Showing posts with label living_in_Taiwan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label living_in_Taiwan. Show all posts

Sunday, March 3, 2019

No, those MRT station codes are not useful

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An article ran in CommonWealth Magazine recently about the usefulness of Taipei MRT's use of Hanyu Pinyin, and the letter/number coding system for the stations, pointing out that some visitors were "still getting lost" in Taipei, because they didn't speak Chinese and therefore didn't know how to pronounce station names like Da'an, Qilian, Xindian etc etc.

Now, in the past 5 years or so I've encountered exactly one lost person. It's not that hard, the maps are quite clear (the exits in relation to where one wants to go above-ground are less clear, however). But CommonWealth says it's a thing:


Donna is a Canadian studying Chinese in Taiwan. She chose to live near the Da’an MRT station for its convenient location. Yet the first time she met with her landlord, she was an hour late because she was unable to find Da’an Station on an English-language map, which indicated the station name as “Daan”. They way she pronounced the name, it sounded like the single character da (“big” or “great” in Mandarin), rather than the compound name Da’an (da + an), the standard Romanization rendering.


Yeah, okay, I get that it can be difficult to pronounce the station names if you are not familiar with Pinyin, and I'm sympathetic to non-Mandarin speaking visitors who get confused. But as some folks have pointed out:





I'm not defending it, but part of life in Taiwan is understanding that the competing and often incorrectly-applied Romanization systems are pure chaos, and there can be no order arising from them. This is most likely because there is a lot less agreement on the trajectory of Taiwanese culture, and it shows in battles over Romanization, which often act as symbolic battlegrounds for the minority in Taiwan who want the country to remain as close to China as possible (if not integrate completely), and the majority who don't. Contrast this to, say, Seoul, where my husband lived just as the old Romanization system for Korean was on its way out as a new one was implemented, and the transition went much more smoothly, with far less chaos and overall entropy.

It would be better if we could standardize. It would be great if we didn't spell 中和 as Zhonghe, Chungho, Jhonghe, Jhongho, Zeüngho, Zongh1983q, Jh0ñg0, Zheungheau, JZH*YFEJK¯\_(ツ)_/¯@)(jfh!!!  or whatever.

I don't even care how we do it anymore, though I have a personal preference for Pinyin despite it being from China (hey even a broken clock is right twice a day). I would prefer that whichever system we use be implemented correctly - for Pinyin, that means apostrophes and perhaps even tone markers. If we use the deeply annoying and old-timey looking Wade-Giles, then the apostrophes are necessary. Otherwise, how am I supposed to know whether, say, someone named Cheng Chi-chong pronounces their name Zheng Ji-chong, Cheng Chi-zhong, Zheng Zhi-chong, Cheng Zhi-zhong, Zheng Qi-zhong or whatever combination of these it might be?

But I also daresay that a part of "studying Chinese", especially in Taiwan, is understanding that tHeRe CaN bE nO oRdEr FrOm ChAoS. Welcome to Taiwan, m'loves. Get used to it?

The CommonWealth article then goes on to talk about the coding system:


As for the station coding system embarked on this month, TRTC relates that it is responsible only for adding codes on this project, and not for revisions to the Romanization of metro system names.

With a sizable sum of NT$30 million having been spent on the project, domestic traveler Ms. Kuo remarked that the addition of station codes has absolutely no impact on her, except perhaps for making everything a little more complicated.

However, in the effort to gain more overseas visitors, rather than spending a lot of money to codify the metro system, the money would be better spent on an overall rectification of MRT station names, Hanyu Pinyin, and signage, as helping visitors understand and spell the words properly is the most user-friendly international practice.



On this I agree. The coding system is completely useless.


The reason why? Nobody local uses them, nobody local knows them, and that's probably not going to change.

So if you need to ask directions, you'll probably be asking someone local, and they won't know because they don't know the codes. They're not helpful at all for getting information from others. And if you are just trying to read a map, you don't need to know how a station's name is pronounced, you just need to match the letters of the station name on the LED scroll on the train or on the platform to the one on the map you are using.

With that in mind, let me tell you about that one lost person I met. I was with a friend (who happens to be Taiwanese and speaks excellent English, having gotten her PhD in the US) entering Da'an station, and a lost looking foreign woman approached my friend while I was adding money to my card. She asked my friend - who, again, is local - whether the station we were at was "R2".

My friend looked at her blankly, like, "huh?"

"R2? Is this R2? I was supposed to get off at R2 which is the terminus, but the train stopped here but this doesn't seem right. Is it R2? I think the map says it's R5? I'm so confused!"

My friend: "R....2? R...5?"

I walked up to them to see what the deal was just as my friend figured out what on earth she was talking about. We all walked over to a map and showed her that she'd boarded a train terminating at Da'an, not her destination of Xiangshan, so she needed to get back on the red line train in the same direction.

She kind of rushed off as I tried to advise her not to use the codes to ask directions, because nobody local knows them so they actually create confusion when trying to ask directions.

I really hope she figured it out on her own.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Misery Loves Company: a review of "Ghost Month"

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Ghost Month

Taiwan, you monsoon-pissed on yam of the Pacific Rim! How many nations have sought and fought to possess you in a game of hot sweet potato! The Republic of China, the diplomatically shunned nation of my birth! You seismically challenged tiny leaf trembling at the real China's doorstep!

This is the first half of the absurdly angry screed that Jing-nan, the protagonist of Ed Lin's Ghost Month, published in his high school yearbook. The tone is perfect: high-school-aged Jing-nan's contempt for his homeland is real, and yet also absurd in the way only angsty high-schoolers can get away with.

