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

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.

Monday, August 20, 2018

We are the soft power (Part 1)

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Awhile back, I attended one of the Urban Nomad Film Festival screenings of Metal Politics Taiwan (read my review of it here) - a documentary chronicling the first year in office of black metal frontman, super hunk and then-newly-elected legislator Freddy Lim. At the end of the screening, Lim graciously participated in a Q&A session, where I had the honor of asking the last question.

I didn't blog about this until now, because the recording wasn't available. Now it is - you can watch it here (Freddy's reply is in Chinese).

I...um, haven't watched it. Why? I absolutely hate the way I look and sound on video (though I tend not to mind photos of myself) and just don't really want to watch myself. Anyway, I know what was said, I know how Freddy replied, and I don't need to watch it again.

If you don't want to watch the video (and please feel free to skip footage of me, jeez), basically I asked a two-part question: first, I asked for his opinion on the notion that Taiwan's soft power initiatives have actually failed (considering that soft power had been discussed at length in the previous questions, in a more optimistic way). There are non-Palestinians who care about Palestine, and non-Tibetans who care about Tibet, but there are very few non-Taiwanese who care about Taiwan. We haven't been reaching the audiences we need to reach to bring the case for Taiwan to the international community.

Then, I asked about immigration (the question he answered first), noting that one of the key drivers of Taiwan's soft power are the foreigners who have made Taiwan their home, and most of them are not the "special professionals" who now qualify for dual nationality. They're the ones like me, who come as nobodies, maybe teach English for awhile, but the best of whom eventually find their groove and find ways to contribute to Taiwan as well as discuss Taiwan (and its message - that it is a vibrant democracy on the front line of the fight between freedom and authoritarianism) with loved ones in our places of origin. Yet we don't qualify to be dual nationals - we aren't special enough. That there are people who worked on Metal Politics Taiwan who are some of the key drivers of Taiwan's soft power abroad, who want to be Taiwanese citizens, who don't qualify. It's not the foreign engineers and the missionaries who are spreading Taiwan's message, it's the people like us, yet we're just...not special enough. So...what's up with that?

What I really wanted to add (in italics because I didn't say it) was that only supporting people who come to Taiwan fully formed in their careers and life paths to become dual nationals is not a good economic or soft power strategy for Taiwan. Salaries, opportunities and working conditions/culture in Taiwan are not appealing enough to attract enough of such people to have an impact on the country.

What's more, when they do come, they're more likely to have been sent here by employers (rather than actively choosing Taiwan). This means they're both more likely to leave within a few years, and live in an expat bubble rather than seek to get to know and contribute to Taiwan. They probably aren't going to spend their time spreading Taiwan's soft power message. We are - the real drivers here are those who may be searching for what they ultimately want to do, and choose to spend part of that search in Taiwan. The best among us come to love Taiwan, we learn about it, we seek to understand and contribute - and we do. We decide to go to back to school, to enter a profession, to open a business, to be activists. We grow and mature. Often, we stay - some permanently.

When we visit our countries of origin, we tell our stories. We're the ones who convince friends and family abroad that Taiwan matters. We became who we are in Taiwan, and we remember that and pay it back.

We - moreso than the "special professionals" - are the real soft power. So when the government supports them, but not us, they are ignoring the true contributors to Taiwan. The government seems to have identified which kinds of immigrants it wants - I say the government is wrong.


Freddy started out by answering my second question, saying that he was aware that there are a lot of foreigners in Taiwan who want more rights, but he had to be honest that this had been discussed in the Legislative Yuan, yet the debate had been quite conservative - that it's not that people hate the foreigners who are here, or hate Southeast Asians but think white people are OK - but that it's really hard to push Taiwan to change into this sort of society (where we might assimilate more) due to continued government conservatism. The government might still think some of us are drug traffickers, liars, criminals - whether we're white or Southeast Asian. He admitted that was a strange way of thinking, but that's what a lot of people still think. Yet, there's a chance things could change quickly. Five years ago, nobody expected LGBTQ rights would be the major social issue in Taiwan that it is now, and he has great hope for the young generation who don't think as conservatively as those in power now.

