Showing posts with label living_in_taipei. Show all posts
Showing posts with label living_in_taipei. Show all posts

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Taipei Antique and Vintage Hunting

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Honestly, I think we're all sick of Constant Coronavirus Coverage. Let's talk about something else.

Over the past few years, I have enjoyed giving my home a sort of modern-retro look by decorating with vintage finds of dubious value - I don't really care what a thing is 'worth' as long as I like it, and the price is acceptable. In fact, everyday vintage items of lower value are preferable, as I can use them without worry.

The shops where I hunt these items down are also great places to check out, as we look for ways to get out of the house, possibly while we still can. I'm not talking about the high-end antique shops or the "vintage stores" that sell the clothing I grew up wearing for a Generation Z crowd. I mean the places that sell a combination of old Taiwan and Japan flair (which is what I'm after) and the sort of Western kitsch I'd generously call "Goodwill finds" back home.

I wouldn't want to go to a bar full of people or high-traffic department store right now - not that I do so typically - but these shops tend to be lower-traffic, and they are also businesses trying to stay afloat in an economy that's suddenly turned against everyone.

Since deciding to create that 'vintage Taiwan' feel on a wall display at home, I've had even more reason to trawl my favorite vintage stores, so now feels like the right time to write about them.

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There are surely more than these in Greater Taipei, so feel free to add any that you know in the comments.


April's Goodies (唐青古物商行)
100台北市中正區羅斯福路一段83巷17號
#17 Lane 83 Roosevelt Rd. Sec 1, Zhongzheng District, Taipei
MRT Guting or CKS Memorial Hall
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The entrance to April's Goodies 

With old windowframes and some larger furniture outside, and everything from old Taiwanese dinnerware to teapots to a few vintage clothing items inside, this place is small but packed with quality vintage goods.

Not only did the window with the textured glass on my wall come from there, my glass persimmon did, too.

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(No, I don't know the actual names of vintage glass patterns, I'm not that much of a nerd about it, but this one, the vaguely floral pattern and a reeded or fluted textured glass are the most common textured glass found in vintage Taiwanese windows).


Treasure Hunters (藏舊尋寶屋)
100台北市中正區羅斯福路二段38號
#38 Roosevelt Rd. Section 2, Zhongzheng District, Taipei
MRT Guting

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This well-known store specializing in Japanese antiques looks small when you enter. Then you find it stretches further and further back (with an alley separating buildings at one point), and has an upstairs! A lot of the antiques here are actually from Japan, not Taiwan's Japanese era, but there's a lot here if you want to capture a bit of the Japanese influence of a vintage Taiwanese look. Also, their ceramics and lacquerware are highly sought-after by collectors.


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All three antiques on this bookcase came from Treasure Hunters


Prices may seem high but for a lot of what they have, you'll find it's actually fairly reasonable. For example, I've picked up 1970s vintage Zohiko and Wajima lacquerware here for a song (Zohiko is a brand, and Wajima is a Japanese island known for lacquer), as well as a beloved lacquer tray with a beautifully rendered dragon from Okinawa. The 閑庭百花發 wooden calligraphy board on my wall came from here, too, and wasn't particularly expensive.

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Recently, Treasure Hunters has been holding half-price antique markets in small space on Lishui Street, I suppose to clear out old stock. Follow their Line account to get updates on when they occur.


Qinjing Old Warehouse (秦境老倉庫)
103台北市大同區民樂街153號
#153 Minle Street, Datong District, Taipei
MRT Zhongshan or Shuanglian (but there are buses that stop closer by)


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This tiny shop, crammed with vintage goodness, is where my vintage window grate came from. They occasionally have windows and window grates here, but the real finds at Qinjing are vintage dishware. Small items sometimes go for cheap - I picked up an small ceramic 招財 cat for NT30 here, and some crystal prisms for NT50 each, that I plan to hang in my window to create rainbows my cats can chase around on sunny days.

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Qinjing also tends to be a good place to look for vintage appliances, toys, old brand gimmick items, worn-out funky keychains, wooden signs and the occasional farm implement. I can't even describe how eclectic it is, so I'll let Elmo in a Blender speak for itself.



 

Swallow Used Furniture (Swallow燕子老傢俱)
 112台北市北投區東華街一段438巷4號
#4, Lane 438, Donghua Street Section 1, Beitou District, Taipei
MRT Mingde (Shipai is also walkable)




In a quiet corner of Beitou, just inside a non-descript lane marked by a burst of tropical greenery off the road that runs under the MRT, you'll find Swallow. This place seems to be run by a pair of hipster guys, and you'd be forgiven for mistaking the front courtyard for a junkyard, or the private home of a hoarding grandpa. When I wandered in, it was only apparent that it was an actual shop by the open door and music, and prices on most (though not all) items.
 