This comes several chapters after Jing-nan admires the country the Taiwanese have managed to build in the face of every obstacle facing them, not least of all an angry China, but several chapters before he admits to having called the place "stupid Taiwan". In between, he reckons with his views on religion (also stupid according to him, but maybe it's not great to be in everyone's face about how dumb their beliefs are all the time?), muses on everything from architecture to rule of law, and compares Taipei during the day and at night (he prefers night). An image of the Tamsui River at night cuts across these metaphors: looking at it late at night, conflicting currents render the water as slow black sludge trudging in one direction, and colorful vibrancy swooshing in another.

I found this to be the perfect novel to read while I recovered from a particularly severe head cold: literally, but also metaphorically. I picked it up two days after 2018 midterm elections here, where the moving currents of my own feelings about Taiwan were in the greatest conflict they'd been in years. They still are. (And I'm still recovering from the head cold.)

To be blunt, Jing-nan doesn't like Taiwan very much. He doesn't seem to hate everything about it, but he's clearly far from happy with his own existence here. He's trapped carrying on the family business (in more ways than one), and feels hemmed in by the superstitious beliefs of people around him. He feels assaulted by bad Asian pop music (his own musical tastes, specifically for Joy Division, play an important atmospheric and symbolic role in the book) and cornered by soulless office buildings and high-rises on one side, and hideous illegal shanties on the other.

His malaise runs deep - though he does eventually come to terms with it - whereas my own was a season of ridiculous optimism capped with a feeling of being absolutely, devastastingly crushed. This past weekend I had hoped the people would not vote to remain a 'trembling leaf' at China's doorstep, but to continue to stand up for themselves. Instead, newly-elected KMT mayors are talking about doing an end-run around the national government and recognizing the 1992 Consensus on their own. (These elections were not a referendum on how Taiwan feels about China, but try telling the rest of the world that.) I had hoped they'd recognize stupidity for what it was: either by those pink-shirted anti-gay jerks or Kaohsiung mayor-elect and guy who beats people up for no reason, Han Kuo-yu. Instead they voted for hate and idiocy.

This country really has accomplished so much despite every obstacle set against it, from geography to military dictatorship to diplomatic isolation. After the anti-gay referendums passed, there was an outpouring of not only grief over what their fellow citizens had done, but also support and love for LGBT friends from almost every Taiwanese person I know. I know Taiwan is capable of better than this, but it can be hard to feel it through the greasy stink of homophobia and populism. There's all that vibrancy and color moving in one direction, but it's hemmed in by turgid black sludge.

In short, Ghost Month is a moody piece of Taipei Noir that more or less perfectly aligned with how I've been feeling about the place myself these days.

There's a story, too. An interesting, fast-moving one. I'm not writing about it because while it intersects with Taiwanese culture in ways that set it apart from typical thriller/murder mystery novels in the West, at the end it's...a story. Don't get me wrong - it's a good story. It kept me up until 3am reading and drives the book nicely without feeling tacked-on. I won't describe it here - you can read a plot synopsis on Amazon. The Taipei Noir aspects of the book are what drew me in, but they couldn't exist without the story, and the story couldn't exist without them.

Lin more or less perfectly captures the vibe of Taipei - the layout of the city, its neighborhoods, communities and haunts (and I don't just mean in geographic terms). It gives a solid, accurate survey of Taiwan's cultural landscape to readers who may not be aware, and very clearly moves away from the overly-Sinicized "Republic of Chhhiiiinnnnaaa!" view of Taiwan that a lot of people who don't actually know this country are happy to ignorantly embrace. It is very clear that Taiwan is Taiwan, and China is China, and those who would sell Taiwan out to China are traitors, without being overly sympathetic to a misty-eyed 黃昏故鄉 view of the place (in fact, problems from shoddy law enforcement to political corruption to sexism are laid bare without making Taiwan seem like a horrible place, and Lin does a great job creating complex characters that defy stereotypes.)

Because it captures Taiwan this well, the tiny ways in which I knew Ghost Month to be inaccurate got to me, even though I know they shouldn't matter. From a reference to a 50-kuai banknote (!! Those have existed but aren't exactly a normal thing) to entering the Taipei 101 office tower without needing an access card (not possible) to references to being sunburned after some time in Taipei (how? it's basically always cloudy) to the notion that Taipei is blanketed by Western tourists (there are tourists, but honestly if you're a Westerner here I basically assume you either live here or are visiting someone who does), I found myself nitpicking in ways I wasn't proud of. None of these details matters, and yet, because I live here and am fiercely protective of the place, they matter to me.

I also found myself thinking "Jing-nan's charming, has interesting tastes and an independent mindset, and is obviously meant to be pretty good-looking, but he's not that bright, is he?" Of course, as a first-person narrator, he admits this, saying his (dead) love interest had been far more intelligent than he was. For example, when a betel nut girl is killed on the job, you can be pretty sure gangs are involved. And if gangs are involved, you can be damn sure the police won't be much help. And if you know that, why the hell are you going to the police as though you can talk to them like some Big Man? I'm not even from here, my dude, and I know that's not how it works! And don't even get me started about Ah-Tien and the scooter. You just don't know when to listen, do ya?

In the end, I was grateful to come out the other end of my post-election funk (and head cold) with the end-of-novel reckoning Jing-nan experiences. To be honest, everything he feels about Taiwan, I could say about the US, just in a different way (excuse me sir, do you have a few minutes to talk about how we should fuck the police?) I won't say too much about this, as you should read the book instead of my ramblings about it. But, by the end, you come to realize that it's possible to care about a place, even love it, while not always liking it very much.

Which, as I wait to see what happens now that the people of Taiwan have rejected the basic humanity and right to equality of their LGBT brethren, is pretty much exactly how I feel about the place. I consider this superstitious, parochial and weak - it is not the Taiwan I have come to know and love. It hurts to find out there is a lot I either didn't know or have been ignoring about this country.

