Showing posts with label fuck_the_police. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fuck_the_police. Show all posts

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Speaking in Brutal Tongues

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A short post for a gray Sunday morning.

Yesterday, I visited the Jingmei Human Rights Museum (景美人權文化園區), which is a short taxi ride from MRT Dapinglin (大坪林) station (not Jingmei station, which is across the river near the Taipei/New Taipei border). The museum is a former detention center used to house political prisoners in the later part of the Martial Law era, along with the correctional facilities on Green Island. The original center was located in Taipei, but it was torn down and the Sheraton stands on that site today.

Alongside stories that make your skin crawl and your blood boil - that prisoners might well be executed with no trial whatsoever, that many still don't know why they were accused, how some were kept in prison long after it was known they had not committed the crimes they had been accused of (to "save face" for the officers), how they were housed thirty people to a 9 square meter cell and drink toilet water if there was no tap (and there often wasn't), and how only in recent years are some family members receiving goodbye letters, was a story that made me sit down and stare blankly into space for a time.

When inmates were allowed visitors - family only, no friends - they could meet for ten minutes at a time, and were only allowed to speak Mandarin.

Mandarin was not - and for many still is not - a native language of Taiwan. The KMT dictated that it was the official language of the ROC government they forced on Taiwan, and would become the lingua franca. This impacted education, government affairs (if you addressed the government - not that that ever did much good - it had to be in Mandarin), jobs (certain jobs were only open to Mandarin speakers, that is, members of the new regime and the diaspora that came with them) and more. At the Taiwanese who were already here when the KMT invaded - yes, invaded - generally spoke Hoklo and perhaps Japanese, Hakka, or indigenous languages. The native population of Taiwan was essentially forced to learn the language of the foreign power that came to rule them, and those who did not were punished either socially or overtly (anything from your neighbors suspecting you, to losing access to jobs and education, to actual fines and potentially arrest).

The purpose was, of course, not only for the KMT to force their language on locals (many members of the diaspora spoke Chinese languages that were not Mandarin). It was to remake Taiwan as a 'province of China', to erase its history and culture through erasing their languages. To stamp out 'Taiwaneseness', in all its varied linguistic uniqueness.


As you can imagine, some of the inmates themselves might not have spoken Mandarin well (perhaps some not at all), and it would have been fairly common that their family members didn't speak it, either.

What do you do when you are only allowed to speak a language you don't know when visiting a loved one you might not have seen in years?

"You can only look at each other, and speak through tears," said the tour guide.

A former victim imprisoned for a crime he hadn't committed joined us on the tour, and told his story as well: it included just such a scene, and he and his mother were not even allowed to hug. I won't narrate the entire tale here - that's his story to tell, not mine. (If you read Mandarin, you can buy his book here).

Whether such a cruel, inhumane policy was perpetrated out of a sense of 'practicality' - as a friend pointed out, the regime likely lacked the imagination to have Hoklo, Hakka and indigenous eavesdroppers ensuring their surveillance of prisoners was complete, or if they had thought of that, might not have trusted anyone to relay the truth. These are people who murdered without trial, who kept people they knew were innocent in prison to protect themselves - they placed their faith in no-one but their own (and often, not even then - many who came to Taiwan with the KMT ended up in prison as suspected Communists, as well).

Or it could have been simply because they were evil and cruel. Some of the former guards who are known to have tortured White Terror victims are alive today, living normal lives, facing no legal repercussions, seemingly at peace with themselves and their actions (though who knows).

I suspect it was a combination of both.

Fast forward to 2018: foreigners come to Taiwan to study Mandarin (though I haven't been particularly impressed with teaching methods here). I learned it so I could live here as normally as possible. It's seen as a practical language to know, something you might study out of interest, but is also internationally useful.

This history, however, and hearing it put so plainly, has made feel slightly ill about continuing to speak it in Taiwan. I'm not speaking a native language of Taiwan, not really - I'm speaking a colonial language. I don't feel good about that at all. I'd always felt a little unsettled about it, in fact, but that story pulled all of that nebulous uneasiness into sharp focus.

How can I speak Mandarin as though it is normal in a country where it was once used to keep parents from speaking to their children?

I'm aware of how odd that sounds - it is a lingua franca. Most Taiwanese, even those who are fully aware of this history, likely were impacted by the White Terror (or have families who were) and are otherwise horrified at the truth of this history, speak it - often without a second thought. Who am I,

Stripped of its dark history in Taiwan, Mandarin is merely a language. A beautiful language, even. One steeped in history that is otherwise no crueler than any history (though all history is cruel). And yet, it was used to brutalize Taiwanese - even now, those who do not or prefer not to speak it face discrimination and stereotyping, either as 'crazy political types' or as 'uneducated hicks', both deeply unfair labels that perpetuate a colonial system that dictates who gets to be born on top, and who has to fight their way up from the bottom.

Mandarin is only a native language and lingua franca in Taiwan because of this linguistic brutality. Foreign students only come here to learn it for this reason, as well. That most Taiwanese speak it natively speaks to the success of the KMT's cruelty. That not everyone does, and many who do still prefer native Taiwanese languages shows the strength of the Taiwanese spirit, and the KMT's ultimate failure as a cruel, petty, corrupt, dictatorial and foreign regime.

I can respect the idea that Taiwan has begun - and will likely to continue - to use Mandarin appropriatively rather than accepting it merely as the language of those who would continue to be overlords if they had their way. To take Mandarin and use it for their own purposes, to their own ends (this paper is about English being used in this way, but the main ideas are for Mandarin as well).

But - we're not there yet. There is still an imperialist element to Mandarin in Taiwan that makes me deeply uncomfortable. That structure still hasn't quite been broken down.


I know, especially as a resident of Taipei, that I can't just say "screw it!", refuse to use Mandarin unless absolutely necessary, and start learning Hoklo in earnest - preferring only to use that or English. Many former victims and Taiwanese deeply affected by this history do so, and I admire that, but I'm not Taiwanese.

I want to be a part, if only a very small part, of a better Taiwan, to contribute to building a truly free, decolonialized nation. But again, I am not Taiwanese. There are people who would think I was just putting on a show, and while I don't believe that, it would be hard to make the case that they are wrong.


