Showing posts with label foreign_women. Show all posts
Showing posts with label foreign_women. Show all posts

Monday, December 28, 2020

Taiwan needs to change its abortion laws, but will it?


As usual I don't have a great header image, but I thought a memorial temple to five women who were screwed over by the patriarchy in Taiwan's distant history was fitting enough (from Tainan's Five Concubines Temple)

News broke early in December that Taiwan's the Health Promotion Administration is planning to propose changes to Taiwan's abortion laws. Specifically, they hope to eliminate the requirement that married women seeking an abortion require the consent of their spouse, as this infringes on a woman's bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom, is discriminatory towards women. The proposal also includes changing the title and some of the language in the law (problematically called the "Genetic Health Act", yikes) for being discriminatory.

I didn’t write about this when it happened partly because I was simply too busy, but also partly because I wasn’t sure I had much to say about it. Of course the law should be changed; that's obvious. But it rattled around in my head long enough to come out in written form, so here we are. 

I think it's a good entry point to revisit the debate over liberalism and conservatism in Taiwanese society, which I will do in a subsequent post, but it deserves its own investigation first.

To my mind, the double standard that unmarried women can exercise reproductive rights fairly easily (anyone can claim that carrying a pregnancy to term would harm their 'mental health' or 'family life') but married ones are subject to the approval of a spouse seems to be built on several assumptions. First, that a husband -- this law was enacted when same-sex marriage and trans rights were not even under consideration -- has the right to make decisions about his wife's body without her agreement. Second, that a woman needs to give a 'reason' for terminating a pregnancy. Third, that a single woman has rights which they lose when they get married,  meaning that married women are still seen in a sense as property. Finally, that children in households with married spouses were usually desirable to society but unmarried pregnant women were not. In fact, if you read the law carefully, the "[if the pregnancy will] affect family life" provision makes it fairly easy for a married man's affair partner to get an abortion, but not his wife.

Read between the lines: it was never about giving single women a way out while respecting the "partnership" of marriage, and those who say it is are full of crap. It was always about protecting men who got women pregnant out of wedlock, but valuing a married woman's children and her male partner's right to them over the woman herself. While some architects of the law might have hoped it would ultimately improve women's rights, it was never fully about that: it was always about which pregnancies were desirable -- to society, not the women carrying them -- and which weren't. There's a reason why some people translate the Genetic Health Act as the "Eugenics Act". That's basically what it is. Just look at one of the very first phrases in the act, which references the "upgrade" of "population quality". 

It's worth discussing abuse of the law's marital status loophole by some clinics: I've heard stories from multiple sources -- which I'm keeping confidential for obvious reasons -- that there are clinics that ask for "the father's" approval to those seeking an abortion, even if the patient is not married. I have mostly heard of this happening to foreign women who may not know the law, but also of Taiwanese women being treated this way. (I don't know whether it actually happens less often to them as they're more likely to know the law, or being a foreigner here, I hear fewer of those stories).

Focus Taiwan points out that the past 20 years were marked with attempts to change the language, in 2006 and again in 2013. That places the initial attempt to amend the law near the end of Chen Shui-bian’s presidency. The 2012-2013 attempt (when the Executive Yuan ordered the HPA to amend the law, which never happened) would have been just before the Ma Ying-jeou presidency caved in on itself. The legislative change that allowed abortions was promulgated under KMT dictatorship, but had also been illegal under that same dictatorship for decades as they promoted traditional gender roles. This means that such initiatives could be proposed and pass or fail regardless of the party in power.  

I'm not sure that will hold up, however. The KMT seems to be swinging toward social conservatism and appears to be unable to attract young supporters despite some members' warnings. The DPP seems to be swinging away from it, with the future of the party looking to new generations as older members, well, storm off in huffs that few pay attention to. 

Will the law ultimately be amended? I think so; though some are trying to bring the Culture Wars to Taiwan and the KMT appears to be receptive, they haven't been quite as successful as their counterparts in the US or elsewhere. The government that passed same-sex marriage and appointed the first openly trans woman to a highly public position is likely to also welcome changes that broaden access to reproductive rights. The court that made same-sex marriage an issue of immediate legislative importance and ended the criminalization of adultery is fairly likely to keep up the trend, if it goes to the courts. Public opinion doesn't seem to favor these changes, but neither do people seem eager to re-hash previous battles. Changes happen, culture adapts, and society moves on.

However, opposition to improving access to abortion rights is likely to ramp up in coming months, led by the same people who screeched about marriage equality. As these groups not only appear to study US Republican strategies for inducing outrage but in some cases work openly with the American right wing, you'll probably hear a lot of the same facetious arguments you hear in the US. 

There will surely be some who scream that it's not in Taiwanese (or Chinese) traditional 'culture' to allow this, because of a cultural emphasis on 'family values'. Of course, name one culture whose 'traditions' are not said to 'emphasize family', and I will buy you a beer. 

This argument will conveniently forget that most laws propagated in Taiwan until the 1990s were created under foreign dictatorship, so it's not clear how Taiwanese laws actually relate to Taiwanese culture. If you want to make the "Chinese culture" argument, please go talk to the People's Republic of China where abortion has been easily accessible for quite some time, and in many cases was actually forced on pregnant people

This is all likely to come to a screaming, frothing head, with the KMT most likely playing a role. There will be protests, those who already hate President Tsai are going to use this as another reason to attack her (even though it's not directly her doing, I would imagine she supports it), and public opinion polls will once again show that Taiwan is in many ways a more conservative society than some factors indicate, but also more liberal than the world often believes. Then it will pass, and things will go quiet-ish until the next round of battles.

All of that leads us to the ultimate question: given Taiwan's recent achievements and changes to abortion access likely, is Taiwan a 'liberal' or 'conservative' society?

Of course, as with any debate that attempts to posit a clear dichotomy, the answer is 'both' and 'neither' -- a discussion for the near future.

Edit: here it is!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Updated post: English-speaking OB-GYN in Taipei

Just wanted you guys to know that I've updated my post on an English-speaking OB-GYN in Taipei, as my old clinic has closed and Dr. Wang seems to have stopped practicing (I suspect she retired). You can get information for Dr. Hsieh here - I've just edited the old post as the old information was no longer relevant.

If anyone else has other recommendations or experiences to share, feel free to comment or contact me personally (I'm pretty easy to find on Facebook). 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Gym Recommendation: The Key

Over the past few months I've been gearing up to write my dissertation, and was feeling a bit blue about having lots of reading to do because I didn't want to sit like a slug on the couch doing it. A friend recommended The Key, them my husband joined and liked it, and I thought: there are surely exercise machines I could use while reading, even if it's just a bit of light elliptical or stationary bike.

I knew I could do this at the local municipal gym (which is not far from my house), but never seemed to make it down there - in part because the one in my district is in an odd location that isn't too close to anything else I need or want to do. Before The Key, none of the paid gyms really appealed to me either: either they always seemed crowded, or they were too heavily skewed toward weight training, or they were too expensive and only had annual memberships available (I travel often so don't necessarily want to pay for a month when I won't be around.)

Or, in one memorable instance, I had already heard some concerning things about the management at another gym and they way they treated people and interacted with the expat community - only to have those concerns abundantly validated recently. I didn't want to give money to a place that wasn't welcoming to everyone.

So, I joined The Key. From their Facebook page:

Screen Shot 2019-05-22 at 8.02.27 PM

It currently costs NT$1500/month (renewable monthly so you cancel if you won't be in town and then return), is conveniently located near other places I often go (just north of Zhongxiao Dunhua) and at the nexus of useful transport hubs, has a big-enough room of cardio exercise machines (not just a preponderance of weight training equipment, which isn't useful to me while I'm trying to get reading done) and has a decent cafe on-site - with discounts for members - as well as a comfortable rooftop relaxing space accessible to members.

