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

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Discrimination against foreigners by Taiwanese businesses rises due to COVID-19 (but there's good news!)

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Point #5 says that foreigners are not allowed to enter this nightclub.



It's become apparent in recent days that several businesses in Taiwan have begun to discriminate against foreigners, using COVID19 as an excuse. They are either outright refusing service to foreign customers, or requiring foreigners (only foreigners - not Taiwanese) to provide passport and flight details. In some cases, this is due to rumors that COVID19 carriers had visited these bars, although some of these stories have turned out to be false.

Most recently, The Bird in Tainan has published a long, pointless rant defending its banning of foreigners from the premises after receiving complaints on the anti-foreigner policy in the screenshot above.

Such policies are discriminatory, and acting on them is is illegal (a friend who is a lawyer pointed out to me that the policies themselves are not actionable but if they were caught turning away a foreigner simply for being a foreigner, that might be.)

Drunk Play, in their recent discriminatory post, says that foreigners showing passports is required by the government in English, but not in Chinese. This leads me to believe that they are aware this is not a government regulation, or it would be in both languages.

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They are also illogical, as most people who have entered Taiwan from abroad in recent weeks have been Taiwanese. Foreign visitors are not currently allowed in, and the foreign resident community isn't traveling much. We're not the ones pouring in bringing COVID19 with us. Most new cases have been Taiwanese returning from other countries, not foreigners. It makes no sense to target us.

Though I'm avoiding using the word "racist", there is a racial element to the discrimination. A Chinese-speaking person of Taiwanese heritage with a foreign passport who had recently been abroad would certainly not be checked. A foreign resident who has not left Taiwan in years probably would be, even if they had an ROC ID (a very small number do). Such policies absolutely target people based on their appearance.

It's also illogical. With visitors banned, most foreigners currently in Taiwan are residents. That means we've probably entered Taiwan on an ARC/APRC, not our passport. We would therefore not have entry or exit stamps, nor flight details to share if we haven't flown recently. I'm not sure what they could possibly ask for if these establishments tried to enforce such policies. I wonder if some of them assume all foreigners are visitors who have such stamps, and haven't even considered that Taiwan has a long-term foreign community.


This trend seemed to start in restaurants and bars, but is now making its way to hotel and airbnb rentals:


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Here's the good news: since the foreign community began complaining about the discriminatory policies, some of the businesses implicated have either taken down the posts stating that foreigners would receive discriminatory treatment (I have screenshots but will not post them if the policy has been changed), or issued corrections and apologies (update: here's the most recent policy change and apology).

This is exactly the point of speaking up: directly calling out discrimination and requesting that policies be changed can work. The goal is not to hurt these businesses - we're all facing difficult times during this epidemic and nobody wants to make that worse for anyone else - but to spur positive change. It also serves to put other businesses on notice: if such policies become widespread, we will notice, we will respond, and we will tell our local friends. I don't want this to become a trend, so we have to put a stop to it now by making it clear that the foreign community will not tolerate it.

Before changing their policies, two of these establishments said they were "merely following government policy". If it had been one of them, I'd assume it was a face-saving excuse and nothing more. But when the second business said the same thing I started wondering: is some bad actor spreading disinformation? Is this an intentional campaign (not by the government) that has convinced a few business owners that these policies were necessary? Did some Youtuber blame foreigners for COVID19, causing this reaction?

Here's another restaurant doing the same thing: Indulge Bistro is requiring foreigners to provide entry stamps on passports to be served.


They don't seem to realize that, because foreign visitors are banned from entering Taiwan, almost every foreigner in Taiwan right now is a resident. We enter on our ARCs, not our passports, and most of us use e-gate. That means the vast majority of foreigners do not have entry stamps.



They do not require the same thing of Taiwanese - though they do say they won't serve you if you've traveled in the past 14 days, there is no stated requirement for Taiwanese to prove this - only foreigners. This is a form of discrimination.

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Some establishments have still not gotten the message despite complaints on their Facebook page for several days: Abrazo still has language up on their Facebook page that discriminates against foreigners. 

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This part (體溫檢測超過 37.5°C則謝絕入場或上班,並要求到外籍客戶入店消費前,也需出具有清楚標示最近一次入境日期的護照證明正本) says that people with a temperature over 37.5C are not allowed to enter, and foreign customers must produce a passport with a clearly marked entry stamp. 


If they want to be safe and check travel histories, there are blanket policies they can create which cover everyone, not just foreigners. These would be more effective, as most people who have traveled in the past 14 days and are now in Taiwan are Taiwanese.


My gym requires everyone to sign in, leave contact information and record their temperature. This is quite fair, as the policy applies to everyone. This would be a better approach for these businesses, and I strongly urge them to change their policies immediately.
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This is one of the apologies in question.
Clearly, calling out these establishments has a positive effect!

Generally, I feel welcome in Taiwan and I do believe that most Taiwanese are happy to have a dedicated foreign community here. However, actions like this make us feel very unwelcome indeed. If Taiwan wants to retain its reputation as a friendly and international nation, this sort of attitude must stop.

So far, the businesses in question are mostly bars and nightclubs, although some other business have been implicated as well,  including a hotel in Tainan rumored to have refused a room to a foreigner, saying "you should be in quarantine".

Another hotel in Guguan, a pharmacy and a popular dive shop in Taiwan have also been found announce discriminatory policies (e.g. only serving Taiwanese citizens, only selling to foreigners online, or allowing bookings by Taiwanese who've traveled recently, but not foreigners). However, after discussion with the various owners, these have generally been cleared up.