And yet, the main reasons for not giving up Mandarin - that I would be giving up on something so 'practical', and that I'd be labeled another 'crazy political type' (perhaps more so because I'm not even from here, and this history is not my history), feel like giving the colonial ROC regime yet another brutal victory.

For now, I suppose I will keep speaking Mandarin; I kind of have to. In any case, is Hoklo not the language of oppression for Hakka and indigenous people? And yet, I don't see any sort of real world in which I can walk around Taipei speaking only Amis and a.) not look like an idiotic - if not crazy - white lady; and b.) actually communicate with the vast majority of people. As a language learner and foreign resident, where do I draw that line?

I don't feel good about it at all, however, and perhaps the first step is, without giving up Mandarin per se, to start seriously learning Hoklo. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

China is unforgivably two-faced when it comes to Lee Ming-che, Taiwan and the world

Earlier this year, I was on my way to Exeter via London, staying with friends who live in the area. We were hanging out around the dining table, with their 1-year-old son sitting at the narrow end.

He was doing what 1-year-olds often do, that is to day, whimpering and unhappily yapping at his parents, throwing his food around and making a bit of a mess. You couldn't even get mad - he's one. That's what they do - they lack the self-control to do better.

But then he turned his head to look at me, put on his most charming smile and giggled at me with sparkling eyes, like the sweetest boy who ever was.

He either didn't realize or didn't care that I had been sitting there the whole time and had seen exactly how he'd been acting toward his parents.

This story is relevant to Taiwan-China relations and the Lee Ming-che case in particular. Why?

Well, I've written it up here, in my first article for Ketagalan Media. Have a look!

Friday, March 10, 2017

It's time to stop those pro-China protesters

Yeah, China!

Awhile back, I ran into those odious but seemingly-legal pro-unification protesters that sometimes pop up at major Taipei landmarks. Imade the case that, as strongly as I disagreed with their views and goals, that as Taiwanese citizens they had the right to protest. I find it ironic that they have been protesting in support of Taiwan being unified against its will with a country that would immediately take away their right to protest, but they still had, I argued, the right to protest. Their ironic goals make them stupid, but don't negate their rights. 

I want to take that back. I no longer feel they should be allowed to demonstrate.


This is not because I vehemently disagree with their views (though I do). I disagree with lots of people, but it doesn't mean they don't have the same rights I enjoy. It is not even because what they essentially advocate is the termination of the existence of the nation they live in: if Taiwan were to democratically decide to unify with China, I wouldn't like it one bit (I'd probably sob for days), but there wouldn't be much I could say about it if the vote was fair and not done under threat. A nation can, in theory, vote to terminate its own existence. I don't even feel this way because their views are so out of line with the vast majority of Taiwanese - they would still have the right to voice them through legal protest.

No - they should not be allowed to demonstrate for a few key reasons, none of which go against the basic rights of freedom of speech and expression that I believe in.

The first is that they are one of the few protest groups whose violence is internal. 

Violence sometimes erupts even at peaceful protests - which the vast majority of protests are in both intention and execution - for what I have observed are three reasons (says this person who is not an expert in social movements or protest). The first is because law enforcement or some other force is pushing back on them in a way that begets violence. Even if your intentions are peaceful, if the police (or some other group) are coming at you with clubs, mace, smoke bombs and water cannons, or trying to keep you from exercising your right to protest through aggressively breaking up groups or fencing them in, it's easy for what is intended to be a peaceful demonstration to get out of control. The second is when an outside group or force - perhaps loosely in agreement with the protesting group, perhaps in opposition to it - intentionally steps in to sow a bit of chaos. This is what often happens in Taiwan and Hong Kong when gangsters, in the employ of other forces, try to incite violence by aggressively bullying peaceful demonstrators. The third is when the injustice set upon an aggrieved community is so great that people just snap. 

None of the reasons above is cause to dismiss the idea of peaceful demonstration.

However, there are also groups who use aggression and violence as a tactic - as above, their violence is internal. Perhaps they do it to create fear among another group (anti-abortion protesters do this, to the point that some women feel unsafe going to a women's health clinic - and that's the point). Perhaps they are in the employ of someone who wants to discredit the idea of protesting at all. Or, perhaps it is simply to anger others into striking back, or simply to get media attention.

The pro-China protests in Taiwan cannot be classified as one where violence is brought in by outside forces. They are one of the ones for whom it is a tactic - most likely for media attention. They need it - there are only, what, five of them? They have been aggressive and will continue to be aggressive because it is intrinsic to their goals to do so, not because law enforcement, gangsters with dubious motives or the righteous anger of deep injustice. They were given several chances to stop the violence and protest peacefully, yet they persisted.

Update: apparently the most recent video of protest violence is not of this group but of another gangster-led pro-unification group. Still, my point stands - they're not going to demonstrate peacefully because nobody will pay attention to them if they do, so it's time to stop them for good. Freedom of speech does not mean the freedom to be violent. They had their chance, and now they need to go.

Even when they are not physically violent, they purposely skirt noise ordinances: there is no way their Musical China Douchemobile is within the legally allowed decibel level for...whatever it is they are doing. Blasting pro-China opera songs? Yet it's difficult to stop them because they are hard to report when they keep driving around. 

Another reason why they ought to be stopped? Because I am no longer convinced that they are simply private citizens with a strongly held opinion demonstrating for what they believe in. I am sure there are a few sincere pro-unificationists running around Taiwan: every society has its extremists. However, I truly don't believe that this group is so sincere. Given how common it is for pro-China, anti-localist and anti-self-determination protesters in Taiwan and Hong Kong to have ties back to gangs who, in turn, have ties back to government (it seems to usually be the Chinese government, but I wouldn't put it past some of the more radical deep blue factions of the Taiwanese government to do this too), it is not crazy to think these guys might also be paid PRC stooges, too. If - and this is a big if, but I think a plausible one - the PRC has something to do with the little show they put on at various high-traffic sites around the city, then that amounts to a foreign government sticking its hands into Taiwanese affairs. Governments do this all the time, but that doesn't mean it should be tolerated.