I certainly recommend it for everyone, but especially for women. Most importantly, I've never once felt judged or unwelcome as, plump woman who isn't even necessarily there to lose weight the way I have at gyms in the past. Management is friendly and always accessible if you have questions or issues and they make a real attempt to remember their clients' names and faces. Overall it's just a place where I think women can feel comfortable. It's hard to put that sense of 'comfort' into words, but it's there.

The space is nicer and more inviting than the municipal gyms (though I'm happy those exist), with big windows looking out over leafy Dunhua Road. The actual gym portion of the space is above the cafe starting on the 2nd floor, so nobody on the street can see you huffing and puffing away but you can look out at the scenery. There's good wifi and free water. There are lockers (bring your own lock) including ones you can rent longer-term as well as changing rooms and showers which are clean and well-maintained.

Most of the cardio machines come with televisions and USB plugs, so you can watch TV or Netflix while you work out if you're not a hardcore nerd like me. The displays can be set to a number of languages, including English, and are fairly easy to use. They have classes where you can learn how to use the weight-training equipment (and other classes too, as well as personal training, but I'm there to work out as I read so I haven't explored those yet). There are English speakers on staff.

The space is tall and narrow as it's designed to fit into the building it occupies, but they make the most of it with an elevator so changing floors isn't too much of a pain.

So yay, The Key! If you're looking for a place where you can work out without feeling judged or potentially discriminated against or just want a place that's more conveniently-located, this is the place for you.

Note: I was not asked or paid to write this post. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Bad reporting, Han Kuo-yu, and racism against Filipinos in Taiwanese society

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 12.02.45 PM
This meme - not established Taiwanese media -  is the most accurate translation of Han's actual remarks that I've found. 

So, I'm sure you've all heard by now that Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu is a racist crapsack, but you might not be entirely clear on exactly how much of a racist crapsack he actually is, because it's impossible to figure out what his exact words were from print media. 

In looking for Han's direct quote, I found three different versions in United Daily News, Liberty Times and Storm Media, and decided none of them could be fully trusted. So, I found a video. Here's exactly what he said, with video evidence:


My translation:

I think the hearts of Kaohsiung residents and Taiwanese would be greatly shocked, how can a Maria become our teacher?

'Maria' is a pejorative for a Filipina woman, connoting a woman of humble means who performs domestic labor. It's equivalent to calling them maids - referring to every woman in the Philippines as 'the help'. This particular insult is well-known in Taiwan, where many workers from the Philippines perform blue-collar labor in Taiwan. It's not just a racist word, it's a sexist one too as it specifically denigrates the domestic labor done by foreign women.

That word, "shock" (衝擊) can also mean an assault or lashing - it could just as easily be translated as "would assault the hearts of Kaohsiungers and Taiwanese".

The "...because how can a 'Maria' become our English teacher" is also important to understanding Han's meaning, it implies unlikeliness, impossibility, or mockery. How could The Help possibly teach us?

This is what he means and an accurate translation of his remark makes that clear.

Han goes on to say (from the video linked above, translation mine):

往菲律賓取才我覺得這個在一個克服的過程。... 如果我們從菲律賓引進教英文的師資,高雄的家長能不能接受? 所以我才會用瑪麗亞三個字,來做一個表述,所以我用瑪麗亞三個字不是有其他的意思在。...你為什麼不找美國,澳大利亞,英國的,你為什麼找隔壁菲律賓的?我的意思是說,家長心裡會有一個障礙。可是呢?菲律賓外語人才的輸出,已經很成熟,這個兩個這間,怎麼樣說服高雄的家長? 
Filipino talent, I think this is a process of overcoming....if we introduce qualified English teachers from the Philippines, would Kaohsiung patriarchs/heads of household/old-timers be able to accept it [with the implication that they would not]. So, I can only say 'Maria' it's just an expression, so when I say 'Maria', there's no other meaning....Why don't you find American, Australian, English ones, why do you find people from the nearby Philippines? My meaning is, that's a mental obstacle for these 'patriarchs'/old timers. But? The Philippines sending out foreign language speakers is already very common. Between these two [extremes], how can we convince those old-timers?

This sounds like a reasonable position to take, because it's surely true that there are many racist people in Kaohsiung and Taiwan who would be bothered by or opposed to having teachers from the Philippines in positions of authority and respect in Taiwan, because to them, they are just "Marias".

That doesn't absolve Han of his initial comments, though. First, to say "I didn't mean anything other than that by the word 'Maria'" is about as tired an excuse as "I only used the N-word because I heard it in a rap song, not because I meant something racist."

And it doesn't hold up to even the barest scrutiny as an explanation: he's not quoting anyone in particular when he calls Filipinas 'Marias'. The word came out of his own mouth. He used it offhandedly, like a normal word anyone would use. He didn't adequately signpost his remarks as a quote or description of an attitude, because that's not actually what they were despite his "clarifications" later.

If Han had really meant to describe what Taiwanese think, and make it clear that he disagrees, he wouldn't have said 'Maria' so casually in the first place. This marks him not as an ally, but a concern troll: defending his words as describing what the other side thinks, but showing through his unconsidered language choices that, on some level, he is a part of that 'other side'. Someone who truly wants to change racism against Southeast Asians in Taiwanese society would simply not say " can a Maria become our teacher?"

It boils down to his meaning being, "I don't hate Marias, I'm just worried about racism in Taiwan, what with everyone used to them being so poor and being maids and all, it's sad to me that nobody wants those Marias to be their English teachers. I'm just concerned!" 

He didn't say "many Taiwanese unfortunately have an obstacle in their thinking to accepting the idea that teachers from the Philippines could teach them, and that is wrong. We need to persuade them and overcome this obstacle, because there are many qualified professionals, including teachers, from the Philippines." He didn't even say "many Taiwanese think of workers from the Philippines as 'Marias' and that is a problem", which, while a bit gasp-worthy, is at least kind of an accurate description of what some Taiwanese people think.

He said, and I repeat, "how can a Maria become an English teacher?" as casually as an American racist might say "How'd a ________ like her get a nice car like that?" 

(And see how I made it quite clear that such horrid language describes views that exist in the world, but does not reflect my own views? It's not hard.)

At the very least it didn't occur to him that unthinkingly tossing off the 'Maria' epithet might be a problem. That only happens when someone already thinks of a group of people that way, not when they are signaling disagreement or condemnation of an opinion others hold.

And if a leader is caught in such a gaffe and tries to insist that they don't personally feel that way about a particular group, but they're just worried that everyone else does, that's simply unacceptable. Leaders should not inflame societal prejudices, even if they are common; they should be examples of a higher, more forward-thinking standard. 

Let's keep in mind as well that he tows the same 'concern troll' line with marriage equality, saying his real concern is "the next generation" (won't someone think of the children?), not that he is anti-gay, while fraternizing with anti-gay groups

And he didn't even bother to defend his remark until later in the meeting when directly asked about it, or show awareness that 'Maria' is more than 'just an expression'.

If you look at reporting of Han's comments, you get distortions of what he said all over the place (all translations are mine). Some make his wording look a lot worse - from UDN:

Introducing Filipino talent, I'm afraid (as in, scared - not regretful) that this will be a shock to Taiwanese and Kaohsiung residents, because how can a Maria become a teacher? 

From Liberty Times:

I'm afraid that this would be a shock to the Taiwanese, because how can a Maria become a teacher?

And from Storm Media, inexplicably making him look better:

Han Kuo-yu believes it is indeed possible to take advantage of /get benefits from [talent from the Philippines], but the psychological barriers of the people of Taiwan must first be overcome - to let "'Marias' become teachers", a lot of people will be shocked.  
"I think / I think that Kaohsiung residents and Taiwanese will be very shocked, Marias become our English teachers, we need to overcome this, this can be a huge shock." 