It's packed, and it seems tiny, but this place actually has three floors. The first floor is mostly small items. The second floor has more Japanese-era antiques, and the third floor is furniture. Old windows and screens can be found in the balcony off the 2nd floor (as well as in the courtyard).



One of the friendly hipster guys seems to work on creating upcycled furniture, much like W2 (though the look is different).

I picked up a Japanese-style sliding window screen here, but haven't figured out what to do with it yet.

This place is fun to check out in person, but if you don't feel like going all the way to Mingde, they have an impressively organized Facebook page where you can click on albums of their various items, complete with prices, and shop at home. (I don't know if they deliver but they put a lot of work into their Facebook page so they should be accessible by Messenger). If you want to score some old windows or window frames for yourself, their Facebook albums are a fantastic place to start.

Moungar (莽葛拾遺二手書店)
108台北市萬華區廣州街152巷4號

#4 Guangzhou Street Lane 152, Wanhua District, Taipei
(right behind Cafe 85)

MRT Longshan Temple

Moungar is housed in an old brick shophouse half-hidden by a large bougainvillea. Decorative Majolica tiles grace the front and make it an inviting space to enter.

This is more of an antique book shop - their selection of actual antique items is smaller than the other places I've listed. I have a book from them on my shelf - a collection of Pushkin stories.

Even if you don't buy anything, the old building is very much worth a look inside. I don't know if they still serve coffee. 



Aphrodite
114台北市內湖區民權東路六段16之1號
#1-16, Minquan East Road Section 6, Neihu District, Taipei
Not near the MRT - take any of the cross-Minquan buses to get here (278, 556 and 902 also stop nearby)

To be honest, I haven't been here in years, because it's no longer convenient to any of my worksites (I used to have a class in an office not far from here).

Unlike the other antique stores on this list, Aphrodite focuses on European antiques. The other shops sometimes have items from Western countries, but this place looks like your German immigrant grandma's attic. I've purchased old wooden coasters, some glassware and some copper items here, though much of their stock is furniture.


Fuhe Bridge Flea Market (福和橋市場)
Under Fuhe Bridge on the Yonghe (New Taipei) side
Open until noon, most popular on Saturdays
Not near the MRT but many buses stop nearby, including the 275, R25, 660, 254, 672 and 208)


Oh, Fuhe Bridge Flea Market, with your stolen shoes and dodgy goods. With your weird, wonderful weirdness and wonderfulness.

I haven't been here in years either, mostly because I have a private class on Saturday mornings, but I'm told it's still going strong and is a great place for old vintage finds, as you can see from my pictures from 2013. (If you're wondering, I eventually got that Datong fan - did you know they still make them and you can get one new?)

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A few vendors at this market actually hold Yixing clay teapot auctions, so if you trust your auctioning skills and can get in on the fun in Chinese (or Taiwanese), you might get a good deal.

The link in my original post lists a few other flea markets in the Taipei area.


Yongkang Street Jin'an Market  (錦安市場)
106台北市大安區永康街60號
#60 Yongkang Street, Da'an District, Taipei

Honestly, I have less to say about this market. It's full of cool old stuff but it's also been 'discovered', meaning that prices are higher (it's also in a fancy part of town, surrounded by antique stores that sell high-end items).

But, it's worth a stroll-through, and I'll occasionally poke around the various shops, though I don't know if I've ever actually bought anything there.


Facebook Groups

Honestly, some of the most interesting things I've come across can be found in dedicated Facebook groups to vintage shopping. I'm a fan of Grocrery Store (no idea if the typo is intentional, and don't care), 寶島新樂園二手舊貨、古董、民藝 and 二手。古董。老件。收藏。裝飾 but there are honestly tons of choices - join a few and Facebook will suggest more for you.


I will say that I have not actually tried to buy anything from these groups,  but they're great fun for browsing.

Happy hunting!

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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. 

Monday, December 16, 2019

Youbike discriminates against foreigners

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It feels as though every time life in Taiwan for the foreign community gets better - websites improve, companies will take our resident visa numbers rather than saying they're "invalid" - it's inevitable that soon, it'll also get a little bit worse. Two steps forward, one step back.

Today, the issue is YouBike.

The Facebook group Taiwan Foreign Residents' Association confirmed just a few hours ago that YouBike, once open to registration by all residents, including foreigners who have made Taiwan their home, now does not allow foreigners to register their EasyCards for use with YouBike.

Apparently, the reason is that YouBike now offers personal injury insurance, and such insurance is not available to foreign residents, therefore, no new registrations will be allowed (they had been allowed previously).


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Of course, there is no reason why they can't offer foreign residents this insurance. We pay taxes and pay into NHI just as citizens do. Many of us - myself included - also pay into labor insurance. We pay our dues, and deserve equal treatment.