It also calls into question exactly who the police are listening to when they cordon off or act aggressively toward peaceful protesters (harassing the indigenous rights protesters at night, or isolating peaceful marriage equality demonstrators), but allow this group to start fights unchecked until the mayor steps in (and similarly do little to stop anti-marriage-equality protesters, blue-camp-aligned protesters or actions by groups organized by known gangsters such as White Wolf).

This is quite similar to my reasoning behind supporting laws that do not allow non-residents to participate in protests or demonstrations beyond observation: if we allowed it, thousands of paid Chinese "protesters" would be on the next flights over from China, marching in the streets for unification. Stopping that may mean that some well-meaning people who don't have the right visa can't engage, but I find this a reasonable price to pay.

The final reason why I think it's time to pull the plug on this group is related to the point above. I do not think they are sincere because they don't seem that concerned about actually convincing anybody. That's good in one sense, because if they were, they'd be failing. It raises the question, though, of who exactly they are protesting for. My best guess - and a lot of my friends agree - is that they're doing it to create good photo ops in China. Perhaps for a time they were there to put on a show for Chinese tourists streaming into Taipei 101 - look, we were right, our Chinese brothers across the strait do want to be a part of China, you can see them protesting for it against their evil government right here! - but those are basically gone now. Now, I'd put money on it being done for photo ops that can be strategically placed in Chinese media.

In short, they're not there to convince Taiwanese. They're there to make Taiwanese society seem more divided on the issue than it really is (as it's not actually that divided at all).

Freedom of speech and assembly comes with some basic assumptions: that you are acting of your own accord and not in someone else's shadowy employ; that your motives are sincere and your goals genuine; that you are not a part of some foreign government's strategy and that your intentions are non-violent.

This doesn't mean I think we should ban all pro-China or pro-unification protests. Not even close - as much as I disagree with it, the actual viewpoint being expressed is not the problem. My problem is with this particular group.

While it's difficult to say for sure, my honest opinion is that these specific pro-China protesters meet none of these standards. In such a case, I truly do not believe it violates the basic right to freedom of expression to stop allowing them to demonstrate.

The chances of the Taiwanese government investigating, let alone doing something about this?

Most likely zero. I'd love to be proven wrong.

I suppose we can look forward to them blasting music and pushing us around for awhile yet.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Confucius and the Department Store

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It just so happens that I wrote this while listening to this.

Two weeks ago, a confluence of things happened.

First, I planned and executed a Mid-Autumn Festival barbecue near my apartment, which doubled as my birthday party because I knew I wouldn't have the energy, what with Delta Module 3 going on, to hold two parties in one month.

We hadn't noticed the sign that had been posted in our building, as there are a lot of notices and things that are usually irrelevant. So on the day of the party, we were upset to find out that maybe we should have read that notice after all: no barbecuing would be allowed in the main courtyard areas around where we live (which are perfect for barbecuing). The reason was not clear but usually it has to do with "smell and noise".

Two years ago, you could barbecue anywhere in this area. We barbecued in the small courtyard just outside our apartment. Then the next year, that was prohibited and you could only barbecue in the large courtyard further out. This year, they prohibited that too and we were only allowed to barbecue in a small, dark little area down by the wet market, and policemen constantly rode by on bikes making sure we adhered to that rule (this was the first year there was a police presence).

I can't help but feel that it's a slow, systematic attempt to ban barbecuing on Moon Festival in all urban areas, but to do it slowly enough that people don't complain much.

Then, I had a discussion on Facebook with Alexander Synaptic about this fascinating blog post of his about old "entertainment centers" in towns and cities in Taiwan. It's a coincidence, but a telling one, that he entitled it "Dreams of Empire". There's one in Sanchong that functions mostly as a string of pool halls rife with gangsters, and a closed-down one in Zhanghua.

I noted that while until recently, street-level commercial activity and entertainment was mostly-happily tolerated by local residents, and a proliferation of night markets and other "re nao" (fun) spots were allowed to thrive, which has given Taipei, at least, a sort of vibrant street life and sidewalk scene that Beijing and other cities in China are lacking - and which is a part of what makes Taipei a great place to live - that there seems to have been a culture shift.

This happened around the time that Brendan and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. We had wanted to go to Opa! Greek Taverna, which has hands-down the best Mediterranean food in Taipei (Sababa is good for falafel, but I make better hummus). Turns out their old street-level restaurant near Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall was closed, and they'll be re-opening in ATT 4 Fun at the end of the month.

Those old entertainment halls are now closed, but they're being replaced by glass monstrosities like ATT 4 Fun. Night markets (like Shi-da or Shilin) are being shut down (except for a few boring "fashion" and cell phone cover stores) or the food stalls relocated to indoor areas, which drastically reduces their appeal. Streetscapes are ruined as giant granite obelisks of luxury housing go up, leaving no room for shops or comfortable passage for pedestrians. Trees are torn down as a huge event arena is built - nothing wrong with Taipei Dome but those trees were a part of the street scape and we loved them. Restaurants are relocating to department stores. Street-level storefront rent is skyrocketing and only chain businesses can afford them, so interesting local spots are being crowded out. As ornery residents start complaining - which they didn't seem to do before - everything that was fun in some neighborhoods is either being shut down, or moving and often they end up in ATT 4 Fun or the equivalent.

Rather than go to Chun Shui Tang (which I know has been implicated in the recent gutter oil scandal) in one of their well-decorated branches which create street-level visual interest, I basically have to go to Chun Shui Tang inside Shinkong Mitsukoshi. One of my favorite Indian restaurants, Calcutta Indian Food, moved from a street-level shop on an interesting stretch of Kunming Street to a basement-level restaurant in a somewhat grody building called "U2". All the good places are slowly moving indoors, but the indoor spaces are expanding: walk underground from City Hall MRT through the basement of Hankyu Department Store to Eslite Xinyi, and it's a veritable food festival of eating options. All indoors. In the basement, even. Outdoors, you'd have to walk for awhile to find something decent to eat.

I don't care for this at all - and as a Taipei resident, I do believe that counts for something.