Storm tried to soften the impact of his words by mashing two quotes together - "Marias become our English teachers" and "we need to overcome this", making it seem as though he said these two things at the same time, when he didn't (which the video makes clear by his different positioning). It also erases the "because how can a Maria become our teacher?" by selectively cutting his quote and replacing "because how can..." (怎麼) with "let" (讓) outside the quote marks. 

In English the reporting isn't much higher quality.

From Focus Taiwan, which offers the most accurate translation:

Responding to a proposal that Taiwan could hire bilingual Filipino white-collar workers at a conference on Wednesday, the mayor said employing "Marias" as teachers would be a psychological shock for Taiwanese.

There's also this from Taiwan News, which is far worse but just translates the garbage from Storm Media above but does so in a way that make Han's comments sound erudite in English, when they weren't particularly eloquent in Mandarin:

In response to this, the Kaohsiung Mayor admitted the Philippines’ abundance of skilled labor could benefit the city, but said its residents would first need to overcome some “internal conflicts.”
“I believe witnessing ‘Marias’ become teachers would cause a clash in the hearts of the people of Kaohsiung, and Taiwan’s population at large. This is something that needs to be overcome; likely a huge internal conflict,” Storm quotes Han.

And the Taipei Times, with what I think is the most inaccurate translation:

Han on Wednesday told a meeting of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce in Taipei that he feared that hiring educated employees from the Philippines as English teachers “would cause a psychological shock for Taiwanese, as people might wonder: How has our Maria become a teacher?” 

Focus Taiwan accurately placed the 'Maria' comment within the attitude of Han, which is the context in which he made it, and not as a description of what he thinks other Taiwanese think. The other two make him sound much better than he actually did, and situate the 'Maria' quip not as Han's own word (which it is) but as a description of something he disagrees with (which is not what he said until pushed - which outs him as a concern troll.) Some translations (like Taipei Times' work) add connotations to the translation - e.g. "wondering" - that are simply not there in his actual words. 

All of these seem so odd to me, because the video of his remarks is publicly available. I'm not even a native Mandarin speaker or a perfectly fluent one, and yet I found and translated it with little problem.

So why do some quotes - like Liberty Times and UDN - make Han's remark seem more shocking than it was (and to be clear, it was quite shocking on its own and did not need to be sexed up)? And why do others - like Storm Media - make it sound like not much at all? How is this unclear and inaccurate media reporting of Han's remarks affecting how Taiwanese think about the incident, and is it distorting public discourse?

In English at least, it is having a distorting effect. Several posts on social media have pointed out that Han's remarks should not be considered offensive, because that's what some Taiwanese really think, based on the Taipei Times and Taiwan News translations.

This makes me wonder how can we even have a real conversation about Han's remarks and racism in Taiwanese society if what we read isn't quoting him correctly.

I'm not sure why Storm Media - which I've found to be typically more reliable - made Han look better than he deserved, and why a pan-green and pan-blue rag each made him look worse. But because the inaccuracies are present across the entire media-political spectrum, it doesn't point to an attempt to polarize the Taiwanese political cleavage.

Rather, I think it's just plain old bad reporting.

I'll finish off with something bad, then something good.

Something bad:

Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) on Saturday apologized for a recent remark in which he referred to Filipinos as "Marias," saying the term, considered by many to be a racial slur, was a slip of the tongue.
Han was sorry for the misunderstanding caused by his misuse of the term and said he looks forward to future cooperation with the Philippines, it added. 

No, Focus Taiwan. NO NO NO NO NO.

"Maria" is not "considered by many" to be a racial slur. Jesus F. Christ. It is a racial slur. Period. Han Kuo-yu said it, and only tried to insist it was a description of what other people think after he was called to task for it, without ever explaining why he'd throw it out so casually (because there is no explanation that absolves him).

It was not a "misunderstanding". We all understood him perfectly. People in the Philippines understood him quite accurately. And he didn't misuse the term - he used it exactly as it's meant to be used in racist speech.

Just as when my (dearly departed) grandpa referred to "those people" and then insisted, when I pressed him, that he hadn't meant it as an insult but "they're just a different community", I knew perfectly well that that's not what he'd meant. 

But then there's the good thing: when I moved to Taiwan 12 years ago, I don't know that a comment like this would have caused this kind of uproar in Taiwan. I passed more than one "Foreign Labor Go Home" protest, with old men carrying signs. I don't even know if such language was common then, because my Mandarin was crap, and I never heard of anyone raising a fuss about it.

But in 2019, despite some attempts to justify Han's language, the overwhelming response of Taiwanese public discourse is that it is not acceptable to talk this way, and racist speech and actions should not be tolerated.

If Han is correct about how many Taiwanese might think of English teachers from the Philippines - and he is, for some people - the fact that the backlash has been so swift and damning proves that not all Taiwanese think this way.

That said, it doesn't seem to be hurting his approval ratings, although I have long suspected something is really weird about whatever force underlies those ratings which is propping up Han. 

Taiwan has a long way to go - we need to treat immigrants from Southeast Asia better, end discrimination and give them the same opportunities for permanent residency and citizenship that white collar workers (who are largely Western) have - but this is real progress. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A new hair stylist recommendation in Taipei

In part because Lao Ren Cha's initial goal was to write about life as a female foreign resident in Taiwan, and in part because I just can't face another political post right now (it really hurts, you guys), I'd like to update my recommendations for where foreign women can get their hair done in Taipei.

I recently decided to switch stylists - my old stylist did a good job with my haircuts (at least once he stopped giving me short bangs), but I wanted to go in a new color direction and, frankly, a change in price points. Around NT$6000 seems reasonable to me for a cut and all-over permanent color with Olaplex, and that's usually about what I pay in US dollars or British pounds when I get it done abroad, if not slightly less (my last cut and color in the US was $170, in the UK I paid £125), so that was what I was looking to start paying.

So after gathering recommendations from friends, I went with Yves Yu Tsui (find her on Facebook as StarletLaDiva - she's very responsive to Facebook messages), who gave me this lovely, current style in my preferred length:


I'd been looking for a color specifically that was bright, but not the very deep violet-toned red I'd been using. It had started to look fake in a bad way (I'd previously liked it because it was bright, and looked fake but in a cool, hip way, like I wasn't trying for natural hair). I wanted a more natural red with coppery, fiery undertones, but which also covered my encroaching gray. 

Yves gave me that - a red that hewed toward flame without being orangey - with a bit of base color to ensure the grays got covered. She also put Olaplex into the dye which lessened the time I had to spend in the chair and lowered the price point.

In the past, I'd often have to have my hair gone over twice with dye, because it wasn't left in long enough so it streaked, or was very obviously different on my roots (which I tend to let grow long, though that will have to stop now that I'm really graying because I'm ancient) than my pre-dyed hair. I knew that leaving it in longer helped create a more even color on my difficult hair, and wanted that to consistently be how it was done.

Yves was super great about it, and left the color in my hair almost up to the upper recommendation on the product. The result was that I only had to go through the dye process once, which was like a revelation!

Although it came out slightly darker than I'd wanted, I know hair color is not a perfect science. In any case, I appreciated that Yves warned me in advance that before the first wash it would be on the darker side because of the base color used to cover my gray, but it would turn into the color I wanted shortly. And it did!

I also appreciated that she did the whole thing herself. Generally I find stylists do listen to clients (I don't have a horror story to tell) but I have to say I felt especially listened to by Yves.

The whole thing took less than three hours (I was used to being at the salon longer, but had chalked it up to my difficult-to-dye hair; it turns out that it didn't have to be that way) and cost right around my price point - slightly less, if I remember correctly, which made me amenable to tipping. And the prices are set - there's no awkwardness around being charged more for "extremely long hair" (my hair is merely long, but I'd been charged for "extremely long hair" before) or what hair lengths mean exactly. The price is the price. I like that.

Yves also doesn't try to sell product at the end of the visit. I don't particularly mind being offered a product at the end as sometimes I do want or need them and saying 'no' doesn't make me uncomfortable, but I know a lot of people don't like it when stylists do that, so I figured I'd mention it.