Suggestions from YouBike staff so far have been to recommend that we register with a local friend's information - you know, like we're criminals trying to hide - or have a friend rent a bike for us (because of course, we should all have Taiwanese friends with nothing to do willing to come out and meet us every time we want to rent a bike, and also be available to us at our destination when we return the bike. Yeah, right). The other workaround is to rent one on your bank card with a one-time registration and NT$2000 deposit.

Nevermind that NT$2000 - around US$60 - is a lot of money in the local economy for something as simple as a bike ride. You do get the money back, but imagine if you rented a YouBike every day. Your bank account would be a mess, with that $2000 deposit coming and going daily. Apparently it can take up to 15 days to be refunded, but if you ride YouBike every day, does that mean every 15 days you have to hand the government NT$30,000 in deposits? If you ride it twice a day - say, to and from work - that's NT$60,000, more than the average local salary.

How is someone supposed to stay on top of their finances that way? Do they expect that foreigners will only rent YouBikes occasionally? I know people who rent one every single day. 



The other suggestion, apparently, is to giggle at the person calling because there are no other options.

Let me be clear: this is discriminatory. It is unfair. We have made Taiwan our home. We live here, work here and pay taxes here. YouBike is a government project. It is simply not acceptable to withhold government services to foreigners as though we are second-class citizens. Unwanted, untrustworthy.

Is this the face Taiwan and YouBike want to present to the world? The famous hospitality and friendliness of Taiwan, oh, except you can never truly live here as a normal person, we'll always make life difficult for you for no reason at all?

If Taiwan wants to open up to the world, to be an international nation and Taipei and international city, it must do better. It cannot treat foreigners like undesirable scum. We are not criminals. We work and pay into the system like everyone else, and so we deserve the same transportation benefits as everyone else. Period.

Even tourist deserve better - part of the whole point of YouBike is to encourage tourism by helping people get out of the city. Taipei Magazine routinely suggests tourist itineraries that use YouBike - how do they expect tourists to use it if they can't even register with the EasyCards they're going to get? Do you really think they'll pay NT$20,000 for every YouBike rental on their visit, to be refunded long after they leave? It's ridiculous!

It shouldn't be hard for the time being to create a registration system that opts out all registrants without a National ID. Hopefully the law will be changed to allow residents to participate in the insurance scheme, but for now that would be a sensible workaround.

In fact, what happens if a friend does register for you, and there's a crash? Does the insurance apply? If not, can't you sue, as technically the insurance was activated upon registration? If that's the case, doesn't that just create more confusion? If current users can still access the system, what happens if they are in a crash? The workaround suggestion negates the rationale for the change.

Finally, aren't the format of ARC and APRC numbers supposed to change soon, to match national ID numbers? What happens then? The whole thing is a mess. It doesn't make sense, meaning the reason boils down not to regulatory issues, but idiotic, discriminatory, self-defeating and short-sighted decisions.


Do better, Taipei. Do better, Taiwan. And do better, YouBike. 


If you want to complain to YouBike, you cannot contact them from their website because that requires a national ID card number. ARC numbers are not accepted. But you can email or call them:

City Hotline: 1999, ext. 5855 / 02-89785511
service-taipei@youbike.com.tw

Or, you can send a complaint to the Taipei City government under the "simple petition system" here. You can leave the National ID section blank (unlike on the YouBike website).

I suggest you do all of those things. Let's make them feel this.

This is what I wrote:

Hi, 
I'm writing because it's becoming well-known in the foreign community in Taiwan that Youbike is no longer offering Easycard registrations for foreigners who live here, even if we are permanent residents or otherwise have a resident visa. 
This is unfair and discriminatory. We pay taxes and pay into National Health Insurance (so insurance issues should not be a reason to discriminate). I personally have lived here for over 13 years; to say that I cannot access the same services as other Taipei residents makes me feel like an unwanted, second-class citizen. Is this the face Taiwan and Youbike want to show the world? That they are unfriendly - even hostile - to foreigners? 
Having to put down an NT$2000 deposit is simply not fair for people who have built their lives in Taiwan. We are not tourists. We are *residents* and we live, work and pay taxes like *residents*. We deserve to be treated like *residents*, not "scary foreigners" who can't be trusted. We are not criminals! 
Taiwan must do better, and Youbike must do better.
I am sure that this story will hit the media soon, so I request kindly that the policy be changed as soon as possible to end all unfair discrimination against the foreign community here. 
Best regards, 
Jenna Cody


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

A visit to Academia Sinica's history museum: the good, the bad and the weirdly supremacist

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A few weeks ago, we decided to escape the scathing summer heat and check out the history museum at Academia Sinica. It's a little hard to find once on campus and far from the MRT, but also air conditioned to the point of being refrigerated (seriously, bring a jacket) and best of all, it's free!

We expected a fairly small collection and were surprised to find that the two hours we'd set aside to explore the museum was not enough to see everything - it's far larger than it looks, with lots of interconnected rooms and corridors you don't know are there until you're upon them. We never even made it to the lower level but no matter, it's a good excuse to return.