If I wanted to live in a city with dead streets, where you walked between huge edifices, some new and marbled, some old and marbled in a different way, and cars whizzed by on the road, and I had to walk inside some concrete magnate's wet dream just to eat dinner at a restaurant I like, which is no longer within walking distance because they couldn't afford the rent, I would live in Beijing.

I don't live in Beijing, because Beijing sucks. I do not fancy walking a mile along a sidewalk flanked by a wall and a six-lane highway, with one overhead crosswalk every mile, and big empty spaces dotted with steel monoliths that spear the pollution floating overhead, where people hustle in and out of sliding doors into slightly less polluted air conditioned buildings to eat, drink and shop. Beijing is one of the worst models possible for urban planning.

And I don't want Taipei to become just like it.

I feel like all of this is related. There seems to have been a spike in old-school, stick-up-the-butt Confucian values, more influence from China (which has a distinctly different culture from Taiwan, and to Taiwanese or those used to Taiwanese culture can seem a bit stick-up-the-butt although I realize it's not always), and increasingly authoritarian leaders telling the public to basically go screw themselves. To the point where I wonder, as Letters from Taiwan implies, if the recent deaths - I believe that's a plural deaths too - of various high-profile Sunflower activists were, ahem, accidents. It would not surprise me at all if the government, taking its cues from China as it tries to force the Taiwanese to accept the idea of eventual Chinese rule, decided to off them. People complain about noise and smell on the streets, and the city slowly morphs into Beijing's stepsister (I'd say ugly stepsister, but it's hard to get uglier than Beijing).

I feel it's related to the increase in gang activity - White Wolf not only allowed to return to Taiwan but to rub shoulders with Ma Ying-jiu's sisters. A gang fight resulting in the death of an off-duty policeman which raises many questions about what exactly he was involved in (it's fairly well-known that the police let the gangs run the clubs in exchange for kickbacks). The subsequent inevitable closing down of Taipei nightlife (so it can reopen later, under the protection of newly-strong gangs who give the police better kickbacks). I won't even get into what happens if you cross a gangster in a KTV.

Some other gangsters, deeply entwined in real estate development, convince local politicians to ignore laws about having to provide "green space" for every building they erect in exchange for letting those politicians buy units in the buildings before they go on sale. The politicians can later sell those units at substantial markups. This is all perfectly legal. And we allow it, because they are Our Leaders.

We like to think that the heyday of gang violence in Taiwan was the '80s and '90s, but it wasn't. It's as bad now as it was then, only now we have "democratic" leaders acting like dictators telling us they'll do something about it, when clearly they won't. They'll shut down a few nightclubs, but nobody really important will face punishment.

Increasingly authoritarian "leaders" leaning both on the Confucian ideas regarding the masses doing what they say, inextricably intertwined with gang activity, huge corporations and development companies tearing down the city (and quite possibly encouraging "citizen complaints" about noise and smell from restaurants, night markets and even barbecuing, which is a Mid-Autumn festival activity associated mostly with Taiwan) in order to rebuild it in China's image.

I do not think this is deliberate. Nobody is sitting behind a desk going "mwahahahaha, let's make Taipei look more like a Chinese city, so the Taiwanese will accept annexation by China! Bwahahaha! My evil plan!" I know to imply that these events are deliberately connected is only a few steps shy of donning a tinfoil hat. My point is that the mood in Taipei has changed, and not for the better. And that these issues are all effects of that - the slow migration of street life to department stores, the budding New Confucianism in which we are all told to follow the rules, the increase in gang activity, the increasingly authoritarian government that is quietly trying to push Taiwan towards China and a future the majority of people do not want but many feel powerless to stop.

There has been a culture shift, and it's starting to really be felt.

So, to me, they are related even if not intentionally so. The same overly conservative, regulation-loving Neo-Confucian "follow the rules, do as we say" ideas that brought us the tragedy that is the KMT and President Ma have also brought us the steady department store-ification of Taipei. It's a whole culture shift, even if it is not deliberate.

I still think Taipei has gotten a lot right in terms of urban planning, and I hope that this is a temporary phase.

Sadly, I fear it's not.

Everybody shut up, everybody shop here, don't protest or your motorcycle will suddenly go off the highway outside Pinglin. You just don't understand because you don't know 'correct values' and you need it explained to you like you're four years old. Listen to your leaders! Confucius said so! Buy these items produced by our good friends at Uni-President who swear they didn't know about the gutter oil, in a building they built, so they can profit more. They need profit. They need to make sure the politicians and police get their cut, you know, so they need it. Stop shopping near your home in stores that line your sidewalks. We have air-conditioning, and your favorite shop is here! We're not in bed with both gangs and politicians, and real estate developers hell bent on driving out every bit of soul this city has! You don't like those street-level shops anyway, you would rather it be like this. Come on, lay down, calm down, it'll hurt less that way. You know you want it. Listen to us. We are your leaders. Confucius says that the emperor is above the people. We are above you. And we are Chinese. Therefore, so are you. You must identify as Chinese. This poll said that you do.

There's no reason to muddy the waters like this. We are all Chinese. We don't like noise on the street. We do like strong leaders and air conditioning. We want our residential areas quiet and our entertainment to be safely contained, in a building built by someone rich and powerful, in another part of the city. We like it to be clear. Don't you hate these blurred lines?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

China rules out democracy in Hong Kong, and how it would be an honor to be on the CCP watchlist

So, China (well, the Chinese government) has just gone and proven once again that they're a bunch of big fat jerkfaces. After years of promising Hong Kong that democracy was on the horizon, they've now yanked that away and offered a pathetic booby prize: a committee can select nominees that have Beijing approval! Whee! Free at last, free at last!

I'm not sure if China is surprised or not that Hong Kong has correctly figured out that this is not actually democracy, but I do know that this doesn't change my very low opinion of China. In fact, it's only made it stronger:


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Seriously, if saying openly (which I am now) that I hope the CCP is overthrown and that they are an incompetent government that lacks a proper mandate to lead will get me on their watchlist, then it is an honor to be on that list. (I'm not sure if I am, but if I am, or it ever happens, it only confirms that I was right to say that the CCP is that bad. They stifle freedom. If they don't like me, it is an honor not to be liked. Toeing their line means accepting the unacceptable.)