In other words, I have been miserable these past few days, but at least I had some good company.


Friday, October 12, 2018

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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台北的未來在他手中??



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

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

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


Wow, inspiring.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Taiwan has made me more skeptical of free market solutions

It is really hard to love Taiwan sometimes.

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


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


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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, so what?

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Yes, it is weird when strangers randomly invite you to things.

This shouldn't be necessary, but I feel the need to put out a gentle reminder:

If some perfect stranger approaches you on the street and invites you to something without knowing you at all, yes, that is an unusual thing to do and you should treat it as such.

Every few months or years, reports of this or that organization (there's more than one, with more than one intention) trying to recruit people through random street approaches start cropping up. It's a problem around the world but seems to me to be particularly bad in Taiwan, especially in Taipei (but that could be because I don't know other cities as well.)

No, the rules are not different because you're in Taiwan - if you're new here, Taipei is a normal city full of normal people who don't approach total randos to see if they want to attend some event. They have their own lives and their own stuff going on, and don't live to just befriend totally new people they know nothing about. That's not a thing anywhere. You wouldn't do it in the country you come from, so don't do it here.

If you would do it in the country you come from, good luck to you, but I'd advise against it.

And no, this isn't a thing that happens because the Western community in Taiwan is small. There are friendly fellow foreign residents who, if they meet you under normal circumstances, will be happy to make a new friend and show you how things work here. But they do not approach you out of nowhere on the street and they don't just happen to have fliers for whatever it is they want you to attend. They carry those on purpose, to find people and get them in the door. It is intentional - they are not new friends you made because of some happy accident of timing. They aren't just super nice people who keep their eye out for Westerners who seem new to help them out. Of course they seem nice. Of course whatever they are inviting you to seems cool, or just a chance to make new friends. Of course they seem really empathetic, perhaps to the fact that you're new here and don't know many people yet. That's the point. It wouldn't work if it didn't seem like a great opportunity.

It could be some "direct marketing" scheme, it could be some religious or spiritual thing, it could be whatever. It doesn't matter. It's no less unusual to approach strangers here than anywhere else. Same for parties and other gatherings. Normal people get to know someone first: if the purpose of the interaction seems to specifically be to invite you somewhere or show you some new product, and not to get to know you as a person, that's a sign. Heed it.

If it's a marketing/sales thing, then no, it's not an amazing new product. No, the way people sell things isn't any different here than anywhere else.

If it's "free lessons" - guitar, English, Mandarin, whatever - but the person inviting you doesn't know you, no, that's not how you get music or yoga or Chinese lessons. They're probably at a church or temple.

If they are nice white guys on bicycles wearing ties, no, nice white people who want to be your friend won't stop you at a traffic light, that's weird. They want you to join their religion, not to be their friend with no strings attached.

And if it's a religious/spiritual thing, no, it's not because you're in the "East" or whatever and so people are, like, so totally more spiritual here and they want to share that which is why they are so nice.

That's not a thing and it never has been. If you're into Dao or Buddhist philosophy, good for you. Enjoy! Even so, people who share your interest in these things, yet are normal people with normal lives, still don't just randomly go around inviting strangers to things.

Please keep that in mind.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Expat men don't hold other expat men accountable.

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I had a dream last night that I was allowed to run for office in Taiwan.
My district was an amusement park where there seemed to be eternal night. I ran on a pro-marriage-equality, pro-immigration, pro-womens-rights platform (to get the NHI to cover birth control mostly).
My opposition published a "scientific" graph titled "How obnoxious Jenna Lynn Cody is" where the x-axis was time and the y-axis was "obnoxiousness quotient". It had several lines on it including "loves gays", "hates traditional Chinese culture" and one mysteriously called "Jenna Lynn Cody is such a fucking bitch who hates men". Of course, all the lines showed an upward trajectory.


Below it was a low-quality meme with words on it that said "Jenna Lynn Cody's obnoxiousness has grown by #13.5!" (with the hashtag).

So I'm standing in this dark amusement park with all of these 老兵 (retired soldiers) looking at this glossy leaflet with this graph on it, and everyone is looking at me, and I say "if these are the people calling me names, I take it as a compliment."

And the 老兵 went "boo!" and some people on the ferris wheel went "yay!" and I woke up.

It struck me as I struggled awake that it no longer seems totally bonkers for a political faction to publish "data" like that with a straight face.


* * *


I'll let you draw your own conclusions regarding connections between my dream above and my point below.


Well, it's been a couple of weeks since someone was a garbage can to me online - that is, a man insulting me as a woman in ways that men specifically insult women - but I see it happening to my friends too.


By friends of friends. That is, other expat* women in Taiwan being treated like crap by expat men in Taiwan that we might not like, and certainly don't spend time with in real life, but with whom we share many mutual friends - most of them male. I don't see it all the time, as I've blocked the worst offenders. This is itself a problem, as I can't support other women being treated like dirt if I can't see it happening.


So I get ridiculous insults thrown at me, or other women get insults thrown at them (often out of the blue, completely unrelated to whatever was posted/said, or often diving straight to a set of unfair assumptions without thinking). It goes without saying that the woman being treated this way is absolutely capable of handling herself, and doesn't need a man to "step in" and "defend" her like a victim or wilting flower. None of these women are shrinking lilies in need of protection.


And yet, when nobody comes in to voice their support and hold the men accountable, women get ganged up on, and to some people, that starts to look like proof that the harassers are right and the woman is wrong. It doesn't help that, as capable of defending herself as every one of these women is, it doesn't mean much when the men in question simply don't respect anything that woman - or often, any woman - says.


It's happened to me for sure, so I know how that dynamic works.

So far, it's only been verbal in my case, but sometimes real physical assault is involved. 


When the women have often blocked these men, and the other men stay silent, that's how it always seems to go down.