Anyway, go to Yves. You won't regret it!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Tricked Into Divorce (no, not me)

A friend sent me this the other day: it's a document translated in Chinese, Japanese, English and several Southeast Asian languages asking foreign spouses at the registration office filling out divorce paperwork if they agree to get a divorce.


Apparently, the police require this for all foreign divorces in Taiwan now, as it is too common for a Taiwanese spouse (usually male) who wants to divorce (usually a Southeast Asian woman who can't read Chinese) to take her to the local housing registration office saying they have to "fill out some paperwork", perhaps saying it's about some unrelated thing, and then divorcing her without her knowledge.

While it's not so easy in Taiwan for someone to divorce their spouse if that spouse doesn't agree, these 'trick' divorces made it look like the wife agreed - after all, she signed the paperwork without complaint. If both spouses agree, the process of legal divorce takes less than half an hour (in terms of splitting assets, I have no idea).

Once the divorce is final, the foreign spouse - again, usually a woman who doesn't speak or read Chinese - has 48 hours to leave the country. No time to demand access to assets or other support. Possibly no time to even go to the bank, if she has a bank account in her own name, which she likely doesn't. No realistic way to take any children with her. She's out, she gets nothing, quite possibly returning to a life of miserable poverty, and he gets a clean break and to keep everything. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to fight for a fair division of assets once out of the country, and as far as I know there is no legal way to apply to stay on such short notice (though I'm not sure about that, and if there were, it's not clear that someone who can't read Chinese and might not even have her own transport would be able to access it.)

This is absolutely evil, that goes without saying. It is wrong. It cannot be tolerated.

The good news is that the Taiwanese government got its act together (that happens sometimes!) and put together this form, which is now standard with foreign divorces. Unless the spouse is illiterate - in which case I suppose an interpreter would be necessary and locating one on short notice would pose other problems - it clarifies for the soon-to-be-erstwhile foreign spouse what is happening. 

If in fact she is being tricked, she can then refuse to sign the divorce papers, which buys her time and therefore better access to legal services to fight for assets and custody. She's not left penniless on a plane back to her country of birth without so much as the chance to give family there (if she has any) advance notification to expect her.

This doesn't solve every problem with the rules surrounding foreign spouses: if you knowingly divorce or your spouse dies and you were unable to obtain an APRC (or just had not done so) - keeping in mind that the men who marry Southeast Asian women may not meet the required income threshold for her to get an APRC, if she even knows that's an option - you also have few options for staying in Taiwan, and that's not right.  However, it deals with a massive issue many of us had no idea existed. It materially improves an issue facing foreigners - especially foreign women - in Taiwan.

One thing that helps with this is that the document itself is very simple - one easy-to-understand question and very simple choices of answer (so if there is some ability to read but overall literacy level is not high, it should still be comprehensible), which shows sensitivity to the situation of these women. It might seem to us that any foreigner who comes to Taiwan would be literate in their own language, but when it comes to women brokered through the marriage industry (and it is very much an industry) here, that's not guaranteed to be true. 

I don't often say this, but good job, Taiwanese government. You did the right thing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

If you're a foreign working woman in Taiwan planning to have kids, you're probably going to get screwed

I'll be expanding this more in the coming weeks, but I feel like I need to say something now, however short and underdeveloped.

If you are a foreign woman working in Taiwan, and you are intending to have children here, there is a very high possibility that you're not only going to get screwed by your employer, but that it's already happening.

A huge percentage of foreign workers here - even the "foreign professionals" - work jobs that pay an hourly rate. The vast majority of these jobs are cram school/buxiban jobs (some of which pay a salary, but many/most don't.) (Most of these jobs are not remotely professional, even though they ought to be, and are poorly paid by real professional standards, but that's a different discussion.)

We're already getting screwed out of benefits we're meant to have, such as paid typhoon days and national holidays. Employers - private language schools, mostly - just don't provide them, and good luck leaving and finding another job that does.

Well, here's another benefit workers - even foreign workers on hourly pay - are meant to have: paid maternity leave. Your employer is meant to calculate your estimated hourly pay during your absence and, well, pay you that.

But how much you get paid for maternity leave depends partly on how long you've been employed there, and partly on labor insurance, or 勞保. To get the paid maternity leave benefit, you must be signed up for labor insurance.

And most private language schools that employ foreign teachers never do this.

I have heard varying accounts of whether labor insurance is required by law for foreign employees. Notably, however, it is absolutely not true that an employer can choose not to offer it. An employer telling you "we don't offer labor insurance", and then insisting they don't have to, even if you want it, is lying to you. They typically try to evade the issue by simply not telling you it's an option, hoping you'll never find out that if you ask for it, by law they have to register you.

If you do ask...well, results vary. I typically say good things about my various employers, save one really bad experience I had. They've been, for the most part, a cut above the typical clown academy here in Taiwan. But I'm going to go ahead and say a few critical words now:

At one school where I taught exam prep classes (I've since left for unrelated reasons), I was first ignored when I asked about labor insurance, then told they "don't offer it". I replied that they had no choice, they ignored me again. I said that if I was not signed up for it, I would report this issue to the government. I didn't particularly want to report anything to anyone, but I kept getting stonewalled when trying to access my rights. Then they acted as though this made me the "problem" or "high-maintenance" employee (it didn't - I just wanted what I was legally entitled to and kinder, more private entreaties were ignored.) I got my labor insurance. Others are not so lucky - I can handle being unfairly thought of as "difficult", because at least I won, but not everyone wins.

The problem is, most foreigners either don't know they are entitled to this, think it's something the company can "offer" rather than something that cannot be denied them, or don't realize that it matters. So most working foreign women here have a safety net they don't necessarily even realize they ought to have.

So if you're a foreign woman here, and you decide to pop out a screamer, whether or not you get paid maternity leave - which you are entitled to by law even if you are on an hourly wage - depends entirely on whether or not you signed up for labor insurance. If you didn't sign up, no paid vagina-healin', baby-wranglin' time for you. If you let the issue slide when your employer refused to sign you up, same deal. You just got screwed.

What's worse is that even if you are signed up for labor insurance, a huge number of schools underreport income (my former exam prep institute employer sure did). You might think this isn't a big deal, that "that's how it is here", but your labor insurance is based on your reported income, so if you get pregnant and take maternity leave, the pay you are entitled to matches the craptastic income that's been reported for you, not what you actually earned.

I have also heard stories of schools being reluctant to grant maternity leave even if their employees have labor insurance, although that hurdle can often be gotten over if you are willing to call (or threaten to call) some relevant authorities. They might try to screw you in other ways, though (e.g. extending your probation for vague reasons that don't quite make sense to justify paying you less).

Of course, Taiwanese women face massive issues accessing maternity leave too, something that seems to be rarely written about. Most of what I see in English consists of lavish praise of Taiwan's maternity leave policies - and at least compared to the USA (which is a legitimate horror show in this regard) - which rarely includes the uncomfortable truth that, while employers can't exactly deny their employees this leave, they can and do pressure them to take as little of it as possible and find other passive-aggressive ways to punish female employees who don't comply. Plenty of Taiwanese women don't feel they can access their full legally-entitled maternity leave either.

There is a difference, though: Taiwanese women know this is a problem. They are at least aware of what they are supposed to be getting. There is a foundation there for fighting back.

Foreign women in Taiwan? They may not even realize they're getting screwed. But chances are, they are.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

I'm in this month's Centered on Taipei!

The March 2018 issue of Centered on Taipei is the "women's issue" - I wrote a piece about shuttling between multiple identities as a foreign woman in Taiwan - likening it to being a human version of a Newton's Cradle which you can read on page 32.