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One of the coolest things on display: a letter from the Manchu emperor in China requesting one of Zheng Chenggong's descendants (either Zheng Jing or Zheng Keshuang) to leave Taiwan and return to China, written in both Manchu and Chinese

The best parts of the museum were the ones showcasing artifacts relevant to Taiwanese history, like the scroll above. Below, although a scroll announcing the capture of the Yongli Emperor (last of the Southern Ming, after a fashion) in Burma doesn't seem particularly related to Taiwan, it is. If I remember correctly, that was the emperor who gave Zheng Chenggong/Koxinga his title (Lord of the Imperial Surname), and so the Yongli Emperor's rise and fall is directly related to the events that spurred Koxinga to come to Taiwan, and for his descendants to stay on as Ming loyalists for a few generations.


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Here's another one regarding sea traffic between Qing Dynasty China and Taiwan:


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And then we have this, the explanatory plaque for the cover photo of this post:
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This is a request from the "eldest son of the king of Liuqiu" for a new patent and seal, sent in 1654 to the Ming imperial court in China.

Okay, so what? You might ask.

Well, this is exactly the sort of "historical proof" that China routinely uses when making territorial claims on various islands off its coast, most notably the Senkaku islands (not the same as the Ryukyu islands, but nearby). Of course, they also claim the Ryukyu islands, including Okinawa.

This is relevant to Taiwan not only due to these islands' geographical proximity to Taiwan - some of them are actually off the coast of Taiwan, not China, including Ishigaki and Yonaguni, which are closer to Yilan in eastern Taiwan than either Japan or China. It also matters because the Republic of China (you know, that old colonialist windbag of a government currently on life support as the official government on Taiwan - yeah, that) tends to claim everything China claims. The ROC officially claims the Senkakus - Diaoyutai in Chinese - just as China does, as well as those islands in the South China Sea. I think all of that is completely ridiculous, but, anyway, it's a thing.

(As far as I know, the ROC does not claim the Ryukyu Islands, but I could be wrong.)

The museum also has a large collection of rubbings of stelae and other large engravings. Many of the original stone and metal artifacts have been lost; some I presume are still in existence somewhere in China. To be honest, although these are valuable pieces, they come from various parts of China and are not directly relevant to Taiwan. So, while I enjoyed looking at them for their aesthetic beauty, they weren't of particular historical interest to me. Which, of course, does not mean they're not worthwhile. Not everyone has a laser focus on Taiwan the way I do.





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Yes, I made a joke about "full-surface rubbing". Because I'm 12. 

One of the great things about this museum is that everything is rendered in competent English. Although the National Museum of History, for example, has more artifacts from Taiwan's Austronesian past (which makes up the bulk of its history, but is often ignored due to a lack of recorded history), but no English. It's also clearly designed for adults, whereas the National Museum of History is more of a place to take your kids for the day.

On the other hand, there is a tendency in the information on items in the collection to expend way too much verbiage on the archaeological processes or techniques used to unearth the artifacts, or how the artifacts were made (see the tutorial on "full surface rubbing" above) and not nearly enough - if any - telling the stories behind the artifacts or what we can learn about history from them. 


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Here's a prime example. We learn what kind of shells these were (the shells themselves are not very photogenic), and why they matter, but we don't learn anything about the bits that are actually interesting: what kinds of ornaments and tools were they and what were they used for? What were the consumption habits of ancient Austronesians living in Taiwan? What was the ancient environment like, and what were the harvesting seasons? All we learn are that archaeologists have ways of finding these things out, but we never get to read about what they learned.

The most egregious example of this - and I wish I'd taken a photo - was an ancient scroll described as having something to do with some 'lama drama' in Tibet. I don't remember exactly, but it briefly mentioned that one lama could no longer be lama and was stepping down, and another lama would take his place, all written to the imperial court.

Cool, but it seems like there's a real story there! What happened? Why'd the first lama step down? That would be an interesting thing to know, and also an engaging narrative to really get visitors interested in the colorful history behind these items, but we never find out.

Here's another:

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Interesting! What was the discrepancy? Do we know why? Any hypotheses? Also, who are Kao Lishi, Pan Yan and Zhang Shaoti, and why do they matter?

We never find out.


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I'd also be interested in knowing more about the cultural underpinnings behind the use of human teeth as ornaments.

But, we don't learn that either. We do learn quite a bit about how archaeologists unearth all of this stuff, though.

This is a minor complaint, however. If even that - more a kind suggestion that perhaps there are more engaging ways to put together a museum collection, which it would be fully within Academia Sinica's ability to implement. Think about it, guys?

If you thought that was critical, wait 'til you hear what I've got to say below.