Days later (or even sometimes on the same day), I see those same men who are being total garbage cans to women engaging with my male friends online - good men, all - and being treated normally. Complimented, joked with, thanked for offers of help, being engaged in plans to meet, treated as though nothing just happened, or has been happening. They quite literally get a free pass after being asshats to these guys' female friends.


I have, at times, brought this up to more than one male friend - this is by no means an isolated phenomenon - and gotten replies like "Really....him?" "But he's actually a really nice guy." "Yeah, that's how he is, but if I step in..." "It's not for me to say..."


Nothing ever changes. There are no real consequences. The expat men who treat women - mostly expat women, they seem to be nicer to Taiwanese women - like garbage get to continue, with no loss of friends, no diminishment of their reputation, no falling in standing in the expat community.


I want to add here that this doesn't describe all of my male friends, and it doesn't describe anybody all of the time. Some of them will hold men they don't know in person accountable, but not ones they do - perhaps it's a bridge too far to jeopardize a chummy in-person relationship. Some don't fall into this category at all, and really try their best to be great allies.


I don't want to insist that the expat men of Taiwan have to treat other expat men exactly as I would like them to, or that they are immediately beholden to cutting out of their lives anyone who has pissed me or another woman off. That's not reasonable, in the same way that it's never okay to ask your friends to choose between you and someone you hate.


It's especially difficult to ask for in such a small community - everybody knows everybody, or has mutual friends. Frankly, if I meet an expat and we share no mutual friends at all, it sets off a red flag. Even if you live a mostly local life, if you're an expat you're an expat - there is a real social cost to holding shitty people accountable when those same shitty people may be at the bar that weekend, or the event next weekend, or the party the weekend after that, or your future coworker, or whatever. It's a tough situation because in such a village-like atmosphere there's no real escape (and I'm not a fan of villagers-with-torches-and-pitchforks style justice, anyway).


This is also why it's more noticeable here. It happens where I come from too, all the time, but it's easier to avoid - if I can't deal with a toxic man in one friend group in the US, I could always take some time away and spend more time with another friend group who wouldn't know him at all. Here, everyone knows everyone, and there is no "I don't know that guy" group.


But I would like to see some accountability. Maybe a bit more "dude we're friends so I'm going to be honest - you just treated ______ like crap and that's not okay. Do better." Or not saying "you're so great / you're so cool / you're the best" while a bunch of us are sitting here thinking "no, he's not that great, he literally just went off on ___________ for no reason."


What happens, though, is that there are no real consequences for these men, who then think their behavior is acceptable (again, making it look quite unfairly as though it is the women's fault, not theirs), and everyone but the women gets to go on enjoying a smooth and happy social life. Whereas the women might think, "ugh, do I really want to go out tonight? He might be there, and nobody will have my back. I might even be pressured to be nice to him." So there's no social downside to being a crap dude who's crap to women, but plenty of social downsides for being a woman who doesn't want to deal with being treated that way (and has no intention of  pretending there's nothing wrong or not causing a fuss). 


We'll probably still go, but it creates a whole host of social tripwires, a whole chessboard of thinking "____ is a friend but he doesn't really have my back and do I really want to deal with that right now"...so that the only consequences are borne by the women. 


I'm not sure what else to say, or how to meaningfully address this problem. I can't force people to act the way I want them to. All I can do is point out that there absolutely is a problem.



*I'm using "expat" loosely here. Some of us are expats, others immigrants, but I don't know what everyone's end game is: whether they'll stay in Taiwan forever or eventually move away. I am referring to the community that includes foreign professionals and some students, and their circles.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Reason and reasonability

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This past weekend, I went to Hong Kong and Macau - Hong Kong simply because we like visiting, and Macau for the wedding of one of my graduate school classmates. Because we traveled internationally, we were invited to the 'wedding games' and tea ceremony (where the couples serves tea to their elder relatives and generally receives gifts - mostly in the form of gold jewelry - in return. This is common in Taiwan too, though the games are not as common these days). I was very honored to be invited, as such ceremonies are typically only reserved for close family and perhaps best friends (close enough to be bridesmaids or groomsmen). As someone who doesn't have a Taiwanese family, I of course had never attended such a ceremony. I do have close Taiwanese friends, but not having grown up here means I don't have the sort of 'besties-since-childhood' sorts of relationships that, if they last, tend to lead to one being attendants at each others' weddings.

It occurred to me as I took photos to share - while no professional, I like to think I'm a pretty okay amateur photographer - so that her friends and family as well as our classmates could see, it occurred to me that someone who doesn't know me might think I was taking and posting pictures of a traditional Cantonese wedding (the morning, especially, was done pretty traditionally) to make myself look cool or interesting. You know, look at me, I'm not a boring white lady, I live abroad and have cool international friends and I was invited to this wedding in Macau because I'm so interesting! 

Of course, I know that's all bollocks - the bride is a true friend. She's Good People. But that it even entered my mind that someone who didn't know me but came across my pictures might rush to conclusions...well...

The next day we took the ferry back to Hong Kong. It was New Year's Day, when there is typically a pro-democracy march. This year, apparently over 10,000 people attended, although that number had dwindled by the time I was able to check it out later in the afternoon.

I didn't go.

I considered it, but in the end I stayed away (although I did wear my "FUCK THE GOVERNMENT 自己的國家自己救" t-shirt around the city, just to show some form of solidarity). If it had happened while there was a large crowd I could have gone as an observer, but when clashes with police started breaking out, it would be hard to stand by merely to watch. I'm not a Hong Kong resident and I don't blend into a crowd in Asia - plus, there is a line I try not to cross: while others may disagree, I actually don't think it's a good idea for non-residents to participate in such actions. Leaving aside that allowing this would open the door for hostile countries to send in 'fake protesters' on tourist visas to obfuscate the goals of civil society (as China is very much trying to do in Taiwan), I don't care for the idea of wannabe-do-gooder trustafarians jetting around the world to take part in social movements they might only have a surface understanding of (although of course plenty of people who don't have residence in a given country may be much better informed). I feel this way even about actions I otherwise agree with. 