To read the magazine, click on the cover photo in the link.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

My first for MyTaiwanTour: traveling in Taiwan as a woman and a person

A piece of mine is featured in the MyTaiwanTour blog this week - hopefully the first of many - on traveling the world as a woman (it's not possible to unhook gender from experience especially when traveling abroad, among different cultures and people) and also as a person, pointing to the (mostly) good and (some) bad of being a foreign woman in Taiwan.

I hope you'll check it out!

I have to say, I wouldn't be here, in Taiwan, nor would I have stayed so long if I didn't feel comfortable as a person here - not just as a gendered person, but as a whole one. It's not perfect - no place is - but I do not feel nearly as constrained by my gender here as I have in other parts of the world.

Monday, September 25, 2017

My latest for Ketagalan Media: Taiwan needs to do a better job of protecting domestic workers

You may remember my post a few weeks ago about the proposed changes to regulations aimed at protecting foreign blue-collar labor, and my absolute fury over allowing employers in Taiwan who had previously sexually abused a foreign worker to hire one again after after a few years, with a lifetime ban only after repeated offenses.

A few things I've learned since then - Taiwanese women are not protected either (the vast majority of domestic workers in Taiwan are foreign women, however), and although Taiwan has a sex offender registry, it is not open to the public and therefore potential foreign employees at this time have no way of knowing if they are taking a job with a convicted sex offender.

So, I've written up a new piece for Ketagalan Media on this issue. As a foreign woman, albeit one of comparative privilege, it is important to me.

I hope you'll take a look.

Monday, September 4, 2017

What is one rape worth?

A harsh question, but here's the problem.

According to Focus Taiwan, new laws meant to strengthen protections for foreign workers include provisions punishing labor agents and employers (such as the people who employ home aides to care for their elderly parents) who sexually assault, abuse or traffic foreign workers:

In addition, the official said, if a labor agent is found guilty of sexually abusing, sexually harassing or engaging in the trafficking of foreign workers, a fine of NT$300,000-NT$1.5 million will be handed down and the individual banned from working as a labor agent.

That's a start, though I'm not convinced the fine is high enough. The article doesn't make it clear, there are also laws that carry prison sentences already on the books. 

But then there's this: 

If employers or care recipients are found guilty of sexually abusing or engaging in the trafficking of foreign workers, they will be ineligible to employ such workers for 2-5 years, and repeat offenders will be ineligible for life.

Emphasis mine, because excuse me?

There are surely also sexual assault laws that would see any one of these employers go to prison if convicted which are not mentioned in this article, but how is it that someone convicted of sexually abusing or trafficking a foreign worker might be allowed to employ another one in the future?

How is it that one assault is not enough to see them not only pay their debt to society in terms of jail time, but also be banned for life from hiring foreign workers?

How about one rape? Is it somehow more acceptable to sexually abuse than to rape, or do they face the same weak penalty?

Remember, almost - but not all - of the foreign workers whom this law would specifically protect are women who work in homes as domestic helpers and home health aides. It is already a very personal situation, to live in someone's home as their employee. Do the people drafting these new protections really think that someone who has abused such a worker should be allowed to bring another into his (or her) home?

Is there really a calculus for this? One assault isn't enough, that was just one rape you guys, five whole years ago! We should totally trust this guy to hire another worker in the same situation because come on bro, statistics surely don't show that rapists are likely to be repeat offenders, right?

Oh, they actually are?


According to foreign labor regulations, raping one woman is not enough, but two...well, two rapes means something. Authorities apparently can't do anything to prevent that second woman from being raped, because to them it's not a real problem until it happens twice.

So rapists are like children who are put in the time-out chair for stealing cookies?

Seriously, though. We obviously can't repeatedly punish the same crime - you serve your sentence, and you get another chance. That's how it works - but that doesn't mean criminals should have a totally clean slate. I support giving ex-convicts work and allowing them to live more or less normally, but I would not give a convicted thief or embezzler a job in a bank or finance company. I would not give a rapist, child abuser, child pornographer or pedophile a job in a school. I would not give an arsonist a job at a gas station and I certainly would not let a murderer work in a gun store. I wouldn't even let a Taiwanese fishing boat operator convicted of forcing his foreign employees to work without pay - which does happen - hire them to work on a fishing boat again.

It follows that a convicted rapist, especially one who likely specifically raped a woman living in his home who was under his employ, should be barred from bringing another woman into his home, under his employ.

How is it that one rape is not enough to make that official?

It's not even as difficult as when to bar an ex-convict from a certain type of work: it's barring someone from employing someone else for in-home services. This shouldn't be difficult.

I have to ask. are the women these one-time-rapists allowed to hire going to be told of their new employer's history? Will they have any way of knowing they are being hired by someone who was once convicted of raping someone just like them, under the same circumstances? I doubt it.

If only this were surprising: this is the same country where an Indonesian domestic worker taped herself being raped after none of the authorities she spoke to took action - her brokerage firm even saying "do what you want" (as though it were consensual!), "just don't get pregnant." She later tried to commit suicide - she'd been raped so often that authorities could not determine how many times it was. That same story was picked up by Liberty Times who made it all about how this was such a loss of face for Taiwan, rather than about what the woman had suffered and bringing her rapist employer to justice. Reporting elsewhere on this incident was hardly better, with much of the focus of the story being on the woman's "emotional irritability" and "extreme instability", which apparently made it hard for police to get a full statement.

Of course she'd be extremely irritable and emotional after not only having been raped repeatedly, but also treated dismissively by the brokerage firm. How many rapes did it take for her to be able to make that video and finally, slowly, start to seek justice? How bad was it, that she tried to kill herself? And yet, the press makes it all about Taiwan, almost implying that her "emotional instability" was part of the problem when the case came to light.

What if she'd been raped once, and hadn't made that video, because nobody expects to be raped by their employer?

Would that have been enough, or would one rape not be worth the currency needed to get the attention of authorities.

Would her rapist be allowed to hire another Indonesian care worker after a few years, bringing them into the same situation, if he'd only raped her once?

How can anyone think such an attitude is acceptable?

As much as I tout Taiwan as being ahead of the curve when it comes to women's rights and women's equality in Asia, we still have a long way to go, including - perhaps especially - in the way society treats foreign female labor.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The ethics of being a foreigner writing about Taiwan

Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 12.57.20 PM

 Two posts within a few hours of each other caught my eye in an unexpected way, and caused a resurfacing of an old question I'd asked of myself before.

First, there was this excellent post by Tricky Taipei, which I highlighted in my previous post (really just a link - there is nothing I need to add). The friend who brought this post to my attention pointed out that, although he'd also noticed the issue of casual sexism in Taiwan, he hadn't written about it because, as a man (and a foreign one at that), he could never truly write from the same perspective of experience, whereas Kathy Cheng, coming from the group actually affected by this, could.

I tended to agree - and although I am female, I am not Taiwanese. I would like to acquire Taiwanese nationality someday, and do not believe that being Taiwanese must be linked to ethnicity or race, simply because it's not actually linked now (something like one in five Taiwanese children born these days has a foreign parent), my life is here and this is my home, and most Taiwanese already support dual nationality - the issue isn't a lack of support, it's lack of awareness that it is an issue. But, I will not deny that culturally, I am not Taiwanese. I'm just not - I look different, which matters insofar as I'm treated differently, and I come from a cultural background that is very different. I can't change this - it's just the truth and it's okay to admit it. I will always come at things from a different angle, because of how my race affects how I'm treated in Taiwan, and my cultural background. This doesn't mean I can't try to understand as much as possible, and it doesn't mean I can never, ever understand anything (that's just condescending - being a white person in Taiwan doesn't mean I'm stupid or incapable of grasping yet another iteration of the cultural differences one may discover around the world). It just means I'll always have a different experience.