This pokes at a deeper fear that a lot of foreign residents in Taiwan have: what if Taiwan faces a medical triage situation? Again, I'm aware most Taiwanese would not treat me any differently than a Taiwanese patient, and I don't expect priority treatment. I'd be more likely to let those in greater need be treated first. But what if I am assigned doctor or nurse who decides on their own that caring for me is less important, because I am a foreigner?

It's unlikely, but not impossible. This attitude does exist in Taiwan, as these businesses have shown with their anti-foreigner sentiment.

Has a business in Taiwan discriminated against you, as a foreigner, due to COVID19? Do you have proof? (I can't name names with a story). Let me know - I'll add them to the list of places that do not welcome us and are hurting Taiwan's reputation as a country that values equal rights for all residents.

It is important that we call out these discriminatory practices, and more importantly, that we request changes. Although Indulge and Abrazo have yet to respond, and the complaints about hotels and airbnb bookings are just coming in. Ideally, the government would circulate a public service announcement that discriminating against foreigners who are not in quarantine and reside here legally is not okay and may even be illegal, to counter whatever fearmongering the people engaging in this practice are absorbing. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Coronanxiety

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Not at all related to the post. I just figured we all deserved a nice picture of a fancy tea set. 


We're all feeling anxious these days. That should be so obvious that I'm not sure why I'm writing this at all. Maybe someone will read it and realize they're not alone - that's the best I can hope for.

Knowing that most people reading this are in Taiwan or connected to Taiwan in some way, my guess is that your anxiety is similar to mine: not so much fear of bodies piling up due to the CCP Virus - the government seems to have the actual spread pretty well under control - but worrying about our loved ones abroad, and what will become of the Taiwanese economy, and our jobs, at the end of it all.

And, yes, anxiety over a possible lockdown. If community transmission becomes apparent, we can be sure a lockdown will shortly follow, before it can get out of hand. 


On top of that, I've been dealing with diagnosed generalized anxiety for almost a year now, though frankly I've probably had it longer than that. Alongside the pressures of working full-time while writing a dissertation, the CCP Virus has been poking at that anxiety nonstop.

So yes, I've been worried about all those things, but I've also found that wearing a mask triggers my anxiety. It's something about having my face constricted, with breathing made more difficult. It's a feeling of being trapped, and it freaks me out. I've been known to rip my mask off and stand in place so I can just breathe. I'm able to breathe physically in them, but psychologically being able to breathe is a different matter entirely. Oddly, wearing one without a cover is worse than slipping it inside a cloth barrier: the softness of the cloth helps mitigate it somewhat.

It's a difficult position to be in when I want to support the social ritual of donning a mask to show we're "all in this together", regardless of whether or not they're effective (I have no idea if they are, but as an obstacle keeping me from touching the lower half of my face, it can't hurt). But, when I wear a mask for too long, I can't actually function in the society where they've taken on this symbolism. I find myself staying home more for this reason.

Besides, when I've tried to go out without one, as I don't think the risk of infection is serious enough to warrant it all the time, I've been asked why I'm not wearing one, or made to answer for my whole country, or all Westerners: why aren't they wearing masks? Don't they know that masks can help?

I usually don't feel like representing my entire country or hemisphere (yes, I realize people of color in the West are faced with this expectation all the time and if anything, it's a privilege that I am usually not). I truly don't feel like explaining to strangers that I have anxiety and the 'trapped' feeling of a mask triggers it. It's rough.

I have no easy answers for that, other than to mentally prepare myself for donning a mask every time I go out - it does help. So does practice - short trips with a fixed end time when I know the mask can come off. I walk when I can, as bus and taxi drivers are likely to ask questions if I don't wear a mask, and it's straight-up weird not to wear one on the MRT these days. In any case, I'm not in confined spaces with random people if I'm walking in the open air.

The anxiety also tends to fold in on itself: that I have anxiety about the CCP Virus makes me feel anxious, so I'm anxious about my own anxiety. I bet that's a familiar feeling for many.

Let me pile on some cliches: there's also the waiting for the other shoe to drop: Taiwan's been doing a great job, but we're not out of the woods yet. I feel like - if there's going to be a lockdown it would be more mentally reassuring if it just happened already (not that I want it to, but the waiting is almost worse). If the economy is going to ruin us all, I don't want to feel like that's a future thing for me to stew about in the present. It's like a tsunami coming in. Sure, you're safer when the tide is going way out, but watching it recede, you know the massive wave is coming in. For Taiwan, that'll probably be an economic shock, but honestly we could also start to see that dreaded community transmission.

It's so weird reading about how the rest of the world is falling apart and economic collapse is surely coming, when life in Taiwan is more or less normal. A bit more teleconferencing and a lot more masks, but otherwise there's been minimal disruption.

And while this country feels safe, it's not a great feeling to know that so many of my loved ones are not as well-protected. Their governments are failing them, and one of those governments is the one I vote for, the one my citizenship is tied to. That I jumped ship to a country that actually knows what it's doing was purely a matter of luck. 


On top of all of that, I'm trying to write a dissertation. I can do that from home, and do videoconference interviews. But I worry about the operations of my university, how preoccupied my supervisor surely is, and frankly, I don't even have the free time to sit and work on the damn thing. And anxiety over that is also folding in on itself, so I'm anxious about the dissertation and anxious about my anxiety over the dissertation.

So what am I doing about it? Rather than taking medication more regularly (I don't have to take a daily pill) and staying home more, with low lights and pleasant music rather than radio broadcasts from the US, where it sounds like the zombie apocalypse is upon us, I've found that approaching it like a frontierwoman helps.

In addition to stocking up on non-perishables, making a few jars of pickles and filling my freezer with blanched fresh vegetables has kept my hands busy and helped convince my wayward brain that it's doing something useful and proactive. It helps. We have a few weeks' worth of food, and healthy food at that. If the lockdown never comes, we have lower grocery bills for awhile, as we weather the economic storm.