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I already knew that in minority communities in China, the men tend to dress in ways that imitate the dominant group (that is, Han Chinese) whereas women are more likely to wear their traditional clothing, because men were more likely to leave their villages and mingle with society at large, and would want or need to 'fit in'. These days, that means men from these communities in China are more likely to dress in Western clothing, but women might not. In fact, here are some of my old photos from my life in Guizhou, China, when I went traveling in the countryside:

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I'm sorry they're not that clear - I only have hard copies. A friendly local in Kaili offered to accompany me on my travels and helped with translation, so all of these photos were taken with the permission of the subjects.

What bothers me is this:

"'National tradition' reinforces the unification of nationality yet at the same time represents a backward past."

Excuse me, but what?

I get the notion that the dominant group - Han Chinese - often view minority communities as "backward" but what's up with saying that in a way that takes it at face value, rather than interrogating it? Why would you drop that word in there as though it's a legitimate way of describing the cultures and histories of these groups?

The same goes for "the unification of nationality". "National tradition" in China only exists as it does because the authoritarian government there decided it would be that way. They decided to promote the notion of all citizens of China as Chinese, sharing the same blood, language, traditions etc. They - not some amorphous, societally-agreed-on force - decided to treat 'ethnic minorities' like adorable living museum exhibits with cool costumes, existing mostly as people the government can point to and say "see! China is tolerant and diverse!" while treating them in very intolerant and marginalizing ways. Or, if not that, as entertainment for domestic tourists who show up as visitors to their festivals and surround them with audio-visual equipment without their consent.

That's not "national tradition", it's a form of cultural assault. Come on Academia Sinica, how are you not even questioning it or highlighting how problematic it is?

And that's not getting into how none of the clothing of minority groups on display looked particularly similar to what I saw in China - I'm willing to let that be, as a lot of those groups are actually quite differentiated, and dress styles may vary even between nearby valleys, let alone longer distances. 


If you think that was a one-off, poorly-translated information panel, get a load of this: 


Untitled

It says:
Under the impact of modern nationalism, 'nation' has been defined as a group of people with common physical traits, language and culture persisting through generations. Since the early twentieth century, scholars have investigated native cultures or traced the migration and diffusion of various peoples for the purposes of identifying and classifying nationalities in China, providing a basis for carrying out national policy, and illustrating the unity of the Chinese nation. 
Based on ethnographic and historical materials, non-Han natives in southwestern China have been classified into twenty-five minority nationalities. The identification of nationalities and the concomitant principles of national policy and education have changed traditional relations among the natives and also the relations between the Han peoples and the natives.

I just...excuse me? The Chinese doesn't seem much better to me, but a native-speaking friend looked it over and said the Chinese is, in fact, more acceptable, but still. Excuse me? 

First, I'm not sure calling them 'natives' is a great idea. Don't we have words with fewer negative connotations? "Indigenous", perhaps?


Second, "common physical traits"? If by "modern nationalism" you mean the kind of ethnocentric nationalism that got us into world wars a century ago, sure. But these days we can talk about nationalism as a shared cultural and historical identification - which can include immigrants who come to identify as part of that society - or perhaps as a group of people with shared values and principles of how they'd like to exercise self-determination. So I really don't know what to say there. I have a friend who doesn't share "common physical traits" with Taiwanese who nevertheless is a citizen of Taiwan now. There is a pathway - albeit a narrow one - for me to become a citizen someday as well, and it is not possible to look less Taiwanese than me. Taiwanese themselves don't have that many "common physical traits" - having backgrounds from Indigenous to Han Chinese to non-Han Chinese to modern Southeast Asian and beyond - unless you think all Asians are the same (they're not, and indigenous Taiwanese are Pacific Islander anyway.)

In any case, that sounds like making an argument for biology determining political destiny and I'm sorry, that's just not on.

And no, saying so is not a "Western" idea. Taiwan is diverse and multicultural too. Always has been. The same is true for China. Plenty of Taiwanese, including indigenous Austronesian Taiwanese, Southeast Asian immigrants who have married and settled here, Hakka who have also been historically discriminated against and a good number of 'dominant' Han Chinese have been pushing for more acknowledgement of Taiwan as a nation bound by shared identity and cultural and political values. That's coming from them, not 'the West'.

Third, and most importantly, is Academia Sinica really justifying the study of minority cultures in order to enact national policy that seeks to assimilate those cultures? To either turn them into groups who willingly subject themselves to being seen as costumed, dancing entertainment for Han Chinese, or to eviscerate their cultural heritage altogether in the name of "national unity"?

Because seriously, that sounds like something the Communist Party of China would write, and it's really not cool. Taiwan doesn't need to have museums with exhibits that follow the same ethnocentric, jingoistic, nationalistic, supremacist garbage logic that the Chinese government puts out.