For example, although I am aware of, and could have written about, these sorts of issues:

In Taiwan, women don’t get catcalls from creepy strangers on the sidewalk. Instead you’ll get unsolicited comments about your hairstyle from male colleagues the first week you start a new job.
Women don’t get honked at by cars or trucks either. Instead your uncle might decide to announce to everyone at the family reunion how you’re looking “thick”.
Is it still sexism if it comes from these benign, everyday voices? Is it still sexism if it’s so mainstream that young girls are groomed to ignore it, and grown men feel no embarrassment or shame when they’re called out on it?
...but I haven't. I have never gotten unsolicited comments about my hairstyle at work, or been told by an uncle that I'm looking "thick". I've never had to deal with the lack of embarrassment by men for acting this way (if a white woman calls you out on this behavior, I can assure you, the man is embarrassed. Yes, there is a racial element to who calls out whom). 

So, as a white woman, I have to say, I don't think I could have written on this topic as authoritatively or from real lived experience as Cheng was able to. This did need to come from a Taiwanese woman. I have not tried to tackle quite this subject for the same reason: no matter how much knowledge, experience or empathy I acquire, the impossibility of coming from that background and writing from that experience means I could never do a topic like this justice. I may know these things happen, but I haven't actually experienced them. Yes, there is a difference.

The second post was by Irish blogger Mossy on Nihao's It Going? about how he learned to stop worrying and love Taiwan.

What caught my eye was not the topic of the post so much as this part at the end:
A few months back I tweeted one of the Sad Asians girls. They were two women who started a group that railed against the stereotypes and labels of Asian women. They were an interesting group and I liked their stuff for a while. They tweeted back that as a white person, I shouldn’t be writing about Taiwan. I was blocked and couldn’t defend myself. It was a bit of a shocker if I being honest.

I understand where the Sad Asian Girls were coming from. Why does it so often have to be foreigners - mostly white people - writing about Taiwan in English? Even in the realm of books, why is it that so many of the non-fiction books on my shelf about Taiwan were written by white men? I just did a survey - 18 foreigners, all but three of them male (and I am pretty sure all of those male foreigners are white). 9 Taiwanese, all but two of them male. Wouldn't locals come at the topic with more expertise and a more nuanced understanding from having grown up in the culture? (That was a rhetorical question - of course they would). Shouldn't we be promoting writing by Taiwanese, especially in English (content written in Chinese, as far as I am aware, is not a problem)? Yes, of course. I get it - it feels kind of sucky to read about your country in English and see that it's mostly non-Taiwanese doing the talking, and maybe our voices are not the most important ones.

But, are they right that we shouldn't be writing about Taiwan at all?

That's where I am going to disagree.

There seem to be two camps of people these days who have very different ideas about who gets to speak about and advocate for what. On one side, you have those who'd agree that some people should not write on a given topic, ever: white voices have overridden local voices for so long and in so many parts of the world that it's almost a cliche: white guy goes to foreign country, writes about it, everybody reads it and nods at his presumed sagacity and unique interactions with this exotic foreign culture. Ugh. Gross. Local voices, especially in the past, might have had far less agency to get their work out there. Not because they're not white necessarily, or at a surface level, but because systemically, those who get published in English have ties to influential organizations in Western countries: universities, think tanks, government and more, that locals often don't, or have overcome more hurdles to attain.

So I completely understand why people would be sick and tired of this, and have a blanket view that Taiwanese issues are best discussed by Taiwanese, rather than a bunch of whiteys sitting around circle-jerking about their experiences in the Far East. Nobody likes it when someone else tries to speak for them, and it is far too easy to fall into the trap that Mossy rightly calls a "jaded, infantilizing, orientalist tone". Although I have not gone back to read my early posts, it is entirely possible that a younger, dumber me did fall into that trap and older, more experienced me would cringe at my well-meaning but more naive past self.

The other camp thinks this entire system of thought boils down to identity politics: e.g. Taiwanese people fight for Taiwanese rights and talk about Taiwanese issues, and only people with the right credentials (i.e. being Taiwanese) are allowed to comment. 
They point out that if this belief were put into practice at its logical conclusion, people would be banned from commenting on certain things, which is a gross violation of free speech. 

Certainly, that's a bit of a straw man: I don't think anybody on the other side wants to actually ban people from speaking. They are likely content with the natural consequences of speaking out when they feel you shouldn't: being called out on it, being criticized for it, being ignored. Most would likely agree with this sentiment:

...and I agree with that.

However, I don't think criticism of this sentiment is overblown: even without taking the "only Taiwanese can write about Taiwan" perspective as far as it will go, you run into problems. You are essentially saying that no matter how long one lives in Taiwan and actively strives to understand the country and live there as a normal person among other people, they will never, ever have anything valuable to say. Not just that there will always be topics that they will be less able or qualified to write about because they didn't grow up in this culture, but that they truly have nothing at all to add. Not even the ways they experience Taiwan differently as foreigners.

It also creates a vicious cycle of trying to decide who is "Taiwanese" enough to be qualified to comment. I have had Taiwanese American activist friends tell me that, while most of the activist community in Taiwan is welcoming, there are those who think Taiwanese Americans are not "Taiwanese" enough to really be a part of a local movement. This strikes me as ridiculous and self-destructive.

But who decides, really, on a macro level, who is "Taiwanese" enough? (Again, a rhetorical question).

Would these same people say that my other friend, who is white, born to Western parents, but born in Taiwan and grew up in the context of Taiwanese culture is "not Taiwanese enough"? If I acquire citizenship and live here for the rest of my life, am I still, always and forever, a foreigner no matter what?

Doesn't that tie a little too closely to ethnocentrism (you know, Taiwan is for Taiwanese only, foreigners need not apply), when most people agree the "ethnic state" argument is not a good fit for the country? Does that mean that the 'internationalization' that many young activists are calling for, so that Taiwan can participate on equal footing and market itself well internationally is no longer desirable? You can't have both: internationalization won't happen if you view every foreigner as a detriment to Taiwan and every experience they might share as worthless.

In the end, I cannot fully agree with the idea that white people should never write about Asia (even if they live there, even long term - perhaps even if they were born there), although I support their work. They not only told Mossy he shouldn't write on Taiwan, they blocked him, giving him no recourse. That's not the "we aren't saying shut up, we're saying listen" that I agree with wholeheartedly. That's a final "shut up". They are free to do that - free speech doesn't mean people must listen. But, they are perhaps cutting off that nose a bit, ensuring that an ally who might otherwise share their work now cannot.

These tactics also feel a little tribalistic and are at odds with the general goal of Taiwan to be more international and move away from ethnocentric or Hoklo (or Chinese) chauvinistic arguments. I don't know if the Sad Asian Girls think that being Taiwanese is about race, but if they do, what race do they mean? If they name one, which groups - and Taiwan has many, including indigenous - are they leaving out?

Perhaps that's a little self-serving: there is not much I can do but admit that this might be the case, and strive to render it untrue.

Like many other foreign bloggers in Taiwan, I try to engage in English-language discussion of Taiwanese issues with sensitivity, understanding that we come from a different perspective and cannot fully inhabit the range of experiences people who have grown up in this culture or come from heritage based in this culture have had. I can't speak for every Westerner who blogs on Taiwan, but I do try to "stay in my lane" and blog knowingly from the angle of a foreigner's life here (although I hope to not be "a foreigner" someday), rather than pretending that I can speak authoritatively on the Taiwanese experience as a Taiwanese person. I do try - and will try - to elevate voices, especially local ones, when they write about experiences and issues that I cannot do justice to. If I have not always done so in the past (perhaps I ought to go back and read the archives to see) it is something I am constantly trying to improve upon.