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So, I stayed away in Hong Kong even though I am quite happy to get involved in Taiwan. Why? Because I'm a resident here. It's my home. After 11 years and a great effort undertaken to stay informed, I think I've earned the right to be active, within the confines of the law, in the goings-on of my home even if I am not a citizen.

And yet it occurred to me again as I sat eating my bhel puri at a Chungking Mansions stand called "Chaat Corner", that someone who didn't know me could well come to the conclusion that I was wearing my "FUCK THE GOVERNMENT" t-shirt, or getting involved in protests in Taiwan (which, as a resident, I am legally allowed to do), as a way of making myself seem more cool and interesting than being just another foreigner who lives abroad and isn't anything special - which is exactly what I am.

That got me thinking even more - why do I feel the need to have ironclad defenses for the things I take part in? Why is it important that the wedding I attended was for a true friend, and why does it matter that I am very nominally involved in social movements (no, like, very nominally) in Taiwan because I care about the country I live in, and not any other reason? Why do I feel the need to explain myself - and my life - at all? 

And I realized - because there seems to be only a very narrow range of "acceptable" reasons for a foreigner - and most especially a white, Western foreigner - to:

- Live in Asia (or abroad in a non-Western country)
- Learn a non-Western language (such as Mandarin)
- Study/learn about a non-Western culture or country, including its politics or even get involved
- Volunteer in a foreign country
- Attend events and functions by and for people of color, including abroad
- Adopt cultural practices of a foreign country, especially a non-Western one

It's not okay, according to this line of thinking, to move abroad just because you are curious or looking for something new. It's not okay to attend a festival just because it seems interesting, and you need to travel, volunteer or learn a language or about a culture for a reason. And that reason has to fall within a subset of "okay" reasons, or you are just another white kid trying to make themselves seem cooler or more interesting at best, or at worst, doing real harm by volunteering when locals could and arguably should do the job better, tokenizing someone else's cultural practices or getting involved politically for the wrong reasons.

You can't move abroad just to move abroad, you need a reason for wanting to go, and it has to be a good one. No "I wanted a little adventure" and certainly no "I wanted to find myself" (barf). "I spent a semester in India and wanted to explore Asia further" is okay. "I wanted to embark on a lifelong career as a teacher and had already started learning Mandarin so it made sense to move to Taiwan" is better.

You can't be interested in Taiwanese politics (as, say, I am) just because it is interesting: you have to have a reason ("This is my home so I care about what goes on here").

I get why that is. There are issues with affluent, usually white kids going abroad to party on a beach, treating every foreign setting as the backdrop of Brad Finds Himself. 

There are certainly issues with these same sorts of people moving abroad for 1-3 years to 'teach English' without actually caring about the country or the teaching profession, or doing the same to 'volunteer' (i.e. taking cute pictures of themselves with photogenic local children and making themselves feel good, but not actually helping). There are issues with privileged Westerners  inviting themselves to events that are not for them, rather than being invited. There are certainly issues with collecting token friends of color to make oneself look 'woke' or 'international'. There are absolutely issues with appropriation: taking a cultural practice that is not natively yours and adopting it simply because it looks or seems 'cool', not because of any deeper understanding or appreciation of it.

So, the good thing about the narrowing of what is an acceptable reason for being involved in a foreign culture is that it forces us privileged whiteys to reflect on why we do what we are doing, what effects it might have and what harm it might be causing that would otherwise be unseen to us. We aren't allowed to be ignorant any longer - we can't crash the party and ignore the stares. We can't stumble hungover up a hill in Thailand and take pictures of "quaint" villages, ignoring the locals muttering about how annoying we are. We can't turn entire towns and coastlines into backpacker holes and pretend that there are only positive impacts to doing so. We can't pretend we are 'different' from any other Westerner abroad simply because we want to be. We can't use other people's homes and cultures to make ourselves seem more interesting without repercussion.

We actually have to think about what we do - and that's a good thing. If you don't have a good reason for doing something, why are you doing it at all?

It also opens the door for something more meaningful. If you are conscious of the consequences your actions may have, you are more likely to form real friendships, be welcomed when you want to get involved, do some actual good when you turn up, and get invited to the party because you are genuinely cool and people genuinely like you.

I know that having to thread this needle - having to have a reason when people asked me why I came to Taiwan, why I stayed, why I'm interested in the things I am - has forced me to reflect on my own past. I don't have a perfect reason for coming to Taiwan. I didn't know then that I wanted to be a career teacher - I was just another buxiban clown with no qualifications or experience other than my native language and skin color, which aren't qualifications at all. I didn't know that I would stay - my plan was 2-3 years. I didn't know that I'd come to genuinely care about Taiwan and make real friends here - that just happened. I really was just a stupid twentysomething privileged white kid who wanted to live abroad for...no good reason at all, other than that I wanted it (although wanting the experience and challenge of living in another culture longer-term and coming to understand it in some depth is not the worst reason, and I did want that, too). Taiwan was my backdrop, and I can't blame any locals who might have found that annoying.

Things changed, but that's who I was. Plain and unvarnished.

I can admit that now, because I was forced to reflect. I'm a better person for it, and I like to think my presence here is more worthwhile - that I am contributing more to Taiwan - for having done so.

On the other hand, taken too far, this attitude could well drive people away, when their minds might have otherwise been opened.