In short, fuck you, Communist Party of China! 凸益凸 ~~ I hope you die a hard political death.

As noted by Michael Turton, the general punditry have "just figured out" that there is a connection between what happens in Hong Kong and what could happen in Taiwan if Taiwan accepts the idea of becoming a Chinese buttmonkey I mean SAR.

I guess I shouldn't be shocked that a group of people - most folks who are not in the Taiwan blogosphere or not  Thinking Taiwan (which is excellent), basically - have been caught with their heads up their asses yet again. They are uniformly terrible at writing on Taiwan - even the major news outlets. The New York times publishes foofy hot-springs-and-food pieces and could stand to publish more hard news, the WSJ has long since sold its soul if it ever had one, the Reuters editors insert all sorts of wrong bullshit into articles about Taiwan (e.g. calling Taiwan "an island that split from China over six decades ago after a civil war" which is simply historically false - during and before that war Taiwan was Japanese and before that, it was briefly independent after 200 years as a part of imperial China - a government that no longer exists - in name only. China declined to defend or effectively govern it in any sort of centralized way even in the 19th century which is why Japan was able to take it in the first place). And don't even get me started on The Economist, where everyone who reports on Taiwan should be fired via defenestration from the highest possible floor for their idiocy and lack of journalistic integrity in reporting objectively.

But, I still feel sad that I have to file this under "No shit, Sherlock" and marvel yet again that the lackluster punditry and joke academics who claim to "know" Taiwan hadn't picked up on this before. What can we learn from this? Don't trust the lackluster punditry and joke academics.

However, what bothers me more is what this says about China's attitude towards Taiwan.

Someone, somewhere, in the CCP, must have woken from the chemical party long enough to stop and think "hey, if we tell Hong Kong it can only have Fake Democracy, that'll piss off Taiwan because more people will figure out that when we forcibly annex our Chinese Brothers Across The Strait, that the first thing we'll do is slowly dismantle their democracy and put Fake Democracy in its place. There are still some people who don't fully realize this yet, and it's better for our plans to take Taiwan that a few people be delusional about what Chinese rule means. So, how do we handle this?"

I mean, they must have known that the bait-and-switch they just pulled in Hong Kong, which hasn't been working so well in Macau, either, would wake people up to what Taiwan's future could look like as a Forcibly Annexed Peacefully United "province of China".

The fact that they did it anyway is really scary, if you think about it.

It means that they don't think Taiwan is enough of a flight risk that they have to carefully tailor their lies message to appease the Taiwanese into continuing to believe that being a Chinese SAR would be "that bad". It means they think they've got this one in the bag, that Taiwan will soon enough be theirs for the taking. It means they can do whatever bullshit they want to Hong Kong, and that the reaction of Taiwan isn't important enough to cause China to change its strategy so as to "court" its neighbor. Read one way, it seems they no longer think that Taiwan needs to be convinced that it would be okay to be an SAR - they think they'll get Taiwan no matter what.

And that is horrifying.

Seriously, fuck the CCP.

I can only hope that either my interpretation is wrong, or that their hubris will be their downfall.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

"Every Taiwanese Man Knows The Truth": The 洪仲丘 Protest

"Every Taiwanese man, when they heard about Hong Zhongqiu, knew exactly what happened. The "crime" or "mistake" he made doesn't matter, the expected punishment doesn't matter, the investigation doesn't matter. We saw that report - every single Taiwanese man - and we knew it."

- a student

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I attended the protest in memory of 洪仲丘 (Hong Zhongqiu - Hung Chungchiu is how I think it'd be spelled in that Romanization system I never learned) tonight, which was also an anti-Ma Yingjiu protest (we need more of those), with a few anti-nuclear power folks, and a larger protest against military abuse/torture, especially directed at whistleblowers (some say Hong was that, others say he was a much-disliked troublemaker).

It was more than "tens of thousands" as news reports say - by the time I got there you could barely move and it was more like 100,000 at least, probably more like 150,000+.

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This is the biggest protest I've seen since 火大 and even that didn't seem to convene quite as many people on Ketagalan Boulevard between Dongmen and the Presidential office, running all the way to 228 Park, past NTU Hospital and the library and CKS Memorial Hall.

The thing is, these protests happen pretty often in Taiwan: it's something unique about the country that sets it apart from China, that's for sure. They let the people vent their anger and show their frustration, but nothing much ever happens. People feel like they've done something, they've stood up to speak their minds, they've lent their bodies to the headcount at these events. Then everyone goes home feeling energized...

...and nothing changes.

Not so different from the USA, really. Can't help but make one feel a bit disaffected and cynical (cynical? Me? NAW!).

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And of course because Les Miserables was a recently popular movie, people had to break out into a Taiwanese version of Do You Hear The People Sing? You can listen here:




Someone even left a sign in CKS Memorial Hall MRT station that said "Liberte, Egalite, Fraterite". I don't really mind if they want to appropriate the French Revolution (although enough heads rolled in that that maybe it wasn't the best choice...but...but...Les Miserables!) but the t-shirts that said "WE SHALL OVERCOME" were an appropriation too far in my opinion.

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The catalyst of this protest was the death of Hong Zhongqiu - a corporal in the army doing his obligatory military service (something being phased out currently). He was put into solitary confinement - some say in a hot room with no windows or water, others say he was forced to do punishing exercises in the hot sun with no water - and died a few days before he was set to be released. Still others say tapes of what went on show proof of torture. Some say the punishment would have killed anyone, others say he was not fit to withstand it, but the army doctor who should have said so instead pronounced him fit to withstand the punishment.

Accounts differ as  to why he was treated this way - some say he reported that his superior officers were bullying the conscripts into keeping their bunks clean, although their own quarters were a mess. Some say he blew the whistle on financial wrongdoing and bribery (this is not proven, just one thing I've heard), some say it was for bringing in a mobile phone with camera that was not allowed to the base, still others say "mostly the superior officers just didn't like him, he was seen as whiny, bratty and soft, not taking orders".