I've been focusing on Taiwan's excellent response, not just from the government but the people. There is a sense here that "we're all in this together", and I see people being generous and forgiving with each other more than cruel and opportunistic. It's calming to witness, as I watch the US government outbid state governments for medical equipment, people steal masks from hospitals, Chinese cities steal masks from each other, the UK deciding that it was okay for lots of people to die (a decision they reversed too late) and the US government floats the same idea, so that rich people can stay rich.

In Taiwan, the government is doing its job, people are doing as asked, businesses are starting to take precautions (as opposed to risking lives). It's not perfect but if I focus on the local situation, I can wake up every morning not wondering what fresh hell awaits.

Yes, bus drivers have asked me why I don't wear a mask, when I just can't take it anymore. But, rather than hector me, one gave me an extra mask he had. 


Oh yeah, I've been drinking a bit more frequently (though not more heavily) too. I have a list of people that I would be happy to see get the CCP Virus (Xi Jinping is at the top of it. Trump and Mitch McConnell are there too). One guy on my list already has it, though that's not entirely good news.

Basically I'm also a dark-hearted person.

So, just in case you thought I was dealing with this in only healthy ways - I'm not! 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

On immigration, Taiwan does the right thing - and Tsai Ing-wen is the leader of the free world

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Bad idea, guys. 



Super hot breaking news!

The Bureau of Consular Affairs has just announced that visa waiver, landing visa and visitor visas will automatically be extended by 30 days, with no need for further application, as long as the total stay does not exceed 180 days.

The Mandarin announcement is here, and here is the English.

The government may re-evaluate the policy as circumstances require. That's good news - it means that if the pandemic continues, the period can be potentially extended. 


Note that if you are one of the few people who has been able to extend a 90-day visitor visa, this probably doesn't apply to you, as the visa plus extension would be 180 days exactly. 

This is phenomenal news, you guys. Unlike the 'voluntary departure' program which was trying to get people to go home on their own, this gives people an explicit option to stay. That's safer for them and safer for the world, and doesn't hurt Taiwan. They are already here, they are not known carriers, and because their stay in Taiwan is contingent on the government's beneficence, they are probably not going to go around violating quarantine and being jerks.

It's also truly amazing that the government took this step, given the animus some have shown towards COVID19 carriers who have arrived in Taiwan, with some taking a "name and shame" approach, saying they 'deserve' it for traveling abroad. It can be expected that some of this anger may be directed at foreign visitors, and indeed some have asked whether Taiwan 'owes' these visitors anything, even though almost all of these cases have been from Taiwanese citizens, not foreigners. 


That shows a truly progressive and compassionate side to the current administration's policies which should be praised. 

I have to admit, I teared up a little at the news. This helps at least three of the people in visa limbo who I wrote about, including the Honduran man who cannot marry his Taiwanese partner (I asked). In a world that feels like it's off its hinges, with some people being cruel when it wouldn't hurt them to be empathetic, this is the right thing to do. Taiwan doesn't officially or ethically 'owe' visitors a thing, but it shows striking kindness to do it anyway.



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There's a surgical mask under that flowery cover

Not a lot of countries would do this - most seem to want foreigners gone as the pandemic rages - but Taiwan did. It deserves credit for that.

Is Taiwan doing a perfect job? No. It probably should be testing more people, and it absolutely should not deny testing to anyone with symptoms - whether or not there is community transmission yet, we're not going to know if there is if we don't test the community more generally. The fear and confusion over immigration issues also caused a lot of anxiety.

However, I would still say it has the best possible response. It has been more pro-active, more empathetic, more sane, and more calm than any other country - to both citizens and foreign residents - than just about any other country.

On that note, President Tsai - at this point, the true leader of the free world - calmed the nation while warning us all that the next two weeks were critical, especially in terms of preventing the onset of community transmission.

What I glean from this is that this 'second wave' of imported cases was expected, that the government does feel there is hope to stay the course, but also that they expect a spike in cases in the next two weeks, with possible community transmission. This was a calming, unifying speech but also a somber warning.

That doesn't mean we should panic. It does mean that instead of panic-buying, we have a week or so to slowly start building our lockdown pantries. My advice: don't go for the items people are panic-buying, like instant noodles. Most of us don't have yards we can exercise and get sunlight in. Do you want to emerge from quarantine or lockdown as a pale, sickly and heavily-salted blob? No? Then fill your freezer (or buy a portable freezer) with fresh vegetables (some of which need to be blanched before freezing, stock up on freezable or canned proteins (beans, tempeh, tofu - the latter two freeze well), a variety of healthy grains and whatever you need to make it all taste good. Stuff for soup, items high in nutrients (especially Vitamin C). Stay healthy.


Finally, a quick note about "blaming".

If we are talking about actual COVID19 cases, I agree with Tsai that we shouldn't be blaming those who contract the illness. It's a pandemic - getting sick should be stigma-free.

It should be obvious as well that blaming "China" isn't helpful. Chinese people have suffered under the CCP's mismanagement of the pandemic as much as the world has, and the CCP is still lying about it. I will never condone calling this thing the "Chinese virus" (yikes) - it perpetuates racism against Chinese people rather than accurately blaming the CCP, and frankly is exactly what the CCP wants. It makes them look like victims when they are in fact perpetrators and makes it easier for them to put a favorable spin on their horrible, world-endangering pandemic response.

However, I've noticed an uptick in the number of people who might be critical of the CCP at other times (or not), who seem to specifically not want to blame anybody. That, I disagree with - fighting racism doesn't mean refusing to lay blame on a government whose actions merit it - being too soft on the CCP is harmful in its own way as it allows their behavior to continue (including a disinformation campaign that is, in fact, working). We can, should and must blame the CCP. Do not let them off the hook. Do not be kind. Blame and shame, and shame and blame some more. Play the blame and shame game.