No, I do not believe that choosing to 'stay in my lane' means I am censoring myself or agreeing with the loss of my own freedom of speech. There is nothing wrong with deciding to write about things one feels one is qualified to write about, and leaving other things alone, for more appropriate voices to tackle. Nobody can tell me what I should or should not write about - or at least, nobody can realistically enforce it in a free country. My choice to pick and choose my topics is mine alone. So while I acknowledge the current and historical problem of white people writing about non-white countries (often as the sole voices), which is just so painfully neo-colonialist (or just colonialist), in the end the only realistic path is to let the quality of what someone says speak for itself, regardless of who they are. I can choose not to write about topics when I don't adequately know what I'm talking about, and really, more people should. If I say something dumb, I'll be criticized for it. If people decide they'd rather hear more local voices, I'll be ignored. Both of these are fine - natural consequences.

But saying one "should" and "should not" write about something is going too far - even as I understand that the balance of power and who has a 'voice' has for too long favored whites.

This is because I do think I have something to offer, and something valuable to contribute, in certain areas. That can be done while still "staying in my lane" and doing my best not to 'center' myself in issues where I am not - and could not be - the most authoritative or qualified voice. It is possible to approach blogging about Taiwan in the same way I've approached supporting activist and pro-Taiwan movements here: I have had opportunities to help and be of service, and taken them (whether or not it will make a difference, I don't know). But I cannot imagine that I would ever want to take the spotlight. It doesn't belong to me, nor should it. The same in blogging: I don't want to be the voice of Taiwan in English, I want to be a voice, and not even the most visible one. I want to render my perspective, leaving plenty of room and spotlight for others - and you can read or not, it's all fine. If you eschew my blog because you think I suck for even attempting to write on Taiwan, well, sorry to hear that. If you eschew it because you are spending your time reading English-language blogs by local voices, I think that's great. Please do that more.

Or, in the words of that brilliant tweeter above, I don't feel I have to "shut up". But I do - and will - try to listen. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Triple Threat Female Expats

The Cool Trailing Spouse

Last week, we ended the traipsing-about part of our massive summer adventure, rolling up at our friends' flat in Greater London for five days in the city. We started in Athens at the end of May, wound our way across Armenia and Georgia wandering in ancient churches, enjoying gorgeous vistas and drinking succulent wine, looking up at the monumental stone edifices of Yerevan and hustling up and down the steep hills of Tbilisi old city under carved wooden balconies. Then we hopped a Tbilisi-London flight to start the British leg of our trip.

My friends are what you might call traditional expatriates, though they are not traditional people in any pejorative sense. They're both arty types, young fun liberals, far more similar to me than to the businessmen and trailing wives of Tienmu who send their children to international schools. Who can even consider affording international schools.

We had a lovely time with lovely people, both them and my in-laws, at times comparing aspects of the expat experience. This is a life not at all new to me and Brendan, but still two-years new to them. I remember well that even two years in, my life still had that new expat smell and it was interesting to trade proverbial notes.

I couldn't help but notice, though, that despite being more like us in personality, values, predilections and life goals, that their expat situation was far more like those of the Tienmu international school crowd than ours. They could afford a decent-size flat near a tube station, something two teachers most likely could never do, even with salaries adjusted to reflect the British economy. They could afford for one of them to be the 'trailing spouse' (and as always seems to happen, the trailing spouse was the wife). They could afford this and to raise a child (to be fair, in the UK one needn't worry so much about where to send a child to school).

We both knew the new expat smell, but their model was far more luxurious. It had upgrades.

I wouldn't say I was jealous - I chose my circumstances. I don't mean to criticize either: this is the opportunity life handed them and it was fair to take it as-is. If anything, it served as a lesson to be avoid drawing such thick lines between 'Us' and 'Them'. People in Their situation may very well be people like Us who just found themselves there.

That said, I do find distinctions that are worth a quick exploration. A lot of people assume 'expat' means excellent relocation package (something my friends got and I didn't, because I moved without a clear job offer - and even had I had one, nobody was going to pay my relocation costs let alone cover them generously). They often assume it means serviced flats, possibly domestic help including a driver, very high pay, being able to send their children to international schools and attending events, clubs and associations designed for networking with other expats (and almost never locals - though that is likely more common in Asia than, say, the UK). They often assume it means a trailing spouse, usually the wife, and nobody ever seems to question why it always seems to be the wife supporting her husband's career, or why more women don't get these sorts of offers to move abroad from generous employers.

That's all fine - other than pointing out the gender gap in who gets the plum offer and who is the trailing spouse, it's not a criticism. However, it seems to be the predominant view Westerners have of expat life, which is why articles like this fistful of garbage are spawned. The writer of that thing only has a point if the only kind of expat is the well-paid kind who has a serviced flat and a driver, and the only kind of immigrant is the poor kind. If this is true, what am I? A well-off immigrant or a poor expat? What about those of us for whom neither term fits?

It means that all of the advice you see is geared toward a demographic of foreigners abroad I've never been in. It's all coffee mornings and no 'how to make it work as an independent woman abroad'.

Mercy in a new place

It was interesting, then, to read Janice Y.K. Lee's The Expatriates while on this trip. Yes, it deals with exactly the demographic of well-paid expats and their stay-at-home spouses that I just spent two and a half paragraphs saying I wasn't in, but it was a worthwhile read (and I recommend it) for two key reasons: one of the protagonists is more like me than the well-to-do women who make up the rest of the book, who are also portrayed very sympathetically.

Mercy, a young Korean-American Columbia graduate, moved to Hong Kong on her own, without a job in hand. She more or less makes it work, until it doesn't any more. I don't have her bad luck, but the feeling of moving to a new place with a small savings account and a suitcase and making one's way without a corporate helping hand - and working a job to make it all happen - that's my expat experience. I gather that is the experience a lot of us have, but few people seem to write about it. Its depiction of the Korean community in Hong Kong further reminds one that those who live abroad cannot be packaged up into tidy communities of (white) expats and (everyone else) immigrants. And, of course, the character of Olivia serves as a reminder that even the wealthiest expat cannot compete with a successful and well-connected local.

Swashbuckling tales of adventure and derring-do of handsome men aside, the focus on expat women, not men, in The Expatriates further reminds us that lives of women abroad are often just as interesting as those of men, if not more so.

However, it was also a reminder that, as much as we ought not to create divisions between us as expats, some cannot be ignored. I may do better than a typical cram school teacher, but I'm still an English teacher and have, despite my professional status in the field, resigned myself to forever introducing my work as "an English teacher...but a real one." That, as much as I might make more money and have a better lifestyle than the sort of fresh young blood I was in 2006 - no crappy rooftop apartments for me - I will never, as a teacher, be on the same financial level as the Tianmu set. Brendan and I will always have to do things ourselves, we won't have a company connection setting anything up for us, likely ever. I'm 36 and still a liberal artsy-fartsy night owl type, more like the fresh young blood than the greying businessmen; this is not likely to change either. Every piece of advice is geared toward them; none seems aimed at me. Most of them won't stay long. Most will never learn Chinese or integrate locally. There simply are not that many overlaps in the issues we face.

And I might not be a trailing spouse like so many expat women, but the majority of long-termers I've come to know here, who were birthed into expat life as I was, are male.

My first real arrival in Taiwan took place late at night. I dropped my bags in my cruddy-but-temporary Gongguan perch, collapsed into sleep, and woke up the next day to explore the city. I had a vague offer of a teaching job, a few thousand dollars and a backpack. I navigated work, language, finances, socializing, paperwork and visas and adjustment to a new country and culture on my own. I don't think it takes away from the experiences of more well-heeled foreigners to admit that I'm proud of this. I'm proud that I did it on my own, and that I was never a trailing spouse (I am also confident enough in myself now that, if a fantastic opportunity arose for Brendan, after all these years I finally wouldn't balk at the idea of being one for a temporary period).

Like Mercy, I had no help, and like my brand-new idol and also crush, Janet Montgomery McGovern, I had financial concerns. I had to generate an income to make it all work. I was a woman doing what most people associate with young men doing. Like them both, I'm not the typical 'Go East, Young Man', well, man. 