I had a little more trouble understanding his answer to the first query, and I'm not sure he fully remembered what I'd asked - he answered it as though I had talked about how other democratic countries would care about Taiwan because they support us as a fellow democracy, and that things didn't quite work that way. I didn't reference international students, doing business etc., so the answer also felt a bit canned. As I don't feel he really addressed the question about soft power that I did ask, I may try to parse his answer in a subsequent post, but I'll leave this here for now.

This ties into something I've been thinking for awhile - that while it is important to raise salaries and improve job opportunities for both locals and foreigners in Taiwan (though I'd say the local situation is quite a bit more severe and needs far more immediate action), that most of us foreigners who do stick around and try to contribute - those who come here young and dumb and perhaps study Mandarin or teach English in some third-rate buxiban for a time before finding our way to something better - aren't just here for money. If that's all we cared about, we'd be in some other country (more or less any other developed country).

But that's for the next post...

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Racism in teacher hiring provokes outrage, but sexism doesn't

I'm sure you're all familiar with Facebook Post Seen 'Round Taiwan, in which a kindergarten teacher at Kangchiao (a famous and extremely expensive international school in Taiwan) seeks substitutes, apologizing as they admit that the school won't consider any "black or dark-skinned" applicants.


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Outrage followed. Outrage. Fury. I admit, I also shared the post. With good reason - it's not only blatantly racist, but such discriminatory hiring practices are also illegal in Taiwan.  (Notably, so is working at a kindergarten as a foreigner at all - chances are the teacher isn't aware of this, but the school is and hires foreigners anyway.)

I wonder if any reputable news outlet has asked Kangchiao not just for a comment, not "do you discriminate?" but "what exactly was that teacher told?" and "how many non-white teachers do you currently have?"

But what bugs me just as much as all of that is this:

Over the years, I have taken to task many posters, recruitment agencies and schools for sexist job ads: you know, female teachers wanted, that sort of thing. I've pointed out how many 'better' schools have all male teaching staff. I've been personally attacked for this. I've been threatened ("I'm going to find out who you work for and tell them you're a feminazi", "I'm going to report you to immigration/the tax office because [insert bullshit reason here].") I've been kicked out of and banned from job groups for merely pointing out that an ad is illegal and standing my ground when challenged on that. I've had people try to make the case that sexism in English teaching is okay for whatever (stupid) reasons - usually some tired fugue involving women being more "nurturing" or more professional jobs going to men because there are more "qualified" men, so diversity shouldn't be one facet of the hiring process.

At no point has an ad requesting a certain gender of teacher caused this much anger or made the news in any real way, despite it usually being more blatant than racism in hiring. Of course many if not most schools have racist hiring practices, but they will almost never advertise it openly. But they will advertise sexist hiring practices openly.

That's not to say the blatant racism in this ad shouldn't spark a furor, but that the sexism in other ads should. It's also illegal, it's also discriminatory, there's also no good reason for it, and it's also wrong.

There is no reason why, in a classroom or school situation, that gender should be a factor in hiring a teacher. Some of the most 'nurturing' teachers I know - the best with kids - are actually mostly male. The most dedicated Montessori teacher I have ever met is a man. I can rattle off half a dozen highly-qualified women who could easily teach higher-level classes (Business English, IELTS and the 'prestigious' buxibans) - and those are only the ones I know personally. There are obviously more. There is no reason for the teaching staff at these places to be almost entirely male.

Pretty much the only time I can justify considering gender in teacher hiring is if it is for one-on-one classes which will take place at either the teacher's or student's home. I can understand a female student feeling uncomfortable having a male teacher alone in her home or vice versa.