I'll quote a lot here as the article is paywalled:


We must all be specific in blaming the Chinese Communist Party for its actions. It was the CCP that hid the virus outbreak for weeks, silencing doctors, jailing journalists and thwarting science — most notably by shutting down the Shanghai lab that publicly released the first coronavirus genome sequence.
The Chinese people are heroes in this story. Chinese doctors, researchers and journalists risked their lives and even died fighting the virus and warning the world. The Chinese public’s community solidarity holds lessons for us as our own situation worsens. The Chinese are also victims of their own government’s draconian measures, which caused massive extra suffering.
“It is critical to remember that the Chinese people have no meaningful say in the measures taken by their government,” said Christopher Walker, vice president for studies and analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy. “In the haze of authoritarian information curation and disinformation now coming from Beijing, we can’t lose sight of the massive authoritarian governance failure at the global pandemic’s point of origin.”
This is not just about the coronavirus; it’s a crucial point relative to our whole approach toward China. Our beef is not with the Chinese people; our problem is with the CCP — its internal repression, its external aggression, and its malign influence in free and open societies.

We should blame the CCP not only for their own pandemic response, but for actively keeping that information away from the world, by putting the WHO so far into their pocket that the organization ignored early warnings from Taiwan, a country they routinely exclude (again paywalled - here's the money quote):


Health officials in Taipei said they alerted the WHO at the end of December about the risk of human-to-human transmission of the new virus but said its concerns were not passed on to other countries. 
Taiwan is excluded from the WHO because China, which claims it as part of its territory, demands that third countries and international bodies do not treat it in any way that resembles how independent states are treated.

Fight the virus, yes. But don't pretend there's no reason to blame anyone. The WHO has been actively harming human health, and the CCP is a global threat in more ways than one.

Blame them. Do not shy away. Do not pretend it makes you a better or more high-minded person to soften the blow. It just means you're not helping to hold the perpetrators accountable.

They should burn for this, so make them burn.

I want to end this on a positive note, so - stay safe everyone. I suspect Taiwan is in for a bit of a ride in the next two weeks, so be prepared but do not panic.

This country has been a global leader through the COVID19 fight, and is used to dealing with CCP lies. You are safer here than anywhere else, and most of you who were afraid you'd have to leave now thirty extra days.

You are in the country that is now the de facto leader of the free world, governed by the woman who might just be the most competent president on Earth right now.

As one of the only leaders in the world handling the crisis well, while maintaining freedom, human rights, compassion and empathy while holding strong and calming the nation, she has shown an ability that is unmatched. I wouldn't want to be under anyone else's leadership in this time.

What does that make her if not the leader of the free world?

Her government tried to warn the entire human race, and were ignored. They were the leaders the world needed before anyone realized it.

Maybe the world should realize that, and recognize Taiwan.

Be safe and stay strong.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Thoughts on the "Expanded Overstayers Voluntary Departure" Scheme

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I cannot imagine a poster with more Taiwanese-style design choices



I'm still forming a full opinion on this, so my position is subject to change.

At the moment, Taiwan has a program running where visa overstayers can voluntarily turn themselves in until 30 June 2020. They'll pay a minimal fine (NT$2000) and face no detention or entry ban.

Please be aware: anyone caught by authorities will be subject to full penalties which may include a ban on re-entering Taiwan. That includes being caught at any time, including the "voluntary departure" period.

There is no promise that the immigration authorities will not conduct checks during this period, and if you are caught you will be deported with full penalty. 
In other words, this program isn't aimed at helping you stay - it's aimed at convincing you to leave by making that option relatively painless. The government is not saying "you can overstay your visa", they're saying "you can't overstay your visa, but if you do, we'll make it easy for you to get out".

Therefore, "taking advantage" of the amnesty program is a huge risk. Do this at your peril: I can't in good conscience advise it. If you are an overstayer, you may get caught, and you may be deported.

It's quite clear that if you turn yourself in, at that time you will be expected to leave, so this is not a "you can stay" program. It's a "if you leave on your own before we catch you, we won't punish you" program. Bear that in mind.

On one hand, this is more than most countries do for people whose visas are running out, or who may be in the country illegally. It feels like a very 'Taiwanese bureaucracy' way of saying "in practice, you can theoretically stay until 30 June, which is our intention, but we have to pretend to be tough on immigration for appearances' sake".

It's not perfect and it doesn't reduce anxiety, but we really must recognize that the vast majority of governments would not do this. Taiwan did. That counts for something. 



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It also gives them leeway to decide to extend the program for as long as the CCP Virus rages. So, there is humanity in it. It offers options to some of the people who otherwise might have none.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the CCP Virus will have abated by then (do not believe the data coming out of China) and no guarantee that the program will be extended. There's no guarantee that a cheap, regional visa run will be possible at that time.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people it doesn't help. People trying to get paperwork through that would allow them to stay legally, but won't be processed by the time their visas run out and might have to wait out the CCP Virus in a far more dangerous country where they might not have a clear place to stay aren't offered much here. People who do regional visa runs (like the Honduran man in my last piece who wants to marry his Taiwanese partner, but can't) can use this program as an unofficial extension, but face uncertainty after that date. Illegal workers, especially those who are scraping by in Taiwan, might not have the resources to leave if they do turn themselves in.

What bothers me about it, I suppose, is that philosophically it's still in the "go home!" camp, and a lot of people facing visa issues in fact consider Taiwan home. As a supporter of open borders, I'd prefer a "you are here, we'll shelter in place together" approach. Instead, it's a kinder form of trying to kick people out.