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All the eyes you see - many of which also say "Big Citizen Is Watching You" are meant to convey, from what I was told, that while the government and military may try to cover up what happened to Hong, among other things - more people whose family members died in the military under similar or suspicious conditions also took the stage - that the citizens are watching them. The teardrops are red to symbolize blood. People shouted everything from 洪媽媽加油!to 馬英九下台! to (something something) 黑目" which not even my Taiwanese friend could fully understand, so I don't think my lack of understanding was a language barrier.

I didn't bring this issue up in class - for once, my students did it for me. Every single class I've had with male students has involved them bringing it up enthusiastically. In some one-on-ones I heard private horror stories (and one guy who defended those who punished Hong, saying "I agree the punishment was too severe, but his actions did deserve punishment" - maybe, but no punishment that might result in death is acceptable or appropriate). One class involved five men talking at length about their own experiences and sharing their stories.

What my students (male, mostly in their 30s and 40s) say is this (and I quote from memory, with cleaned-up English so mistakes don't get in the way of the message):

"Every Taiwanese man, when they heard about Hong Zhongqiu, knew exactly what happened. The "crime" or "mistake" he made doesn't matter, the expected punishment doesn't matter, the investigation doesn't matter. We saw that report - every single Taiwanese man - and we knew it."

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"Those guys doing their obligatory service, they are usually college graduates. And their superior officers are career military guys. The guys who become career military are usually not that smart, they are encouraged to do that because it's a secure job, you can make money and you can leave the service in 8 years and get a pension for the rest of your life (me: it wasn't clear when you could draw 50% of your pay and how long you had to stay to draw 100%). So the not-smart guys do that instead of college, and actually you can even start in high school and go to 'military school'. That will count towards your 8 years!"

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"So you can leave by 35 and get your pay, and still get another job and have double income! If you are not a smart guy, that is a really good idea. So these dumb guys, they see the new kids coming in. If you went to Taida (NTU), you are a Master ("have a Masters"), you are from Taipei or you are handsome, they will bully you and treat you like garbage."

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"They will see your papers and say 'oooh, you went to Tai-da, I see! You are a Taipei boy!' and you know you are in big trouble for the rest of your service. And they do all these bad things. They bully you. Actually, they will do things like say 'OK, here is a treat for tonight! We'll all go out to dinner!' but if you are doing your service, that's terrible news! Because you have to pay for your superior officer, but you earn very little money. So they get a free dinner, and you pay at least NT$1000 for that. That happens once a month or so. They steal your money this way."

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"When I did my service on Matsu on the north island, the officer would give me NT$50 and say 'get me beef noodles'. But the beef noodles are NT100 or so, and when you are on the base on Matsu you have to take a taxi to get to any beef noodle shop. I told him NT50 wasn't enough and he really beat me! So next time I just took the NT50 and used my own money to take the taxi and buy the noodles. That was his plan, actually."

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"Basically everybody knows these guys are assholes. They always treat you badly. Only stupid people join" (me: OK, that is maybe not fair, or at least I can't say I totally agree with that view, because I just don't know if it's really true. I am sure some intelligent people become career military officers. So this quote does not reflect my personal viewpoint) "and I can tell you it's true. I taught in the military school, and those guys failed all their classes before. I had to teach them fractions! Just fractions! And they still failed! And they always hated me because I already had a Masters. And I got really good at typing in Chinese bopomofo, because the officer would take some report or idea from books and tell me 'I need this typed as a report, do this by tomorrow' so I would copy it into a report and he'd pass it on as his idea, and when I got that work I knew I would have to work all night. So I learned to do it quickly. I did not dare to tell him no, or that he was a cheater."

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"I taught in military college. My study was cryptography for my Master's and they treated me so badly, because I went to top schools in Taiwan" (it's true, he did) "and I had to teach cryptography to those guys who would become generals or something like that. I can tell you, they are very bad, they are actually stupid! And these are the guys in charge! They are the ones who have the chance to be secret agents in China or somewhere, and they usually do a bad job because they are too stupid to understand basic cryptography. But my job was better than [student who taught fractions in a military school]."

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"In fact we all know about this stuff. The new kids are hit or punished in a bad way. And the officers are terrible. Very stupid and corrupt. Always cheating. Always telling us to do things, but they can't even do the same things! Always giving us too many exercises or something that is useless. But you know that, and you have to keep quiet. Just be quiet, just do it, just finish."

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"I don't know why he wanted to say something or do some complaint. He knows he will be punished for that! Every Taiwanese man knows that! You just be quiet and shut up and do your work and then you can leave."

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"The system cannot change. Those guys in charge, they have friends and know the politicians. And usually for generals you get that job because your father was a general. So we know the system will not change."

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"Maybe slowly it can change, but I think 100 years. Those guys won't let it change. So the important guys don't get any punishment. We are so upset about the verdict, but it's not a surprise. The important guys never get punished."

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"Actually the people who signed the report on Mr. Hung, they don't really know his situation, because they are high-level guys and he was just a young man. But they know the system is bad. We all know it. Nobody can change it."

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"I worry about my son, he will have to do that soon. I tell him, 'just shut up and do what they tell you'.  don't want him to die. Just be quiet. You can't change the system."

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"And that is why every Taiwanese man knows the truth. We saw that news and we thought - agh! - because at that time, that was also our life. We know. We know. They can't lie to us."

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Let's Burn Some Stuff

Here is just a brief thought on the rising utility and health insurance premiums in Taiwan (I believe the premium rate hike has not taken effect yet, no? If so, I haven't noticed it in my paycheck).

You know, I do think this stuff was necessary. Costs go up - at some point the cost of electricity probably did have to be raised. Gas went up, if I am remembering correctly - well, gas is going to do that if we keep relying on it as supplies dwindle (whether due to natural means or market manipulation), and we as a global society are better off pouring money into renewable energy research rather than pretending that continuing to rely on fossil fuels is in any way a viable long-term strategy.