I don't think Academia Sinica is intentionally writing supremacist placards for their museum collection. Either it's a failure of English translation, or they are in dire need of updating but nobody's really taken that on. In any case, it's time to do some updating. Imagine if a foreign visitor who can't read the Chinese or doesn't have a well-connected local friend to discuss these things with goes to this museum and reads the English here - what will they think? That the English doesn't clearly express the sentiments of Academia Sinica, or that Academia Sinica has supremacist views on indigenous peoples?

We can, and must, do better. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The case for why Taiwan is the best of the 'Asian Tigers'

I needed a cover photo that screamed 'Taiwan' so...here you go. 


As we enter the 2020 election season in Taiwan, I've been hearing a common sentiment from people I've talked to  - not just friends but students and random people I chat with in my daily life. Anecdotally, support for Tsai's re-election is strong, but there's a general sense that the economy is 'bad', and Tsai hasn't done that much about it. I've also picked up on a sentiment that Taiwan continues to lag behind the other 'Asian Tigers' - while nobody is jealous of Hong Kong these days, there is some envy of its status as an 'international city', and I hear jealous yearnings to be as well-off and nice as South Korea and Singapore.

It's easy to see why, on the surface. Let's be honest - South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong all look so much...shinier. The public spaces and roads look better-maintained. It just feels like there's more money floating around. 


This is reflective of two pieces from 2018 and one from 2016). So while I can't measure the strength of this sentiment, I can say with confidence that it's a thing. 

But you know what? I just don't think it's true.


It's not that the data are wrong. Salaries are in fact low. Business do take conservative investment approaches (and I personally feel that they do not invest nearly enough in talent, nor do business owners trust the talent they hire to innovate.) I'm not sure that Taiwan's GDP per capita is lower than the other Asian Tigers as CommonWealth claims - at least in this data, it beats South Korea. And none of this from the Today link above is wrong, per se:


But Taiwan did not woo multinational companies to set up facilities, as Singapore did. It did not develop a financial centre like Hong Kong’s; or establish large conglomerates or Chaebols, the way South Korea did. 
Instead, Taiwan is home to many small and medium enterprises, known as original equipment manufacturers (OEM), making devices at low cost for brand-name companies. The island became a high-tech powerhouse in the 1980s on the backs of these OEM manufacturers.... 
Today, young Taiwanese face dim job prospects. They have been dubbed the “22k” generation — a reference to their minimum monthly salary of NT$22,000, which works out to just over S$1,000. Youth unemployment is more than 12 per cent [I checked that number, and this website confirms it as does Taiwan Today and the government], and many young Taiwanese are disillusioned.

But I'm just not buying that this makes Taiwan 'the worst' of the Asian Tigers or somehow 'left behind'. Here's why.

First, the same things have been said about Hong Konger, South Korean and Singaporean youth - 'bleak prospects', 'disillusioned', 'low salaries', 'can't afford to buy a home', 'no future'. Salaries for young workers are low around the world - Millenials everywhere can't afford to buy property at the rate their parents and grandparents did, and Taiwan (and Hong Kong, and Singapore) is no exception. Taiwan's economy is slower than it once was, but that's true everywhere

Yes, a crude comparison of salaries shows higher pay in the other Asian Tiger countries, but Hong Kong and Singapore suffer from such high living costs that I doubt youth - or people of any age - who get jobs there actually enjoy a higher living standard.


Poverty and Inequality

In some metrics, Taiwan actually wins out over every other Asian Tiger. Looking at wealth inequality, Taiwan's GINI coefficient is 33.6 (the lower the number, the better). South Korea's is 35.7, Singapore's is 45.9, and Hong Kong's is a whopping 53.9. Although the numbers are getting a bit dated, Taiwan's poverty rate is stunningly low, at 1.5% (though I wonder how much of that is massaged by people of meager means living with family). In contrast, South Korea's is 14.4% and Hong Kong's is 19.9%.

Singapore doesn't provide data (seriously, check that link above). Thanks to journalist and Twitter buddy Roy Ngerng, however, I was able to find a few reliable sources that estimate poverty rates in Singapore to be a whopping 20-35%. 



Yup. 

So hands down, Taiwan wins on equality - despite lower salaries, you've got a much lower chance of ending up indigent. Given the lower cost of rent in Taiwan than Hong Kong and Singapore, even if you do end up struggling financially in Taiwan, you can live a little better. There is no way, as a teacher, that I could afford the three-bedroom downtown flat I have in Taipei if I lived in any other Asian Tiger nation.

Although there's some contradictory info on purchasing power coming up, I'd also argue that the overall lifestyle in Taiwan is simply better. Coffin homes are not a thing, nor are cage homes. All of these countries have inexpensive food if you eat like a local,  but I've found that you can get more value for money in Taiwan (with South Korea as a close second). Overall, those little things that make life easier when you're broke are just a bit easier to come by here.