Allowing all landing visa holders to convert to a visitor visa would be the real game-changer, as those visas would start running out at about the same time, but would grant temporary legal status rather than giving people anxiety for choosing to overstay. It looks a lot less "strict" but it would be a more progressive approach.

And yet, at a time like this, can I really expect a perfect response? 


It's hard to say I like this approach, but I have to recognize that it's a slight improvement in the situation with some practical benefits.

However, it really doesn't solve the issues faced by those who are affected by the travel ban as their legal stays in Taiwan start to expire.

Thoughts?

Thursday, March 19, 2020

In Limbo: foreigners hoping to build lives in Taiwan face uncertainty with the new travel ban

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The Taiwan CECC (Central Epidemic Command Center) announcement on Wednesday that all non-resident foreigners would be barred from entering the country sent shockwaves across Taiwan’s international community due to the CCP Virus. Many who had hoped to enter Taiwan, or who are here legally on landing or tourist visas and had hoped to stay, were caught without many good options. 

On a positive note, the government’s explicit clarification that foreign residents would be allowed to enter was a relief. While it’s unlikely we would have been banned, policymakers have a tendency to forget that the foreign community exists, leaving us confused and anxious whenever a new policy doesn’t clearly state whether we are included or not. That they thought of this signals a welcome change.

However, many foreigners in Taiwan who do not have legal residency are now finding themselves difficult situations. While regular tourists can be expected to leave, not everyone fits that category. There are those who are here legally as job seekers, engaged to marry a resident, digital nomads, and others who wanted to fly in to be with family but now can't. 


I asked a few of these people if they'd mind sharing their stories, and they've agreed. From employment, to marriage, to pregnancy to keeping families together, there are so many ways that the new policy has impacted foreigners, in ways the government likely never considered.

Here are some of their stories. 

(More stories are coming in, so I'll update as that happens.)


Trying to marry as the window closes


D. is a resident in Taiwan, working in the tech sector. A Hungarian national born in Serbia, he is engaged to an American woman who has been staying here on landing visas. He can stay, but she can't, once her visa is up. It's highly unlikely that "we're planning to marry" would trigger an exemption, but of course it would be safer and better if they weathered this pandemic in place, together.

They've looked into speeding up the wedding, but the thorny issue of his nationality makes obtaining the necessary certificate of single status difficult for him to obtain, at a time when de facto embassies here are dealing with bigger matters. The TECO office in Hungary also serves Serbians (there is no office in Serbia for political reasons), but he has no contacts in Hungary who can send him the needed certificate. It is easier for his partner, who should be able to go to AIT if they're not completely overwhelmed.

They are currently planning to try to get the required document for him from the Hungarian embassy in Taiwan so they can register to marry before her visa expires, but it is still unclear if that will be possible.



A high-risk pregnancy and delivering alone

M. is single and carrying a high-risk pregnancy which is due in 4 weeks. Her mother was scheduled to fly to Taiwan for the delivery, was willing to do the mandatory quarantine and even moved her flight up. She was going to get here this Saturday - which was not soon enough before the travel ban took effect.

Due to coronavirus concerns, only one family member - and yes, they must be a family member - is allowed in the delivery room. M. has no family in Taiwan, so she will deliver alone. She also lives alone, and can't afford a post-partum hotel, so while she'd been looking forward to having her mother there during her recovery period, now she'll be living alone for that time.

She doesn't know when her mother will be able to get here. 



Family reunification


S. and S. are permanent residents in Taipei, but their daughter A. lives in London with her boyfriend, whom she met while attending international school in Taipei. They've been together 6 years. The daughter and her boyfriend want to return to Taiwan to stay with S. and S. (the boyfriend's parents currently live in China, and he is American by nationality). Because the option to get permanent residency for the children of permanent residents was only recently made available, A. missed that window and has no resident visa.

S. says that A. and her boyfriend attempted to get visas, giving the reason that they want to be with family (official or otherwise) but were turned away.

"I don’t know when I’ll see her. I wish they had ARCs. It doesn’t seem fair, because this is our home now - we both have APRCs. This is the only home she has, besides her apartment in London," S. says, and she clearly wants her daughter with her.



Newly-Hired Limbo


For those hoping to teach in Taiwan, a background check from their home country is necessary for their first job. For subsequent jobs, if they haven't been out of Taiwan for too long, a Taiwanese background check is sufficient. Of course, the home-country checks take forever because Western governments just can't get these things right. The Taiwanese check is cheap and takes a day or two.

C., an American, had had a home background check done for a previous job, but that was awhile ago, so it's no longer valid. He's now back in Taiwan and had been job hunting on a landing visa (which is not really encouraged, but is quite common). He has a job offer with all other paperwork complete, but the employer needs a background check from the US, as this will be his first stint here on a work permit. Background checks can take a very long time indeed, though there is an option to expedite. An expedited check under the best circumstances takes a week. With the West in the throes of a pandemic, who knows how long it will be?

C's landing visa runs out on March 29th. Work permit paperwork takes 5 days. So, he has until this Monday - that's two working days - to figure this out and get his paperwork submitted.  That won't be possible, clearly. Normally one would just take a weekender to a nearby country to restart the landing visa and pick up the work permit after returning, but with the borders closed to all non-residents, that's no longer an option for C. - which was announced just a few days before his hard deadline to get the paperwork through, or leave.

C. isn't sure what he's going to do, or if going to the immigration office, hat in hand, with a letter from his new employer and copies of his work permit application materials, will be enough to have an exception granted (this is easier for Canadians and British people but not as easy for Americans). He can try, but his future is uncertain.