And yet, nothing - despite the fact that sexism in hiring is not only illegal, but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes (yo if you say I'm 'more nurturing' because I'm female, you'd better get yourself a good strong protective codpiece, buddy. I don't even like kids). It makes it harder for women who want to work with adults - say teaching Business English - to be taken seriously. It makes it harder for nurturing men who want to work with kids to earn parents' trust.

It perpetuates wage inequality as well: those 'nurturing' jobs working with children tend to pay a lot less, too. Surrogate-Mommy-Tracking women into them based on ludicrous notions that they're better suited for those lower-paid roles because they're female, and not bothering about better-paid teaching work being almost entirely done  by men leads to long-term wage gaps.

But nobody seems to be mad about that, and I'm stumped as to why. It's just as much a violation of the law. Every case made for violating the law comes down to "that's what paying customers want", but if what the students (or their parents) want is actually illegal and has nothing to do with who is actually best-suited and qualified to educating them or their children, it doesn't - or shouldn't - matter.

You know, though, about that ad. It doesn't matter either. It won't lead to any real change.

There's a lot swirling around about who said what and why which I won't get into, only to say that I have it on good authority that the problem here is not with the teacher who posted the ad.

The school, as reported in Taiwan News, claims it does not discriminate - but of course they have to say that. They seem to think the teacher "misunderstood" (according to another source) - though (and this is my interpretation here), anyone who has been in Taiwan long enough knows that "you misunderstood" is another way of saying "you embarrassed me/the organization by accurately reporting what I said or otherwise made clear, so now we have to pretend it was a 'misunderstanding' when we both know it wasn't."

And that's just it - nothing will change because if Kangchiao is in fact racist (I don't know for a fact that they are), they'll just try to be quieter or more subtle about it, to ensure that it never gets stated openly again. Even if Kangchiao is not racist, every other school that is (and there are a lot of them) will try to avoid this not by - duh - not being racist - but by trying to ensure that nobody outs them as racist.

The big outrage here as far as the racist buxiban industry is concerned isn't that there is racism in teacher hiring in Taiwan. It's that someone dared to say so openly.

I guess when it comes to sexism they're safe, as nobody seems willing to be outraged about that. And I'll continue to point it out, tell people it's illegal, and be threatened, shouted at and kicked out of groups for simply stating again and again that it's both illegal and wrong.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Firewalking For Beginners: my latest for Taiwan Scene

I'm back as a guest contributor to Taiwan Scene, this time writing about firewalking in Donggang...but not the way you think. It's actually about being a female traveler faced with sexist (yes, sexist) religious traditions, and having entirely the wrong response to them - something I can only admit now.

In any case, enjoy. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Reason number six zillion why international media coverage of Asia sucks

My new queen Joanna Chiu hits the nail so perfectly on the head that the nail goes straight through the wood, through the table and right into the foot of some guy who was probably standing over her explaining how hammers work in this piece about men, journalism and Asia. She also manages to get Foreign Policy to publish the words "fuck", "swinging dick", "dick pic" and "sexpat", which is kind of wonderful.

Chiu firsts outlines some of the horrific, unprofessional, misogynist and also just downright rapey behavior she's experienced while covering Asia:


Once, a fellow journalist exited our shared taxi outside my apartment. I thought we were sharing a cab to our respective homes, but he had other expectations, and suddenly his tongue was in my face. On another evening, another journalist grabbed my wrist and dragged me out of a nightclub without a word....

The incidents aren’t limited by proximity. I have received multiple unsolicited “dick pics” from foreign correspondents — generally on the highly monitored messaging service WeChatI have received multiple unsolicited “dick pics” from foreign correspondents — generally on the highly monitored messaging service WeChat. Somewhere deep in the Chinese surveillance apparatus there is a startling collection of images of journalists’ genitalia....

Most disturbingly, a source tried to rape the correspondent while she was on assignment in China. She never told her bosses for fear that disclosure would hurt her career.


Then she reminds us that these are the exact same men covering sensitive local and regional issues in Asia which include women's issues.