If you hear "god I hate it when people learn Mandarin just to seem more cool or interesting", and you'd previously been considering learning Mandarin, are you going to sign up for that class or not? Especially if you don't have a good reason yet, other than pure curiosity? But if you don't sign up, you are one more whitey who never learned Mandarin.

If you hear complaints about Westerners treating the rest of the world like their vacation playground - which I admit is absolutely a problem - but rarely anything positive about going abroad to learn about the world, are you more likely to get on that plane and go learn about the world, or stay home, afraid your travel isn't ethical enough, because you haven't got a good reason? How do you then get out of your bubble and see what the rest of the world is like?

If you had the idea to try living abroad for awhile, but were told you could never be of any use or make any contribution, that doing so would be for personal gain while harming the country you lived in, would you do it? What if you were told you could move abroad, but only for a specific set of right "reasons" - and if you didn't have one, too bad so sad, but you had to stay in your bubble (and then be criticized for not knowing more about the rest of the world)?

How would you develop an interest in anything beyond what's in the bubble of what you already know?

If you are constantly told that every use of a cultural practice not natively yours is "appropriation" (which is definitely not true, but there are people who believe it), are you ever going to come to understand another culture if you stay away from it all? Even if you move abroad, how will you ever pop your foreigner bubble if you avoid any habit that is just common and natural in the country where you live because you are afraid it's "appropriation" to use chopsticks or take your shoes off inside, or do anything you didn't grow up doing?

At some point, I do wonder how reasonable it all is. We Westerners are privileged as a class, yes, but we are also imperfect as individuals. We can be better, but we'll always be flawed.

It is reasonable to expect I had a good reason for coming to Taiwan, but unreasonable to expect me to conjure one up retroactively. Dishonest, even. I didn't have a good reason, and the best I can do is admit that now. I suppose that could cause some to think I shouldn't be here at all, but this strikes me as unreasonable as well: despite my early blunders, I do have a life here. Friends - which make up my local roots - cats, work, marriage, a home.

I suppose you could expect everyone to craft a finely-wrought reason for their interest in a foreign language, culture or country. At what point, though, does that too become dishonest? Constructing a reason that sounds right - no matter how accurate - rather than just speaking plainly?

I guess what I'm trying to say is, I appreciate the modern emphasis on considering why we do the things we do, pushing us to think beyond the personal satisfaction our actions bring, but also the consequences they might have. It forces us to consider our role in the world, and what good or harm we might be doing where these issues of race, class, privilege, culture and politics intersect. It makes us come to terms with the fact that the rest of the world is not an exotic backdrop to our personal journeys, and other cultures don't exist for us to pick and choose from to make ourselves more interesting.

And yet, good reasons sometimes come later. I have good reasons for staying in Taiwan now, but I didn't have a good reason to come here. I have good reasons to work on my Mandarin and my Taiwanese now, but I didn't have a good reason to start learning it. I can say I was not simply interested in seeming cooler or more interesting, but you're free not to believe me. I have good reasons to be involved in Taiwanese civil society now, or at least write about it, but I didn't have a good reason to start.

Because I am not unblemished, I'm not going to judge anyone too harshly for not having a good reason for learning Mandarin - it is better, I think, that they learn it for whatever reason than that they don't learn it at all (if they learn just a little bit to seem like a Cool White Guy, chances are they have other character flaws too and I'll likely stay away. But I wish them well on their language-learning journey).

I won't come down too hard on folks who don't have a good reason beyond bumbling youthful curiosity for why they ended up in Taiwan. That was me once. Maybe they'll make something better of themselves. If they never do, again, that's probably indicative of other character flaws anyway.

If I meet someone who seems to be in Asia for the sole purpose of seeming more interesting than he or she actually is, chances are I won't find them that interesting so what I think of their 'journey' is a moot point. Maybe their eyes will eventually clear - I hope so.

And if not, well, that will become apparent in time. If Brad can't quit it with dressing like a cross between Confucius and a Thai fisherman and talks about 'the East' as though there are gong sounds constantly in the background, that'll make itself clear soon enough. There may well be natural consequences - being excluded, not being made to feel welcome, wondering why one has put down few if any local roots. If these don't work, and the situation is clear, maybe then it's worth speaking up.

In short, you don't need to be perfect. You don't always need a perfect reason - your reason might come later. But you absolutely do need to reflect.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Young Taiwanese are leaving Taiwan in record numbers, and the reason why WILL SHOCK YOU!

Oh wait, no it won't.

The reason why is they want fair pay and reasonable hours. 

"Why is brain drain such a problem in Taiwan?" these articles always ask.

It's because pay is too low and hours are too long.

"OMG China is benefiting from the brain drain!"

Well yeah, because even though the hours there are long and the work culture generally terrible, at least you're being paid better to bend over and take it. If they could earn a competitive wage in Taiwan they'd probably stay.

"How can we resolve the brain drain problem?"

This article could have been written in four words:

FAIR PAY, REASONABLE HOURS

It's not rocket science, jeez. 

"Maybe we could solve it by attracting more foreigners?"

No.

Fair pay, reasonable hours. We are not your excuse or your get-out-of-jail (I hope literal, actual jail because some of these employers need to go to prison) free card to treat workers like garbage. 

This article seems to think China is 'trying' to woo these talented young Taiwanese. 

Maybe, but it hardly matters. It wouldn't work if Taiwan offered labor a fair shake. Most wouldn't choose to work in China if they could get - you guessed it - fair pay and reasonable hours in Taiwan. Bosses who aren't incompetent morons and a work culture that affords autonomy, a voice and a sense of purpose - maybe even the chance to grow and develop in what you do - wouldn't hurt either.

But most people would probably settle for fair pay and reasonable hours. 

This guy who somehow became a professor (wonders never cease) is not only condescending but also wrong.