Is that not worth the trade-off of a few unsightly buildings? Would you not give up your glass skyscraper dreams to have more flexibility in your lifestyle? Just because a city looks a little ganky around the edges doesn't mean it's not wealthy.



Healthcare

I also want to take a look at healthcare - a lot of my data comes from here. Hong Kong's public hospitals have preposterously long wait times for procedures you can get done quickly and cheaply in Taiwan. The only way around them is expensive private hospitals, which not everyone can afford. South Korea's benefit package is quite narrow; a great deal of medical services are simply not covered. Singapore went through a process of privatizing hospitals, with mostly negative consequences, including increased cost to patients. Out-of-pocket expenses in Taiwan are similar to Hong Kong's (for better service) - they're higher in South Korea (due to so many uncovered services) and far higher in Singapore (due to privatization of hospitals, I suppose). While Taiwan does have a fairly high rate of private insurance, mostly purchased by wealthier people to supplement NHI, this doesn't make up for differences in out-of-pocket expenses.

After putting all that together, I'm gonna call it: Taiwan's got the best cost-to-benefit ratio of health coverage among the Asian Tigers. You won't be worrying about uncovered services like South Koreans, waiting years for basic tests like Hong Kongers or paying out-of-pocket like Singaporeans, and t
his is all despite having fewer doctors per 10,000 people than any of the other three countries. 


A free society

There are also personal freedoms to consider. Although I can only speak anecdotally, living in a society as free as Taiwan's counts for a lot. Again, South Korea is the closest comparison here. Hong Kong, on the other hand, is simply neither democratic nor free. Aside from the recent protests, the government is ultimately beholden to Beijing, and activists, publishers and journalists disappear (or are attacked or murdered) on the regular. In Taiwan, activists are mostly free to agitate for change. In Hong Kong, you're brought to trial and found guilty. Attend a protest - exercising your basic right to free speech and assembly - could get you fired. Singapore isn't wracked by protests (at the moment) but is absolutely an illiberal state where peaceful assembly and freedom of speech are so strictly controlled as to not exist.

If you're not a political activist, you may not think this is particularly important, but just try having a dissenting viewpoint one day, and realizing you can never voice it without potentially dire consequences. What if you want to be a journalist, political analyst, writer, artist or even academic, and find that your ability to speak truth to power is limited or outright censored? It does matter. 


South Korea offers similar freedoms - public demonstrations are popular there, as they are in Taiwan.


Work culture

When I first visited Seoul in 2003, I stayed with my now-husband in his (paid-for) flat in a nondescript building, in a nondescript part of the city. The buildings stretched on and on, and they all looked basically the same. They had huge numbers painted on them so you could differentiate your building from the others at a glance. It was all a bit sterile. These days, I'm given to understand that many companies provide identikit housing for their employees. When we returned in 2014 for a visit and had to catch an early shuttle to the airport, I noted as the bus snaked through downtown Seoul that the streets were full of Korean men in identical black suits (with the occasional navy-clad rebel), carrying similar briefcases, with similar haircuts, going to similar jobs in similar cubicles in similar office buildings for similar companies, and they were all made out of ticky-tacky and they all looked just the same


In other respects, I love visiting South Korea. I have to admit that Seoul went from a city that looked a little, shall we say, crumbly around the edges (sort of the way Taipei looks now) to something more similar to Tokyo between my two visits. People certainly revert to expressing individuality outside of work hours. But I think this samey-samey work culture would just destroy me.

Looking at numbers, Hong Kongers work about 50.1 hours/week on average, or 2,296/year according to a UBS study. Singaporeans clock in at 2,334 hours/year, or 45.6 hours/week. The results here don't quite add up as some say Hong Kongers work longer hours, and others say Singaporeans do (and neither yearly average matches 52 weeks of work at the weekly average). In any case, both are higher than Taiwan.

I can't find weekly averages for South Korea, but they appear to be at the top as well, at 2,069/year. Taiwanese are right to complain about their long working hours, but they're actually lower than the other Asian Tigers (2,035.2/year). 


Sure, just as the quote far above points out, Taiwan did not turn itself into a financial center or international business center like Hong Kong and Singapore  - but its wealth inequality is lower, which is quite possibly a direct consequence. It did not set up chaebols (massive conglomerates) the way South Korea did. But I've spent a lot of time in corporate offices in Taiwan and I can assure you that, while there is a standard 'corporate' mode of dress, that the level of conformity expected among office workers is nowhere near the level of what I saw in Seoul. I would not wish that identikit lifestyle on Taiwan; while some people might be willing to slog through such a work culture for a better paycheck, I suspect a huge proportion would chafe against it. Taiwan's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may not have brought in the big bucks the way Samsung and Lotte did for South Korea, but what they contributed to Taiwan's cultural landscape is a net positive, I think, and should not be underestimated. 