Love, Interrupted

W. is from the Honduras, and his partner, D., is Taiwanese. Although same-sex marriage is legal in Taiwan, Taiwanese can only marry foreigners if it is legal in their partner's home country as well (due to reasons I truly do not comprehend). Honduras, of course, does not recognize marriage equality, so W. and D. cannot marry in Taiwan. This also means that D., a Taiwanese citizen, cannot access a right that should be guaranteed to him by the government.

For now, W. is a "visa runner", but would prefer not to be. He just wants to marry D. and stay in Taiwan, but due to a quirk of the same-sex marriage laws, that's impossible. He's in a position he never wanted to be in.

That's not grounds for an extension or exception as, on paper, W. has no 'reason' to stay as there is no permanent situation available to him.

His visa runs out in 15 days, and he will have to go back to Honduras. After that, he doesn't know when he'll be allowed back into Taiwan, or be reunited with D. to continue their lives together.



Trying to Contribute to Taiwan

A. had been working with an American non-profit and an existing organization in Taiwan to self-fund his teaching of English and Art courses to Indigenous children. When the CCP Virus broke out, both sides backed out, and then the borders closed after he arrived. A. now has 81 days to find a way to legally stay in Taiwan.



The Uncertainty, and the Happy Ending

H. moved to Taiwan with her husband and had been planning to do a visa run to Macau to get a proper visitor visa and get her spousal visa paperwork in order. Now, if she leaves for Macau she won't be allowed back in, and while she may qualify for a special exemption, she's not sure at all.

G., who is British, and his Taiwanese wife had been living in Europe. His job ended, they had no desire to live in the UK especially after Brexit, and have ties in Taiwan, so it made sense to come back now. G. came in on a landing visa, and had planned to get another one after Christmas, giving them time to get the spousal visa paperwork through.

Then coronavirus hit, and their options began to narrow, as flights kept getting canceled to potential destinations. Travel clearly wasn't going to work. At that point, about a week ago, they went to the immigration office to ask for an extension, given the circumstances. Then the travel ban hit, and without an answer they were obviously quite nervous. If his extension were rejected, he'd have to go to the UK to wait out the pandemic, where he hadn't lived in some time.

Fortunately for G., he got word today that his extension was approved and he will be able to stay in Taiwan.

All I can say is,
 don’t assume an extension won't be granted - come up with a good reason and ask. Make sure you have enough time so that they can consider your case. Bring evidence. Get back-up. Fight for your right to not die. 

A lot of people are going to get screwed by this travel ban, but I hope that despite its tough talk, the government will be lenient with granting exceptions to those who have extenuating circumstances. These foreigners are already here, so they are not a risk. They want to build a life here and have the means to do so.

The CECC surely did not mean to tear apart families when it formed this policy; they were trying to do what was best for the country. However, we must ask that they consider the impact this has on foreigners in Taiwan, and re-evaluate their visa extension and exception rules. 

Good luck to everyone. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Data and Lore (a COVID-19 story)

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Does this mean...I'm Wesley?


I had always imagined that, living on an island, I'd feel trapped if disaster struck. There are no borders to cross, only open sea. I know it's not a reasonable worry: land borders can also be treacherous, but knowing your only options are a plane or a boat (and probably not even a boat) rather than a truck, car or your own two feet can honestly induce claustrophobia.

So, while the world around us seems like it's collapsing, I'm surprised by how wrong I was in predicting my own feelings about island life in a global catastrophe. Thanks to Taiwan's pre-emptive, centrally-planned and intelligent response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel like I'm living in an island of safety, calm and normalcy in a world gone mad.

I am not terribly concerned that Taiwan will be felled by COVID itself. Even if there is a spike in cases, the time the country bought itself through a strong, early and professional response will be priceless: it is time Taiwan has had to prepare for that potentiality, and considering how they've treated the issue so far, we can be fairly sure they've been using it wisely. 

People are doing their part too - for every anecdote I hear about someone not practicing good pandemic hygiene, I see 20 people who do.

Of course, my confidence extends only to health. I worry quite a bit about the economic backlash. We have enough savings to weather a brief storm, or even a somewhat-prolonged quarantine, but what about an interminable economic crisis? A lot of my clients are businesses, and when the economic crash really hits, the first thing they're going to cut is English training. My teacher training work might see an uptick, but it's honestly hard to say.

Let's not think too much about that, though. There is literally nothing I can do about it except spend less on non-essentials. Once it was clear that climate change was real, I never expected the second half of my life to be easy anyway.

So, what has Taiwan been doing right? I won't write out a whole list because there are lots of places where you can read about that: see here, here, here and here. Suffice it to say, a large component of Taiwan's response has been data collection and public regulation. Most notably, for certain people quarantines are mandatory, and everyone that person had been in contact with might also be asked (or required) to quarantine. Quarantined individuals have their phones tracked and are notified if the government can see there is a violation. The CDC calls them every day (though this is a lot friendlier than it sounds). Isolated people report their temperature online once a day. All face mask production lines were bought up (in essence, expropriated) by the government, and masks are now rationed. Huge amounts of personal health data - including masks purchased - is tracked on National Health Insurance cards. Some public transportation, including all Kuo-kuang buses and all airport MRT trains - require face masks.

This gives the government a massive amount of data to work with, which has some fantastic benefits. There is an app (which is a bit difficult for foreigners to use) that can track which pharmacies will have masks, how many, and when. Apparently one can now pre-order masks. Potential disease vectors are swiftly located and locked down to prevent transmission.

Watching the news from the US right now, where the response seems to be to run out in the street screaming and flailing one's arms, it sure feels like they could learn a lot from the way Taiwan has handled this, starting with universal health coverage.