I have seen correspondents I know to be serial offenders in private take the lead role in reporting on the sufferings of Asian women, or boast of their bravery in covering human rights. In too many stories, Asian men are treated as the sole meaningful actors, while Asian women are reduced to sex objects or victims. And this bad behavior — and the bad coverage that follows — is a pattern that repeats across Asia, from Tokyo to Phnom Penh.

There's a fair bit of intersectional fuck-uppery going on here too, with large numbers of underpaid local staff hired at news bureaus across Asia, the vast majority of them female, treated like errand girls and second-class employees, with little or no recourse or channels for reporting misconduct:



The problems are worsened by the unequal power dynamics in the offices of multinational media that employ “local staff” to provide translation, conduct research, and navigate complex bureaucracies, but pay them a fraction of what their foreign colleagues earn. In China, these “news assistants” are mostly young women. This pattern is mirrored in other countries, where the pool of those with the English-language skills needed for the job often skew female....

“They have no job security — if there is any conflict, they can be fired the next day,” says Yajun Zhang, a former news assistant. As a result, sexual harassment and gender- or race-based discrimination can occur with impunity. Even if they raise concerns, investigation can often prove extremely difficult over distance and cultural barriers.



Considering this, are we still surprised that international media coverage in Asia is so bad (you were aware it is mostly bad, yes, with few gems shining through the murk)?

It ties together a host of issues why the media has, in a lot of cases, failed in giving the world a somewhat accurate picture of what really goes on in media (and expat circles) in Asia. It's not only that men who treat women like garbage then report on women's issues here, but also that the people with real local knowledge who could add detail, nuance and accuracy to their reports are often at best ignored, treated as "less than" and sent on non-work-related errands, and at worst are sexually assaulted.

There are not only so few non-male voices not only in international media in Asia, but in the expat community in East Asia generally (and, frankly, local communities too - from Taiwanese student activists to the CCP and their propaganda machine to Japanese corporate leadership and politics, the voices are still overwhelmingly male). As such, those with the life experience that will help them notice and pick up certain stories are systematically discriminated against (or assaulted) - and those stories get ignored.

And it's not only that so many people who report on Asia - even for highly pretigious media - are "parachuted in" and don't know the issue on a local level at all, which shows in their lackluster coverage. Even these reporters act badly - they are mostly male, because the world runs on penises spouting their penis opinions:


Journalists parachuting in from the home office for one-off trips have also developed a reputation for treating local residents they rely on for their stories badly — especially women.


But it's also that - Imma be honest here - most of these swinging dicks are bad at their jobs. I don't know, in the craptacular coverage of Asia I've read (and there is a LOT of it), how much of it is written by dudes who are decent guys who just aren't very good reporters, and which are sexual assailants or misogynist pricks who will disparage women or troll victims of sexual assault. I just don't know. I'm sure some of the sexual assailants are men who write brilliant copy. But I can say with a fair amount of confidence that the Venn diagram of mediocre (mostly male) reporters doing a bad job in Asia and reporters who sexually harass and assault (or denigrate) women likely has far more overlap than most people care to think about.

Is it such a leap to think that a dude who is so arrogant, entitled and self-absorbed that he thinks he can grab any pussy he likes (not every man who does this is Donald Trump) would also be the sort of dude who thinks he is qualified or able to cover Asia well, when in fact he is stunningly mediocre at it?

A final thought:

This story broke about a week ago. As usual, people climbed out of the primordial Internet soup to find some way, truly any goddamn way, to blame the Asian women who go with these guys for their behavior rather than blaming the assholes themselves, at least when all the sex they're having is consensual. Because why point fingers at a guy who sends unsolicited dick pics and gropes women in taxis when there are women you can blame instead?

There was one stupid comment calling the Asian women who go for these guys (the ones who do so consensually) a "threat to Asian culture": as though it's women's choices which need to be policed and judged, not men's behavior. As though they are responsible for upholding some other person's idea of what their culture should be. As though they aren't making a personal choice. As though they shouldn't be allowed to have any choice at all (if some choices are deemed 'unacceptable', then that simply is not choice.) As though consensual sex - even a lot of it - is necessarily a bad thing.