Health insurance premiums have to go up, too. While I do feel the government needs to look at National Health Insurance as a social welfare issue, and not an institution that needs to break even - which means that yes, the government should be willing to pour money into it if there's a gap, and absolutely not let it or labor insurance/pensions go bankrupt - there's a point at which more money is needed, and we've reached that point. If I felt we'd get better coverage out of our National Health Insurance plans, I'd be happy to pay higher rates. We probably won't, but coverage is good enough now (with room to improve, though) that I still feel that paying a higher rate is acceptable.

I am absolutely in favor of a higher capital gains tax - and not the joke of a tax that they want to push through. A real capital gains tax. I know, I know, rich people get all skittish when others suggest that maybe society and taxpayer-funded infrastructure (not to mention cronyism and predatory market practices) helped them amass the fortunes they have, that they did not in fact Build That (or more accurately build those) all by themselves, and that they should be required to give back to the society that helped them get ahead. They get all huffy and sell off stocks and make a big stink. I say too fucking bad, boo hoo, let me call the waaaahhhmbulance on ya, and play a tune on this tiny violin while you are taken away. I feel this way about Taiwan and the USA both.

But...see...here's the problem. That's me. I count as middle class if not upper middle class in Taiwan (although I certainly don't own any luxury apartments or anything like that - I consider such things to be the provenance of the wealthy, not the upper middle class). I can afford these price hikes. I can just about keep ahead of inflation and, unlike most of the country, I have seen my real wages increase over the past 6 years, from crummy cram school ghetto (thanks Kojen, for paying me crap, that's why I quit after a year - that and the Saturday hours and not really liking my coworkers - but mostly the pay and the hours) to "doing pretty damn well". I can say I am willing to pay higher health insurance premiums and not get too het up about my own electricity bill, because I can afford to absorb the costs.

So, is it any wonder that people are upset that they're being told to pay more for necessities, and yet aren't earning any more money to cover the costs, while still being among the most overworked and underpaid people not only in Taiwan, but in the world? I'd be upset too! I'm upset just thinking about it!

Which - I'm at least happy that in the US that didn't quite happen. Despite Obama being arguably better for business, big business's Guy was Romney, and that loser, well, lost. So there's hope.

What's wrong with all this - and wrong with the poor administration of Ma Ying-jiu and the ruling KMT - is that all these costs are going up, as they arguably need to, but nothing substantial is being done to address wage stagnation and inequality. New graduates are being offered wages as unacceptably, absurdly low as NT$18,000/month. Who in their right mind thinks that anyone can live on this? I realize many bosses expect their underpaid new hires to live with Mom&Dad, but that's not always an option. It's dangerously close to Wal-Mart paying employees such low wages that they hover at the federal poverty line (fuck Wal-Mart, by the way), and by "dangerously close" I mean "actually worse, but you don't see it because these kids have parents who help out".

I mean, it's absolutely clear that neither Ma nor anyone else in the KMT gives a damn about people whose real wages have not increased in about a decade, who will have trouble absorbing these higher costs. While Ma didn't come from great riches, it's clear he's never experienced poverty, and doesn't understand it. He's Taiwan's Mitt Romney (except people actually elected him - why, oh why did they do that? But they did...so oh well). I am not sure anyone in the government who has any power to do something has even the faintest idea of what it's like to be lower middle or working class and struggling, worried in very real terms about how they're going to pay their higher bills and afford food, housing and school fees.

So - why are the costs going up, while nothing is being done to help those who can't keep up afford them better? Who thought it would be a good idea to tell the most struggling segments of the population, in no uncertain terms, that you couldn't give a crap about their overwork, lack of employment opportunities (underemployment and overwork being two other huge problems), and certainly not about their stagnant wages, but oh, they're going to have to pay more for these things, 'cause we all gotta chip in? But oh, no, we wouldn't think of inflicting an actual higher tax on the wealthy people who support our party. Then they might be angry at us. OH NOES!

Honestly, if I were a middle class, mid-level Taiwanese office worker, I'd be furious. Like 我歸懶趴火 furious. Like let's burn some shit DOWN! furious. Like, "you want me to work 12 hours a day, never give me a real raise, pay me at well below international rates so YOU can remain competitive while *I* struggle, and then raise my utility and health care premium fees? Well you can just suck it! BURN!"

But, of course, that's not what's happening. What's happening are those resigned sighs, those "what can we do?" faces, those "this is life, we can't change it" eyes, those "I could change jobs but the new boss wouldn't pay me any better or work me any less hard" undereye circles, and nothing changes. Even if the KMT were voted out, would anything really change?

No. That's why I say let's BURN THINGS!

Or not, because that wouldn't fix anything either.

It's enough to drive you mad.

Don't worry, middle class people of Taiwan - the KMT'll help you out by putting a little more into your red envelope to buy your vote again in a few years.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Some Links

A few links for ya:

Myth Busting the Gender Pay Gap - if one more person tries to tell me it's because "women have children and then work fewer hours so it makes sense that they'd earn less", then Imma Get Violent.

It reminds me of a discussion with a local friend that someone related to me once: she (the local friend) was earning about 20% less than her male colleagues for the same work at some company in Taoyuan. Not only was she not a mother, she was single. My friend (a foreigner) asked if there was anything she could do about that, or if she might complain or work to change things.

"No, I can't. I'd get fired, and then they could go and tell the other companies not to hire me," she said (in short - blacklisting). "There's nothing I can do, that's just the way it is."

Schools Blasted Over Sexist Uniform Policy - apparently, some schools were trying to force girls who wanted to wear pants to provide proof of gender identity disorder. Leaving aside the aesthetic qualities of most school uniforms, especially in Asia, it's ridiculous to decide that a girl who wants to wear pants (because, hey, pants are more comfortable) must provide medical proof of a "disorder". That's not only ignorant toward those who are dealing with gender identity issues, but toward the simple fact that it's not weird for a girl to want to wear pants.