Brendan's oft-repeated comment about his long-ago move from South Korea to Taiwan is that "Taiwan has long work hours, maybe as long as South Korea. Wages are lower. But people just seem more chilled-out. You don't pass drunk salarymen passed out on the sidewalk who will get up and go to work the next day. Everyone seemed so stressed in Korea. People here just seem...more relaxed." And it's true - on my brief visits to Seoul, even I saw those passed-out businessmen. I've never seen that in Taiwan, though I routinely pass groups of friends enjoying dinner and drinks - beer or Kaoliang - on folding tables on the sidewalk, keeping the local gossip machines going and looking, well, just more relaxed.

I wonder how much the chaebol vs. SME culture divide plays into that. No idea, but it's a thought. 



Gender parity

It also seems to me - and Brendan concurs after living there - that South Korea has a much bigger problem with sexism than Taiwan. Every culture in the world struggles with sexism (yes, all of them), but Taiwan arguably has the best gender equality in Asia. For some hard numbers, the gender wage gap in South Korea is the biggest of all OECD countries (34.6%), and Brendan recalls seeing job advertisements that blatantly offered more to male candidates for the same work. Taiwan's gender wage gap is 14.6% - on par with a lot of Western countries and not great, but also a huge improvement.

Hong Kong's gender pay gap is 22.2% as of 2017. Singapore's is a bit lower than Taiwan.

There's more that I might include about gender equality in the four Tigers, but the wage gap really says it all. 



The bad news

I don't want to wax rhapsodical about how Taiwan is better than the other Asian Tigers in every way, implying that there's no data to suggest it's not true. So, let's take a look at what's not going well for Taiwan.

Just looking at unemployment, Taiwan looks a little less lustrous. In South Korea and Taiwan unemployment rates are similar, at 4.4% (a rise from 3.8% in December 2018) and 3.7% (average 2018) respectively. Rates are lower in Hong Kong and Singapore, at closer to 2-3%. Youth unemployment in South Korea is around 10.4%, for Hong Kong it's about 9.4% and Singapore is lowest at 5.2%. As above, Taiwan's is in the vicinity of 12%. There's no getting around it - Taiwan's unemployment looks low by European standards, but it's not as robust as its Asian Tiger peers. 

Purchasing power doesn't look to be much better, with Taiwan ranking high globally - 19th in the world according to the IMF, 28th according to the World Factbook -  but behind both Singapore and Hong Kong on both scales (remembering, of course, that that's still higher than Canada, Australia and a huge chunk of Europe). South Korea was quite a bit further down in both cases. I'm not sure why this is, and don't have the requisite knowledge of economics to analyze it, but I love making myself look stupid publicly so here goes.

First, a lot of Singaporean and Hong Kong relative 'wealth' by purchasing power can be explained by how this purchasing power is calculated. Their large foreign labor populations, who have much lower incomes and purchasing power, are not counted in these metrics as they are not citizens or permanent residents (Taiwan News makes a similar point). Taiwan also has a large foreign labor population, but while I can't find reliable data on this, I'd wager that the ratio of foreign labor to local population in Taiwan is lower than in those two city-states.

Second, Singapore gets around the one thing that might sap a large chunk of their citizens' purchasing power: housing. Most housing in Singapore consists of public housing projects, which builds accommodation at a variety of budgets. Roughly 80% of Singaporeans live in these flats. That might explain how Singapore can have such a high Gini coefficient and estimated high levels of poverty, but still come out blazing on purchasing power.

Why Hong Kong ranks well in terms of purchasing power, I have no idea. I'd think real estate alone - which Hong Kongers are less able to afford than Taiwanese even with higher salaries - would knock it down.

I suspect in both cases that all that purchasing power on the part of Singapore and Hong Kong, given their relatively high poverty and inequality, is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy. If you're just a regular person with a regular job, however, you can make your comparatively lower salary go a lot further in Taiwan (or perhaps South Korea, with its similar inequality rate despite its higher poverty rate). If that's true, all Singapore and Hong Kong really have on Taiwan in terms of purchasing power are more rich people who can do more purchasing. Most people will never be rich, so that doesn't mean much.



Taiwan #1! 

To bring this back to the original point, despite some troubling economic data, I still think Taiwan is the best Asian Tiger in which to build a life. Salaries are low, but so is inequality and poverty (and the rent is pretty good, too). You won't do better for health care, and you have fairly strong human rights protections - better than Hong Kong or Singapore. You're quite likely a lot better off as a woman, especially compared to Hong Kong and South Korea.

The whole world is struggling now, and if anything, I think Taiwan's made the best of this. It's not being 'left behind'. Don't listen to the haters telling you that not only is Taiwan dwarfed by China - when, in fact, China scores well below Taiwan on most of the metrics above - but also the other Asian Tigers. Nope - Taiwan has built something less flashy, less shiny and a little-slower paced, but there are good arguments out there for why it has actually done the best.