Some will blame the men too - in true "they're rogering our women!" fashion. Instead of screaming "culture traitor!" at an Asian woman who makes a choice they don't like, they cast her instead as a stupid victim who isn't capable of making the choice. That's just as bad.

That's just for the women who go with these guys consensually. For the ones assaulted non-consensually, well, they get this instead:


As the New York Times reported, former club president Jonathan Kaiman, who had resigned in January after being accused of sexual misconduct by Laura Tucker, a former friend of his, was now accused of sexually assaulting a female journalist, Felicia Sonmez. After the second accusation, the Los Angeles Times quickly suspended him from his role as Beijing bureau chief and has begun an investigation. But as the Hong Kong Free Press noted, the original accusation had prompted many male correspondents to launch misogynistic attacks on Tucker in online conversations.

Such actions, and entitlement, reflect a sense of privilege and a penchant for sexual aggression that threatens to distort the stories told about Asia, and that too often leaves the telling in the hands of the same men preying on their colleagues.



Lovely.

These are the guys who write the stories about Asia that you read.

How do you feel about that?

Friday, May 4, 2018

The white male conversation about Asian women's dress (but not how you think)

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I borrowed this photo from here, but hey, go ahead and buy their sticky rice sausages! Free marketing!
Those sausages sure look good. I think I might buy some.

First, a quick note: I've received some valuable feedback that the font on Lao Ren Cha is too small - it hadn't seemed that way to me - so I'm kicking it up one notch. If it seems oddly large, yes, something has changed. Let's see if the next font size up works better. 

I'll say it: I don't really care about the dress. I don't really want to weigh in on the dress. I understand the racial/historical/power dynamics at play, but find it a super weak example of these, easily dismissed, making it more difficult to persuasively argue that there are race-based power dynamics in the US that express themselves when white people use things from non-white cultures and are complimented while people from those cultures continue to be marginalized.

(And yes, that is absolutely a thing.)

I do care about the conversation going on among foreign residents in Taiwan about the dress, however. Although it's fine to have a range of voices, and everyone gets to have an opinion, it seems to me that the most interesting and relevant opinions would come from Asian female voices, as the garment in question is an Asian women's garment. There is a point where growing up having these experiences and being seen a certain way gives you the ability to talk about how you are treated vis-a-vis your race, culture and choice of clothing in the US as opposed to Asia more fluently, and with more gravity, because you've lived it.

Yet I can't help noticing that most of the discussions going on in English in the Taiwan foreign resident community about the Great Qipao Panic of 2018 - at least the ones marching across my Facebook feed - are started by, and propelled by, white men. There are so few women participating -and no Asian women - that it's almost comical.

This isn't necessarily a deal-breaker. A lot of what's being said is pretty smart, and there is no problem with a plethora of opinions - I'm not a fan of identity politics and I don't want to shut men up for the sake of it (though some of you might think I do, that's not the case). Nothing crass or offensive. Mostly in touch with the real issue - the people involved are mostly solid, intelligent, thoughtful dudes whose opinions I respect. But, it's not a "plethora of opinions" - it's all white male opinion - and it still feels mighty awkward to have a whole series of conversations going on about Asian women's dress among residents of an Asian country that involve almost no women (I counted a grand total of four women across all threads, one of whom was me), and no Asian women at all. 


This one issue isn't very important - again, I really don't care about the dress. But this isn't the first time I've noticed just how white and male the Taiwan expat world is, and as a result, how white-male flavored all the conversations within it are. It's not nearly the first time I've been the lone woman contributing in a sea of men (or been one of only two). It's not by far the first time I've noticed a dearth of non-white, non-male perspectives. Looking at offline real-life interactions, I can't tell you the number of times I've been the only woman around. 

