universities, they are - but even so, for the government to be openly acknowledging this is horrifying).

Then, look at the salary: NT$66,000/month. And look at what they want for that.


That's...about US$2200/month - enough to live comfortably in Taiwan if you are single or a dual-income couple, but not enough to raise a family. Enough to get by and save a little for some nice vacations, but not enough to save meaningfully for any long-term goals. In 2006, if Kojen (a large buxiban chain) put you - probably a teacher lacking most of this list of qualifications - on a salaried rather than hourly rate, it was NT$60k - not a lot less than this offer, and 12 years ago at that.

Even sadder is that they seem to have enough applications to justify taking the post down from people willing to accept that pay. 

In short, it's a joke. So between bouts of laughter, I've been thinking a lot about why I stay - why any foreign talent stays, when the pay is just this damn bad. More importantly, I've been thinking about that means in terms of the greater conversation about brain drain and attracting (and retaining) foreign talent in Taiwan. Or, for that matter, local talent.

Why some people stay anyway is an easy question to answer: for me, it's a combination. My social life is very much here now. I love my friends back in the US, but there is no denying we've grown apart somewhat (this is less of a problem with friends in the UK). Not only do I find it hard to explain what my life is actually like in Taiwan to friends who have never visited.

Beyond that, I simply care about the country. Assuming I wouldn't move back to the US (and I wouldn't, unless I felt I had to), and assuming learning a new language isn't a problem (and it probably wouldn't be - I'm good at that), I find it hard to imagine coming to care about another place as much as I do Taiwan. Korea, Japan and Hong Kong are interesting - as are many places farther afield and outside Asia - but am I really going to start passionately fighting for the concept of Korean identity, or Japanese democracy or discussing Argentinian history in the detail I do about Taiwan? Am I going to start collecting and reading books about Jordan? Probably not.

Leaving aside the mostly-hideous architecture and other endemic, intractable problems here, there's something special about the place. A spark that caught my eye. A streak of rebelliousness that chimes a matching tone to something within me. A real fight, for freedom against oppression, for democracy against dictatorship, for right (if flawed) against absolutely wrong.

I've also come to learn about myself that even if I cannot vote, I must live in a free society, and one where women's issues have at least reached the level of discourse they have in Taiwan. That cuts out more than half the world, including much of the rest of Asia. China is a no-go, so is Vietnam. Hong Kong isn't quite free. Japan and South Korea have bigger issues with sexism than Taiwan.

And it's convenient - I think there's a law somewhere requiring that I say that. Sure. And I really do prefer living in the developed world, and in a place with a first-rate public transit network.

Oh yeah and all my stuff's here and my cats and all that. Sure.

Point is, if all I cared about was money, there are a lot of places I could go, and make lots more of it. Obviously, other priorities keep me here. 


Other people have other reasons - perhaps their job is more tied to Taiwan, whereas I could find better work if I were willing to leave. Perhaps they've married locally, or are a specialist in local politics or history (things I am personally interested in, but am not a credentialed expert in), or have invested their whole lives in learning Mandarin or Taiwanese.

There are a million reasons why we accept low pay and generally poor working conditions, from the grounded (say, married locally) or conceptual (caring about Taiwan as a cause worth fighting for).

I'm not trying to defend the offering of NT$66,000/month to someone who would earn three times that, or more, elsewhere. I'm not saying that Taiwan is attractive to foreign talent despite being a place where, in many cases, your career can only go so far. In my own life, I'm grateful for the career boost Taiwan has given me, but I also see the end of the road: the point where I could go further in life (and make a lot more money, and eventually earn citizenship) if I were willing to leave. That hasn't changed.

And if Taiwan really wants to attract foreign expertise, they are simply going to have to offer a better, and better-remunerated, work culture. Period. So who cares why we stay?

Mainly, it matters because it breaks down this myth that talent always, in every instance, follows money. It's one thing to say that Taiwan needs to be more attractive to foreign talent. It's quite another to imply the flip-side of that, as some do: that everyone who is talented therefore leaves, or goes elsewhere to begin with, and those who come and stay must therefore not be desirable talent.

Whether we're talking about locals or foreigners, this is simply not fair. If some of us have other reasons why we stay, it follows that at least some of those who remain will have the talent and expertise Taiwan needs, and we deserve better than to be dismissed as losers for sticking around. I know people among my friends and connections here who are: long-termers a deeply committed teacher of children; a generous friend who gives up heaps of personal time to volunteer in underprivileged communities; several formidable scholars and journalists who, in the face of a low-quality media environment, ensure that information about Taiwan is available in a variety of languages; talented teachers of adults who have the training and experience to remake what it means to learn; public figures who bring like-minded expats together; a migrant rights activist; several writers and artists; several LGBT rights activists and more. So many more. Forget me, I'm just a weirdo with opinions - look at the whole picture. 

And yes, there are losers too, and leeches, but we're not all LBHs (Losers Back Home) who can't leave because nowhere else will put up with our bullshit, just because we haven't chased the dollar signs to some other country. We all have our reasons for staying.

Again, so what?

Well, not all of these examples of the creativity, experience and expertise that we bring to Taiwan fit into the little pegs set out by the government. We have a lot to offer, but because we're not necessarily the kind of 'foreign experts' who do chase dollar signs, we don't always meet the qualifications to be considered a 'foreign expert'.

Becoming a 'foreign expert' costs money, especially if you have already built a life in Taiwan, and suddenly find you need to relocate abroad to gain the qualifications you need (hence my problem with the "Master's degree from a university not located in Taiwan" in that ad, although I am obtaining exactly that. Not sure how I'll afford the PhD though, with an entire life that I can't just give up in Taiwan.) Those of us who have other reasons for staying and don't just chase money...tend not to have huge amounts of it.

The way the discussion about immigration and dual nationality rights is going now, it seems most of the Taiwanese government thinks we're all worthless slobs when what they want to attract is "real" expertise, not the slothful degenerates they imagine us to be, showing up to 550/hour classes at Happy Eagle English Scholar's Acadamy still drunk on Taiwan Beer. 

It dismisses those of us who came to Taiwan as nothing and built something, even if we didn't quite build it to the exact specifications set out for 'special' foreign professionals. It completely ignores the ways in which we've looked to give back, and the ways we - the ones who stay despite the crap work culture and crappier pay - are the real soft power.

I know it's a bit odd to say "we're not here for the money" alongside "...but really, we need more money". It's true, though. We stay for other reasons, but things absolutely have to get better, or we may start losing the good people who stayed on regardless.  Those of us who have good but not 'special professional' situations won't move into these more prestigious jobs if the pay is so paltry. 


We deserve better pay and work conditions, just as locals do (and I acknowledge locals need it more). But those who have made something of ourselves here also deserve to be recognized as the people who stayed even when we could have gone elsewhere and earned a lot more, and what that means in terms of the value we add to Taiwan.