On the other hand, I have to wonder how much of this Americans would realistically put up with. The scale of data collection really is astounding. If you are identified as a risk, you lose a lot of personal freedom - both in terms of data privacy and freedom of movement. It is, to be honest, a lot to ask.

This is the point at which a different writer might start waxing rhapsodic about Confucian societies and collectivism and the people are more willing to submit to authority because 5,000 years or...something like that.

I won't.

This is a country where people set their sights on overthrowing a dictatorship and succeeded. Where protests are practically a hobby and producing protest gear a side hustle for many. Where your average person would be pretty upset if they couldn't day drink under their favorite temple awning (or in front of their favorite convenience store). Where an entire generation of people under 40 defied their elders by voting for same-sex marriage. There's no Confucian about it and I'm sick of the trope.

Instead, I'll say this: as an American, I'm fine with the level of intrusion into my personal life and willing to give up the data. I suspect - though don't know - that most Taiwanese are too. Not because of some 'different, exotic Asian values' fake East-West divide (a divide that online trolls really seem to push, which is how you know it's fake).

Rather, most Taiwanese are okay with Big Government  right now because this particular circumstance is a true emergency, because they know that this particular data is useful and important for a centrally-coordinated response to work, and because they trust this particular government. 

While we can heave a sigh of relief that this government was re-elected (for a peek into how a Han administration would have handled it, you need only look at Trump's non-response), unfortunately, this perspective doesn't offer many solutions for what to do when you don't trust the government. I don't often agree with libertarians but they're right about this: you only want the government to have as much power as you'd be comfortable with them having if you didn't trust the people in charge, because eventually, someone you don't trust will get elected.

In other words, I'll give this information (and power) to Tsai Ing-wen. I would never be happy to give it to Donald Trump. Or Han Kuo-yu. Would you want either of them at the helm of a government that has just taken sole control of key medical supplies? Would you want either of their administrations insisting they had the right to track your location?

All that data, though, has kept Taiwan feeling more like a cozy ark on a rising flood, rather than a prison from which there is no escape. And perhaps, considering that dictatorship existed in Taiwan in living memory so they know the difference between authoritarianism and a centrally-planned response, maybe we should take their word for it that government data collection for this purpose is acceptable?

So what's happening beyond the rough seas? Between many Western countries' totally botched responses - including a massive failure to test leading to rapid, undetected community transmission - and China's repeated cover-ups and lack of reliable data, there is fertile soil for misinformation and fake narratives to take root.

I had opined, when this all began, that such an obvious and self-evidential failure and clear, documentable cover-up on the part of the CCP might just offer up a silver lining: that the CCP itself would fall. That the systemic failure would be so inescapable that they would not be able to control the narrative. I figured it would be so undeniably true to anyone with working brain that China did not "buy time" for the world, but rather that the CCP's initial cover-up is what caused the disease to go pandemic in the first place, that something would possibly - maybe - give to loosen the grip of that brutal dictatorship on a country that absolutely deserves better.

For a brief period, it seemed that the world might just hold the Chinese government to account for this, or at least report clearly on who was to blame  - not China or the Chinese people, but the CCP.

But even before the US botched its response by completely failing to prepare, one could watch the narrative change almost in real time.

First, the media started saying that China "bought time" for the rest of the world, how its "decisive" and "bold"  response - note the adjectives used instead of the more appropriate draconian and inhumane - saved lives, how it "acted quickly"  (see here, here, here, here and here).

I thought when I hate-read these pieces that, yes, dragging screaming people into their homes and boarding the doors is, I supposebold in a sense. But are we really all pretending that the initial cover-up which is directly responsible for the pandemic going global in the first place just...never happened? Are we truly allowing COVID-19's origin story to be re-written so easily?

I'm not the only one who's noticed, fortunately.





Of course, it's difficult to argue now that the US or Europe could have done better, as they have now both failed so spectacularly. The difference, of course, is that in a liberal democracy you can say so without getting shot, and theoretically can put better people in office next time.

I can empathize, however, with people whose governments did too little thinking that maybe the government that did too much - and now claims that cases are in decline - had the right of it. Even if that sentiment ignores the facts. Even if you are in essence saying "it would be acceptable to drag my screaming neighbor into their house, padlock the door and walk away with the key. It would be acceptable to do that to me, too."

These are the same people who think it's un-American to even ask them not to gather in crowds. Do they think China couldn't possibly be as bad as it actually is, or that it's OK to do that to others but "it would never happen to me" or...do they just use the cognitive dissonance like a white noise machine to help them sleep at night? I truly don't know.



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Neither of these are good! 

It doesn't help that the facts are hard to come by. It's honestly surprising to me how many people understand that the US has no idea how many COVID-19 cases currently exist within its borders, but actually believe the numbers from China, despite China's clear history of lying about them. Now people are saying cases in China are on the decline, but can we really trust that, when nothing the CCP has said since the initial cover-up can be trusted? I don't, and you shouldn't either.

The CCP understands this better than anything: in the absence of trustworthy data, you can make up your own lore.

While all of this has been going on, there's been an ongoing discussion of whether calling COVID-19 "Wuhan Pneumonia" or anything relating to its place of origin is racist, as these viruses can originate anywhere. I don't know that changing a disease's name can really combat racism, but it almost doesn't matter. I'm not qualified to say whether referring to Wuhan in the disease's name is, indeed, racist - totally not my lane. I don't use it - it's too long and seems unnecessary. Holding the CCP to account and not treating people in racist ways both seem like more important things to worry about than exercising my 'right' to call a disease by a common name.

 But I will note that in Taiwan it's called 武漢肺炎 (that is, Wuhan Pneumonia) in Mandarin. It's slightly amusing to me that the CCP insists that Taiwan is a part of China, but also that calling COVID-19 "Wuhan Pneumonia" is racist...against Chinese. By that logic, Chinese people are racist against themselves.