This is troubling for a few reasons. First, in a conversation that's touched upon how, when we essentialize a culture and say "it IS this" or "it ISN'T that" and allow self-appointed experts to claim decision-maker status of what is and is not offensive in that culture, the narrative that emerges is almost always male, because "expert" status gets conferred upon dominant voices, and dominant voices tend to be male voices. So having a conversation about that which is also almost entirely male is a problem.

This bleeds into other issues - when we as foreign residents talk about issues focused on Asia, it would make sense to seek out and listen to more varied opinions, but we don't, and it becomes "white guys discussing Asia". The ideas aren't always bad but the lack of diversity in voices is a problem.

I don't think anyone means for it to be this way - there's no sign that says "Boys' Club NO GIRLZ ALLOWED!" and no intentional shutting out of women, including Asian women. But, it's there. There is a segregation of sorts.

Second, it doesn't seem as though the men themselves notice how monochromatic and single-gendered the community is, and therefore, I question how many of them realize how un-diverse the perspectives they are hearing are. That means they don't realize that this imbalance is reflected in the true demographics of the (mostly white, mostly male) Westerner community in Taiwan (the Southeast Asian foreign community seems more gender-balanced in my observation.) And if they don't realize it, how can we work to change it? In a community based in Asia, surely we can do better than this. I have many Taiwanese friends of both genders, most of whom speak excellent English - I find it difficult to believe that these conversations should necessarily be so segregated. I can't be that unique.

It makes it so that when you point this out, you always wonder who is going to get defensive about it, or insist that a white man's opinion is just the same, with no difference in terms of distance from the issue or lived experience, than someone who might actually wear a qipao. I have quit groups and forums over this, because it's just such a nonsense point that I didn't see any reason to stick around, if the majority of people thought that their white male opinion on issues affecting women (including Asian women) was exactly as valuable as the women themselves.

This leads into the final point, which is that as a result of the conversations in the Taiwan English-speaking community being so thoroughly dominated by white men, not everyone is going to be a 'good guy', and a lot of times, women stay away because of (as one friend put it), the K.A.C. or "Known Asshole Count". We don't always have the energy to counter the mansplaining, the defensiveness, the ad hominems, the intentionally-and-unintentionally sexist comments. This has improved somewhat in recent months, as more of the good guys are realizing that the jerks in their midst don't listen to women - so a woman telling them off has no effect - and are adding their voices to the chorus telling them to step off, and allowing the natural consequences of being one of the Known Assholes to finally be felt


Some also stay away, honestly, because it's tiring in other ways too. I've noticed other women posit good ideas, be (often unintentionally) ignored, and then have people credit a male commenter who pipes up with those same ideas later. (This has also happened to me, though it's rare.) I've thought about how to word my points carefully because I worry that even the good guys will get annoyed or defensive when being called out, and then decided just not to bother, because if I can't express myself plainly, I don't necessarily want to do so at all. It's tiring to be the lone female voice and therefore have to always be the one saying "oh hey, so, from a woman's perspective...". And it's tiring to be piled on for pointing out actual discrimination - e.g. sexist job ads or ads that blatantly violate Taiwanese gender non-discrimination laws, only to get piled on with the same tired rebuttals ("but if they want to hire [person from a certain group even though it's illegal and discriminatory] they should be allowed to do that!") that are still wrong but never change.

All this does is highlight, once again, just how male the expat community is. A lot of the time, there are few female commenters because there are few Western women in Taiwan. I've been to many events where it's me, a bunch of foreign men, and their Taiwanese wives. I have no problem with this generally, but in a more balanced community, there would be a larger cohort of foreign women. At the two annual parties I have typically attended (now down to one, as I quit the other job - and I was the only Western female employee), I am either the only foreign woman, or one of just two or three in events with dozens, if not up to a hundred, people.

It absolutely does create a bubble, and I'm not sure what to do about it. I don't really want to continue to be the only woman in conversations full of men, and I don't want to keep seeing white men talk to each other about issues affecting women and people of Asian heritage without questioning the fact that nobody from those groups is a part of the discussion, but I see no clear way to changing that.