In Chinese: Taiwanese Woman Must Go to India to Wed Her Indian Fiance - aaaaaaannnddd apparently India is an "extremely high risk country" when it comes to international marriages, so Taiwanese who wish to marry Indians must, if this is taken as precedent, go to India to do so. First, why is India an extremely high-risk country in terms of marriage? Sure, it's not as developed as Taiwan, or even China (although, to be honest, I enjoyed my time in India far more than China and while it was pure chaos in India, the process of how things worked wasn't so maddening. I didn't find China to be that much cleaner than India, either, but I lived in rural China). But I don't exactly see massive numbers of Indians trying to marry their way into Taiwan for a better life, so what gives? I realize that around the world there are problems of "marriage for a visa" and "mail order marriage" - the second one being a tricky and complex issue in Taiwan - but come on. Secondly, this exposes a problem worldwide - in a sometimes-overzealous attempt to crack down on bride-buying and marriage-for-visas, a lot of couples who love each other and just want to get married have to jump through a lot of labyrinthine and migraine-inducing paperwork, go to some very expensive lengths (often including periods where one person can't work in the country in which they live, or one has to go abroad for awhile regardless of whether they can afford it), and at the end, risk being denied the right to marry. Any country can do this - it's not just a problem in Taiwan. Shame on you, Taiwanese government, but also shame on you, too, governments of the world.

 Amazon reviews for "binders" (full of women).

I realize that the actual phrase R-Money used was just as poorly stated as Obama's "You didn't build that" and he was trying to say he was interested in hiring more qualified women to his cabinet. I'm not hating on the idea that he tried to source qualified women because he didn't know where to find them already. The problem is, he didn't - he didn't ask for those binders, they were given to him, and his admittedly not bad stats on appointments of women after he was elected governor didn't stick around - they slid to levels lower than when he initially took office.

In the end, though, trying to have a conversation and effect real change in how women are treated, how bad the pay gap really is, and how underrepresented we are in the higher, more influential levels of business and politics has done nothing. As the Department of Labor blog notes, it's been 50 years since the first push for equal pay, and we still don't have equal pay. It's not working, or at least not well enough. So...it's time to get snarky. Maybe then people will wake up and realize what we're trying to say.

I LOVE MERYL STREEP

And finally - apparently Next Media is outta here. Sad. For all their occasionally ridiculous coverage, I liked 'em. Does this mean no more hilarious cartoons on international news topics?



Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A-Cai's Restaurant (阿才的店): 黨外國人!



This past weekend I put together a group outing to A-Cai's, a historic restaurant that is scheduled to be shuttered (and possibly, but not assuredly, relocated) when the building it's located in is torn down as a part of Taipei's ongoing, and controversial, urban renewal projects.


Mao Po Tofu - spicy, too!


Fish Scented Eggplant (Yuxiang Qiezi) 

 You can read about the history of the place above, and a review here - the place is hardly off the beaten track, as much as it looks like it.

I put this dinner together now because A-Cai's the window of opportunity to go is potentially so short: I asked upon leaving if the tear-down was still in the works and was told that yes, it would happen, but "not that soon". I hope they're fighting it, I really do, but the Taipei City Government is run by such buffoons that I don't hold out much hope.


All I can do is throw in my word as another recommendation for this place. Dirty walls, old Taiwanese knickknacks and memorabilia, old-skool wait staff and good food with strong flavors that practically begs you to drink large quantities of Taiwan Beer - what could be better?

Plus, despite not being a Sichuanese restaurant, the Sichuan-style dishes we ordered were genuinely spicy. Not as fierce as Tianfu, but they put on a pretty good show of chili.

I also loved the service. None of this cutesy Japanese-style welcoming or overly-attentive waiters. We came in and they knew who we were ('cause I sound like a foreigner on the phone, natch), said "over there". We sat, got a menu, and a few minutes later - "你要什麼?" No extra pleasantries or "我可以介紹一下喔", just, "Whaddya want?" I let them know that despite a reservation for 9, that actually 11 would be coming (two friends wanted to bring guests) - no muss, no fuss, just "好" and a few more sets of chopsticks dumped on the table. LOVE IT.

                           

So...go. Lend your support. Give 'em business. Throw a 加油 in at the end. Fight the power! Write about it. Enjoy good food. Drink beer. Beg them to re-open in a new location. Don't let this piece of Taiwanese history disappear.

                           

Thursday, June 23, 2011

HOLY CRAP

Blogger in Taichung jailed over critical restaurant review

Really? For serious? If you write on your blog that you didn't like the food at an establishment, can they really file charges? Do you think this would have happened with a foreign blogger (I ask because so often, locals tell me "you think Taiwanese are friendly because they are nice to foreigners, but they are often terrible to each other")? Why is the ruling "final"? Why did she apologize (I wouldn't, even if I had to pay the fine)?

Why did people keep calling the restaurant to ask if the review was true? Did they think the restaurant would say "yes"? Wouldn't you just not eat there?

So, just because I think this is a giant pile of fucktacular crap (sorry, moms, but it has to be said), here goes:

- Cafe Bastille has great beer and terrible food. Never eat there.
- Song Chu (宋廚) has great duck, mediocre everything else, and horrible service. I will never eat there again.
- Sai Baba is pretty good, as it goes, and has a great atmosphere, but my hummus is better than theirs by far. Go ahead and eat there, though. It's still pretty good.
- The food in Shi-da and Shilin Night Markets is actually not that good, as local food goes. Try Raohe, Ningxia or Jingmei instead.
- Dingtaifung is overpriced. Go to 金雞圓 instead.
- Hindoostan has the worst Indian food I've ever tried.
- Exotic Masala House used to be good but their quality really went downhill.
- All Korean restaurants but two in Taipei are inauthentic (and only one of those two is notably spectacular).
- Kiki is not really Sichuanese food at its finest. 天府is better.
- Ice Monster was never all that great. Sugar House in Nanshijiao beats it by a long shot.

I'd write more about smaller, local food stalls and joints, but honestly most of those places where I've eaten have been really good!

So, uh, fuck the police.

Update: Catherine at Shu Flies has worked hard to write a well-grounded post on this issue. While the issue of whether the blogger in the original article was the one who wrote the view in part over a parking dispute (at least it's settled for me), I don't think that really changes anything I've said here - it's still a sign of troublingly harsh defamation laws and excessive punishment, and it's still likely that the beef noodle place did have cockroaches, not because it was particularly unsanitary but because every building in Taiwan has cockroaches!