On our last day in Tbilisi, I turned the final page of my last book for the 'intensive travel' portion of my trip: Justine Hardy's Scoop-Wallah: Life on a Delhi Daily. Although I hadn't planned it this way, my reading tour across the Caucasus was also a reading detour from books about Taiwan or books about teaching, linguistics and education into a short list of books about women living abroad.

Hardy's story also resonated with me, not only because I used to live in India, but because she too chose to return to Asia, sought out work, found it and made things happen for herself. She, like Janet McGovern, had the sort of adventure most people associate with men. She, like both me and McGovern, had to make money to stay afloat. And she, like us, had no employer helping her. She, like us, was perhaps an expat who lived like an immigrant, or maybe an immigrant who knew she couldn't stay forever. I do wonder, however, what kind of visa she was on as it was clear that her employer wasn't helping her with it, but it is extremely hard to get a visa to work legally as a foreigner in India. You certainly aren't allowed to be offered a job in India and then transfer a tourist visa to a working one (I know, because I looked into it).

Hardy describes a hardcore hustling to make her daily bread, to make a name, to make life possible in a foreign land, that I can identify with. What I peddle is different, but we're both working the same street. She has McGovern's mettle, translated to the present day and proves yet again that the stories of women abroad are not limited to managing the help, choosing between Taipei American School and Taipei European School and going to coffee mornings. That we hustle too, that we have stories too, and we all make it work.

That Hardy might have been writing soft features, but under that she's a professional journalist who simply loves India and plies her trade well. That I may be 'teaching English', but I'm also a professional educator who is days away from starting Master's in the subject at a prestigious university.

That we don't always have help. That arguably the most interesting expat in twentieth-century Taiwan was not Indiana Jones, but his mother, and she too was an English teacher.

That even the trailing spouses, who may have never thought they'd be 'trailing'.

With that in mind, during a quiet moment on the outskirts of London, I wrote a short inscription in Scoop-Wallah and, when nobody was looking, popped it into a corner of my friends' book collection. Not the husband's, although I've known him longer and we are closer, but the wife's. He might be the expat with the cushy job, but she has a story too, and under it all we may have different situations but we're not all that different.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Updated post: why are there so few expat women in Asia?

With the publication of an article on Western women dating Asian men that included a large contribution from my friend Jocelyn Eikenburg came a very good point from another friend: one reason why there are fewer Western Woman-Asian man couples is that there are fewer Western women in Asia.

Why is that, I asked to no one in particular.

I returned to my original post from years ago about why there are so few expat women in Asia (I could just as easily said 'Western women' - what working-class foreign women, mostly from China and Southeast Asia,  in countries like Taiwan face is an entirely different topic that I will cover once I feel qualified to do so).

I felt that the piece could use some updating, so I've updated it to add a few more thoughts and clarify or expand some of the original points.

I am not at all sure that everyone will like what I have to say, but since when has that mattered to me?

What would really improve the piece would be more firsthand experiences from a variety of women on why they chose to stay or leave - in fact, after I finish off a few other blogging projects I'm working on as well as get through the first in-person component of my Master's program, I intend to seek those voices out. For now, your comments are welcome.

The bulk of the changes - though not every change - to the original article are as follows:

As for the reasons why [dating prospects aren't great for Western women in Asia], it's hard for me to say, and I'll have to stick to heterosexual couples for now. Someone more qualified than me can write about gay dating in Asia.

My college crush moved to Taiwan, we started dating, and now we're married. I don't really have firsthand experience with this issue to share. It seems to me, though, that the issue is not what most people assume: that Western women don't want to date Asian men, so they stay single. Only a small minority of Western women I've met in Asia feel that way - most are quite open to it, or have dated (or married) Asian men. However, I do think it's likely harder. The culture barrier to dating doesn't work in our favor, as Asian men are often less likely to be clear about their feelings and ask for concrete dates, or don't show interest in the ways we've come to expect. It's easier to be a very clear Western man asking a local woman out than it is for a Western woman to figure out if an Asian man likes her.

Of course, I'm the sort of woman who once asked men out. It doesn't shock me - I think more women should do it! Again, however, that's a contentious topic in the West, though I'm not sure why. In Asia it's even more rare and is more likely to put men off. Take that even further, and it means there are fewer local men who possess the feminist chops many Western women deem a dealbreaker: I wouldn't date a man who would be put off by my asking him out.

After that, the culture barrier vis-a-vis traditional families also tends not to work in Western women's favor. If you are dating the son of Asian parents, while it's not certain that they'll expect him to run his family the way they tell him to, live nearby or use your shared financial resources to support his parents, it is certainly more likely than in the West. The expectations of male and female roles in marriage are also more likely to be traditional (though, again, this is far from universal: feminist Asian men do exist. I count some among my friends). Some Western women might see this as a difficult adjustment. Others, like me, view it as a dealbreaker.

This is not meant to be a blanket statement on the state of Western woman-Asian man dating in Asia, of course. Differing stories and successful and happy couples abound. It's just an issue worth considering. However, if the obstacles to that sort of partnership are greater, fewer women are likely to meet, date, marry and set up a home with a local man. This means fewer have that particular pull to stay (though, again, there are many success stories).

And, of course, there aren't that many Western men to date and the ones that are here might - see below - be oddly hostile to Western women. 

Does it really keep Western women away from life abroad, though, or is the correlation entirely spurious?

A little of both. For women who want to travel, the dating issue (which has no easy answer) is not likely to keep them away, though it may cause them to choose shorter-term trips: a one-year stint as a student or one year abroad teaching instead of staying long-term, for example.

* * * 

It is tiring to work for a sexist boss, have to address sexist beliefs even among friends, go out and meet people only to find that you are again being judged through the lens of gender, asked yet again about marriage and family, having children, having your appearance commented on and treated as the most important part of who you are. Always wondering if you are being paid less, and if so, because you happen to have a vagina. Always wondering if you are offered the fluffier classes (e.g. "Baking in English!") and work teaching children rather than the more challenging work (e.g. "Presenting in English") because you are female. Always questioning why, exactly, most of your colleagues are male, especially if you teach corporate English, IELTS or other adult classes.

Sexism is also a problem in the West - the hate and vitriol I see from some American men is astounding - but coming up against older-school forms of it in Asia is tiring. 

* * * 

I want to add a few more points here to expand this piece. I focused mainly on expats like me above: women who came here on their own as students or independently in search of work. However, there is a whole class of expat that I don't interact with much - nothing personal, we just inhabit different worlds - the corporate expat here on a fancy package. In Taiwan this means the ones who have luxury apartments rented for them, drivers and live-in help, who send their children to international schools we couldn't hope to afford. That sort of money would be nice, though I'm not sure I'd like the life very much. In any case, corporate sexism is a huge issue, and as a result most of the employees being offered these stellar packages are male. They might bring their wives, but they are the ones drawing the salaries. When women are offered something like this, they may find they're in a tiny minority and that when they arrive, the non-Western corporate world is even more hostile and sexist than what they left behind. Professional Taiwanese women have more advantages than almost all of their counterparts in the rest of Asia, but corporate sexism here is no better, and likely worse, than what you'll find in the West.

And, finally, I'm going to add something that may anger a few people, but here we go. It is my personal opinion from observation that women tend to be less tolerant of mediocrity. What I mean by that is, those of us who don't come as students or well-paid, cosseted expatriates often start out teaching English. Few of us are qualified, and we are given a title ("teacher") that we don't exactly deserve. I don't exempt myself from this: I was once this sort of so-called "teacher". Most "English teachers" in Taiwan know this (though some don't seem to have figured it out). Some, like me, decide the work is meaningful and fulfilling and eventually become professional educators. Most don't. Some leave after awhile, others decide that teaching without any real qualification is good enough and stay. Guess which group I have noticed is more likely to not be content being an unqualified "teacher"? If you guessed women, then you get where I'm going. And guess which group I've noticed is more likely to decide that what they're doing is fine?