Anyway, I've noticed a particularly bit of nasty ret-conning on the English front too.

I support a general push not to stigmatize people by using place names in disease names going forward, but there seem to be a lot of gullible people who now think we've never called diseases that in the past, so "Wuhan Pneumonia" is a unique example of racism on this front. Of course, those same people will still use disease names like Ebola, Nipah, Zika, Marburg and MERS.

Don't laugh - I saw someone arguing that "we've never named diseases after places!" under a chart that included all of the above. So I suppose I consider users of the term "Wuhan Pneumonia" exactly as racist as I would consider users of the terms "Ebola" and "MERS".

It's been disconcerting to watch how the CCP propaganda machine has taken advantage of this confusion.

First, insisting that its response was appropriate and effective. Then, trying to tell the world (and their own people) that we should be grateful. Then, getting behind a call to label everyone saying "Wuhan Pneumonia" racist moving to a general call not to "blame China" (which, of course, runs in tandem with labeling all blaming of the CCP "blaming China" and therefore "racist"). And now, we've got CCP officials spreading rumors that the virus did not originate in China at all.

I still don't intend to call COVID-19 "Wuhan Pneumonia", but I do note that it's a lot easier to convince idiots outside the Chinese-speaking world that COVID-19 did not come from China if everyone's afraid of being called racist for discussing how it absolutely did.

And so from an undifferentiated mess of information - most of which is unreliable as China's numbers can't be trusted - we have a myth of CCP "decisiveness" saving the world. Lore spun from literally nothing into a narrative that credible people actually believe.

I had hoped that cold, hard data would carry the day. That it would be clear what works (a response like Taiwan's) and what doesn't (running around screaming like a hemorrhaging goat like the US). How draconian, inhumane methods like China's are not necessary if there is initial transparency and swift action. I had hoped that this clarity would lead to much-needed changes in how governments operate around the world, from an end to CCP tyranny to drastic changes in the US's broken system.

Instead, it seems that between data and lore, the latter can pose as the former because most people can't tell the difference.

We will all pay the price for it.


Friday, February 28, 2020

My Glass Persimmon

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On a sad day like 228, I want to write something that, while perhaps a bit maudlin, is also hopeful. 

Let me share with you my glass persimmon. 

You can buy them new - they usually come in pairs for reasons explained below - but I found this one at an antique/vintage shop for 30NT (about US$1). 

Foreign friends may not immediately 'get' that this is the sort of thing you're likely to see at your grandma's house - it's kind of an old-style thing. Literally like a kitschy figurine your elderly relative might have around.

Persimmons  are a major agricultural product in Taiwan and are one of many popular fruits for gifts. Most fruits given as gifts have an 'auspicious meaning' and persimmons are no different. They're most commonly grown in the mountainous parts of Hsinchu - they're also found in Taoyuan county around Lalashan - and often eaten dried, like a candy - dried persimmons are exceedingly sweet.

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The word for persimmon (柿子, or shìzi) sounds like the "shi" in 事事如意 (shì shì rú yì, or "everything is going well"). The first character is doubled - I suppose that's why glass persimmons usually come in sets of two. 

You can buy glass fruits of all kinds, but it seems persimmons are particularly common - that's probably because of their appealing flattened circle shape. They make good paperweights and are fairly common as gifts as well. It's traditional to put a little gold leaf inside to signify wealth and prosperity (or perhaps just to look nice). I also personally think the opaque coral-orange color of red persimmons is an attractive choice and works well in glass.

In all my years in Asia, I haven't seen glass persimmons as decorative items - especially in the style of my persimmon - anywhere but Taiwan (though they might exist elsewhere; I haven't been everywhere). They have the same meaning in China, but even the first search result for glass persimmons in Chinese culture comes up with a fancy glass persimmon sold by a Taiwanese company- at a much higher price than I paid for mine! (More affordable options are available). 

I don't really mind that I don't have two. Just the one, on my coffee table, is perfect. 

So why do I like mine? 

First of all, persimmons are an early autumn fruit, in season right around my birthday, which often coincides with Mid-Autumn Festival.

Plus, over the past few years I've spent more time intentionally decorating my apartment to look modern and clean, but with comfy retro and antique twists. Think "Taiwanese auntie with good taste" or, these days, "Taiwan hipster coffee shop". 


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No, really. The decor is totally Taiwan hipster cafe. 

I spent a lot of time putting together a 'vintage Taiwan' wall, and my little persimmon fits nicely in this style. The color contrasts well with all of the blue I tend to use in my decorating. That this type of knickknack is just so typically Taiwan really appeals to me, too. 

But mostly I like the way it feels in my hand. Cool, heavy, smooth, and perfectly circular. I've been dealing with a heavy workload, academic stress and general anxiety over the past year, and it's calming to pick it up and roll it around in my hands. 

(That paragraph is starting to sound like an intentional setup to a "that's what she said" crack, so I'll stop there.) 

It's like this: 2019 and 2020 have been stressful years for me academically. It feels like my dissertation is never going to get done. But my glass persimmon is a reminder that if I just keep doing the work, there is an endpoint and 事事如意 - everything will turn out well. 

And, being 228, it's a reminder that Taiwan has had a long and painful history, a history that many people want to pretend doesn't exist independently (oh, but it does). Even now, it faces general threats from China, and a particular threat to public health from COVID-19. Again and again it's had to rise to meet various challenges - including pushing a foreign dictatorship out of power. Mostly, its efforts and admirable successes have gone ignored on the world stage. 


There's no clear endpoint in sight for Taiwan, but we have to believe that 事事如何 - everything will turn out right in the end.