The cost of living has been rising yet wages have not, which directly affects purchasing power. The difference in pay in Taiwan doesn't reflect the cost of living accurately, at least not anymore. It has nothing to do with choice of career - a total misdirection - and he doesn't seem to go anywhere with his education data.

Basically, he totally misses that Taiwanese are leaving not only because they want fair pay for the hours they work, but also to work reasonable hours. 

* * *

Nobody - at least nobody that I can find - is reporting on the basic facts:

How do you solve Taiwan's brain drain? 

Fair pay and reasonable hours. It's not rocket science. 

But working overtime helps Taiwanese earn more!

Sure, but that's because they're not earning enough now. Few people who earn enough money wish to work themselves to exhaustion. They're doing it because they need to.

OMG the low birth rate!

Yeah if people earned more they'd have more kids, anyway when they're working all the time there's no time to bone.

Again. Not rocket science. 

But why are they leaving???

LOW PAY AND UNREASONABLE HOURS

So how do we get them to stay??

FAIR PAY AND REASONABLE HOURS. 

Guys. Seriously. Come on. Quit it with your nonsense, spinning webs of words around this very simple problem that literally a monkey could solve.

Most people don't want to leave their home country. Some do - they tend to be the adventurers or those looking for something different. Many return, a few don't. That's OK. Some find the lifestyle abroad suits them better, as I did. But most are happy to stay in the country where they are from if that country is more or less a comfortable/good/safe/friendly place to live. Their friends, family and community are here. They wouldn't leave if they could get good work for fair pay at reasonable hours.

So Jesus Monkey-Juggling Christ, if you want to keep them offer them fair pay and reasonable hours.

I'm not even joking about the monkey. If you devised a test where on one side they had to run on a treadmill for like 12 hours (a typical Taiwanese work day) for ten peanuts, and on the other, they had to run on a treadmill for 8 hours for 20 peanuts, the monkey is smart enough to choose the better option.

Like...seriously. How is this hard? 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Our Own Worst Enemies

As the fight for the opportunity to apply for dual nationality for all foreign professionals (and I hope someday all foreigners, including laborers) grinds on, I've noticed something about the pushback against this goal, who is against it, and why.

I started caring about dual nationality when I came to the realization that I wanted Taiwan to be my permanent home rather than a place I called home for a portion of my life before eventually leaving to live elsewhere. This happened soon after receiving permanent residency and realizing that, despite the word "permanent" in the name, that it would not be sufficient to make it possible for me to actually remain in Taiwan. I've gone over the reasons before here: the one-sentence summary is that retiring and living out my days in Taiwan will not be possible without the ability to buy an apartment, access to a pension system and ability to build a credit history. I can't do any of these things - either legally or simply because foreigners are discriminated against - with permanent residency alone.

When I began talking about this issue, I expected disagreement from locals. After all, it's their country and I moved here as an adult. It's to be expected that some Taiwanese will have a vision for their country that does not include our truly living here permanently, or that despite the fact that Taiwan is not the monoculture that people often think it is, that they might not want a more diverse or multicultural society. While I disagree with this, it is a possible viewpoint, and people are entitled to have opinions regarding what they want their country to be like even if I disagree - and even if their perspectives, if implemented, would hurt me directly. Most of my supporting points to my dual nationality argument addressed this assumed opponent: that Taiwan is already diverse (with data to prove this), that those who would seek to attain dual nationality would be fairly small in number and the vast majority are already here, so it wouldn't really change much in terms of the makeup of the Taiwanese citizenry but would be life-changing for us, that sort of thing.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that, on the contrary, Taiwanese people seem to generally have no problem with the idea of dual nationality for foreigners like me (a lot of the latent anti-foreigner sentiment is aimed at Southeast Asian migrant workers, however, and I do not mean to excuse this). In fact, most people I've talked to had assumed it was already possible, and the reason that so few foreigners had dual nationality was because we hadn't applied, not that it was impossible. Although I'm sure the local opponents in my mind's eye exist, I have yet to meet them. Even within the government, the main issues seem to be a lack of prioritizing this issue coupled with fear of the unknown, not open opposition to the idea of dual nationals who do not have some sort of "Chinese" origin.

Instead, I have been shocked to learn that the most vocal opponents of dual nationality are other foreigners. 

I still struggle to understand why. It often comes across as long-termers crapping on other long-termers out of some sense of assumed superiority. I can't think of a reasonable reason why I have never met a Taiwanese person who opposes dual nationality - and I have talked about this with people across the political spectrum, from deep blue KMT to Hoklo nationalist to moderate to Sunflower - and yet have come across so many foreigners in Taiwan who do.

All I can say is that this attitude hurts all foreigners in Taiwan, hinders our progress, and shows a lack of understanding of how this issue is viewed locally, and hinders what sort of local assimilation is possible (although I do agree that total, perfect assimilation is not possible at this time - there are still a lot of assumptions about what a Taiwanese person looks like for that to happen right now).

With this in mind, here are a few of the points I've heard these anti-dual-nationality foreigners raise.

The most irritation iteration of this belief is the "superiority complex", that is, other foreigners in Taiwan who think that dual nationality is not necessary because we should be happy and willing to stay here and contribute as much as possible to Taiwan without asking for anything in return - and that to ask for immigration policy that matches the rules for born Taiwanese (who are allowed to hold dual nationality) is a selfish thing to do. I suspect people who hold this particular view see themselves as somehow selfless for putting up with a pointless and unnecessary double standard. That perhaps unrequited love for Taiwan - because Taiwan's immigration policies do not love us back - is somehow noble or right.

I reject this on its face: asking for fair-minded immigration policy in which both born and naturalized citizens have the same right to dual nationality is not selfish, it is asking simply for what is fair. It does not mean we don't want to contribute to Taiwan, or that we are here to mooch or that we want to get, get, get without giving. I don't think there is anything noble about accepting a system that discriminates against people like me. I don't believe in continuing unrequited love out of some sense of selflessness - that's just not what selflessness is - and I certainly don't believe in unconditional love. I am deeply uninterested in the "I'm A Better Selfless Foreigner" game.

This is also a strain of thought in which people who oppose something tend to think of those who want more rights, or fair rights, to be "entitled" (whereas they see themselves as "selflessly giving and working hard") rather than just normal people reasonably pointing out problems and unfair policies in a system created in China in the 1920s which does not suit 21st-century Taiwan. All I can say is that when I fight for fair immigration, I'm fighting for their rights too, not just my own.

There are also the Straw Man Foreigners, who seem to think that supporting dual nationality means supporting anyone who shows up at the airport immediately being able to apply for citizenship. This is an obvious straw man - nobody thinks that - so all I'll say is that the general consensus seems to be that eligibility should begin after one has had permanent residency for at least 5 years. That's a 10-year commitment to even apply, and that seems quite fair to me.

There are also those who defend unsupported ideas: for example, those who believe that opening up dual nationality would cause a flood of people to come to Taiwan, or who think they are defending Taiwanese people whom they believe generally do not want many naturalized dual nationals. I've already covered the latter issue: it is simply not the case that Taiwanese people are generally against dual nationality for naturalized citizens. They are defending a viewpoint that is in the minority, acting as stewards of "what Taiwanese think" without actually considering what Taiwanese think.

Regarding the former issue, there is little evidence to support this. There aren't even many permanent residency holders, and the eligibility for that has opened up considerably. It was easier for my husband to apply just recently than it was for me to apply in late 2011! There has not been a corresponding uptick in foreigners moving here - most who come do eventually plan to leave, and those who would apply for dual nationality are generally already here.

This group also tends to ignore the blatant double standard of allowing dual nationality for one type of citizen (those born here, and those of Taiwanese or Nationalist diaspora ancestry who want to come here) but not another (those not born here whose ancestors did not flee China in the 1940s). They ignore the fact that someone who has never set foot in Taiwan but whose grandparents fled China with the Nationalists to some other destination can very easily get Taiwanese nationality without giving up their original citizenship, but those of us who have lived here for years cannot. They also ignore that people who were actually born and raised here are still considered "foreigners" despite their having a stronger connection to Taiwan than many who do qualify for dual nationality.

And, of course, they ignore the fact that, if China were ever to annex Taiwan, that foreigners who have renounced their original nationality will essentially be stateless - there is no way that China would give them citizenship, not that they generally want it. Taiwanese would end up becoming Chinese citizens, which sucks, but is marginally better than being stateless. Those who think renunciation is reasonable generally fail to think through this potential - if unlikely - scenario.

There are also those who think that they understand the lives of those who want dual nationality enough to assume that permanent residency is sufficient for them (which I've covered above), or that renouncing their original nationality is not too much to ask. I've covered the latter in previous posts, but the short of it is that, beyond the potential for statelessness should China ever annex Taiwan, if I give up my original nationality I have no way to return to take care of family long-term - and work at the same time, which I would have to do because I am not wealthy - should the need arise, which it probably will. A subset of this group has either already renounced and therefore thinks everyone is equally able to do so, or renounced but reclaimed their original citizenship and doesn't care that not everyone can do that.

Related to this, there are those who think dual nationality is not deserved because we wouldn't "fight for Taiwan" should it become necessary (yes, this an actual 'argument' I've heard). Leaving aside all of the issues related to this - fitness and training to fight, for example - this is exactly backwards. I personally would want to fight for a country that would give me citizenship, but don't see why I should fight for one that won't, and I doubt Taiwan would even allow non-citizens to take up arms in wartime. I'd even argue that naturalized citizens would be more willing to stay and fight than some locals who, given the chance, would leave at the first bomb drop.

And, of course, there are those who think that only superhero-level foreigners should be granted dual nationality, as though nothing short of renouncing all worldly attachments and going to work in a village in the mountains (and conjuring up food and shelter with no money, apparently, because in this scenario the selfless hero doesn't need to work?) is good enough. This argument tends to deify missionaries - as though they do what they do out of pure selflessness rather than for their ultimate goal of winning more converts to their religion - and kick down those foreigners whom I think deserve dual nationality the most: the ones who were born and raised here. It prioritizes those with an institutional advantage - a large religious organization paying their bills - and closes the door to anyone who does not believe in religion.

It also dismisses the contributions of regular foreigners to Taiwan which are similar to those that Taiwanese citizens make, and spits on the value of work, even though regular work is a part of what helps an economy grow, and there should be no problem with being financially independent, supporting oneself, being a part of the economy and paying taxes.

Again, I'm not sure why thee anti-dual-nationality foreigners make these arguments, or how they can make them sincerely, but that they do so shows that we are our own worst enemy: the problem is not merely convincing Taiwanese that we are worthy. They seem to be mostly already convinced. It's not only getting the government to act - although that is also important - it's that some foreigners here want to hold others back for no reason - well, no good reason - that I can think of. I'm not interested in this whole "I'm a better foreigner because I don't want equal rights" or "they're better foreigners because the church pays for them to be up in the hills helping the poor whereas you pathetically have to work to earn money to live like a loser" or "you're so selfish and entitled for wanting a fairer system" game.

It is especially odd, seeing as they'd benefit from increased rights and fairer immigration policy too. If they didn't think it was important or didn't want or need it, fine, but then the sensible course of action is to not get involved. But to actively oppose people like you working towards something better? To want to continue the double standard? Why? I really don't get it.

I just hope we get what we want - fair-minded immigration policy - despite this inexplicable attitude from our own.

Fortunately, we don't need their support, and from my discussions with locals, we already have considerable local support.