Showing posts with label long_term_expat_life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label long_term_expat_life. 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! 

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.


Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Paper Ninja Stars (or: Fear, Foreboding and the Taiwanese Left)

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The graphic that appeared by the names of some Taiwan Statebuilding Party candidates in the 2020 election on official ballots


First, an announcement: you’ll be seeing fewer (and shorter) posts from me between now and June. I am now officially shoulder-deep in dissertation writing and really must concentrate on that. I’ll update occasionally, but in the meantime I’ll be posting relevant content by others on the Lao Ren Cha Facebook page (yes, that is a thing which I never formally announced). 

Anyway, let me tell you a story. 

When I was in junior high, I was the target of a not-very-successful bully (everyone else hated him too; his bullying did not win him any popularity). He’d randomly trip me in the hall, push or whack me for no reason. Once, he ran into a classroom I was in, put some tape he’d pulled from a cassette around my neck and ran out holding both ends. One day, he made a paper ninja star and flung it at me just as a class we had together was about to start. It nearly hit me in the eye.

I lost it. I got up, slapped him hard across the face, picked him up by the neck - lots of adrenaline going - threw him into a row of desks, and then kicked him so he slammed further into those desks. I may have done more; I was a whirling dervish of rage and I truly don’t remember. 

My response was way out of proportion to his throwing a paper star at me. But honestly, considering everything else he’d done over the past two years, it had been a long time coming. I don’t condone violence and would not do this as an adult, but I’m also not sorry for beating the crap out of him as a teenager. 

So what? 


I’m not talking about those who pointed out the logistical issues or the question of priority. Those opinions are reasonable. I’m talking about those who expressed that the lives of those people were not Taiwan’s concern - despite their being family members of Taiwanese nationals.

I had been trying to start from kindness - that is, recognize that it’s important to treat even people you don’t like as human beings whose lives matter. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t care for the attitudes of Taishang generally. And, just as importantly, that it’s not right to dismiss children as ‘not our concern’ because you don’t like the decisions of their parents - decisions the children had no say in. 

After acknowledging that, talk of logistics becomes possible, and the same decision may have been made in the end because China has left Taiwan with so few options - but the process of the discourse matters. 

I stand by that view, but here’s what’s changed: I should have also started from kindness when considering Taiwanese public opinion. 

With a few exceptions of some extreme comments online that do not represent the norm, I highly doubt most people actually want to punish those children by refusing them evacuation because they dislike their parents. Most people are quite capable of realizing that those children did not choose to be Chinese nationals.

Rather, it was a howl of rage from Taiwanese who’ve chosen to stay and engage with their country, who are sick and tired of both China’s bullshit and Taishang opportunism and sellout behavior that actively harms Taiwan. Howls of rage are not always politically correct, but that does not render them unjustified. This one was a long time in coming, and I should have seen that immediately. 

In other ways, I’ve tried to be empathetic to these expressions of anger. While I appreciate the discussion of Sinophobia in Taiwanese discourse, generally I feel we should always - always - view statements that may seem aggressively nationalist or anti-China on their face in the context in which they are made. 

Taiwan has been treated like garbage by the Chinese government for so long - and individual Taiwanese have been insulted by a large number of Chinese citizens so regularly - that honestly, can you blame them for lashing out? Maybe give the victims in this game a break instead of (yet again) putting the burden of assuming a conciliatory tone on them. 

Especially when they already know that it’s logistically impossible to do much for those children and accompanying spouses, it becomes easy to vent one’s justified rage at Taishang who expect special treatment and whine and writhe with entitlement when they don’t get it. 

That said, my actual conclusions remain the same: a different active response is not logistically possible, but I still cannot condone a “those children aren’t Taiwanese so they are not our concern” attitude. Even when their parents often have an opportunistic, have-your-Chinese-money-but-get-Taiwanese-benefits-too attitude to Taiwan (to put it gently).

The difference is this: I’ve come to realize the public anger mostly did not stem from the question of the Taishang children specifically, just as my throwing that kid into a desk in junior high wasn’t really about a paper ninja star. 

And that’s just it: while remaining true to ethical convictions that do matter to me, I could have started from kindness when evaluating a facet of public opinion that bothered me deeply. Both were possible. 

So where did my original reaction come from? 

Fear, honestly.

I don’t think the ethical divide on this issue is really that great, if it’s there at all. But where I saw “people lashing out at foreigners...and I’m a foreigner!”, I suspect most people saw “we’ve been bullied for so long by China and people who sell out to China, and we’re sick of it!”

“Foreigners” as a general class was never really the point.

This fear also includes worries over the unstable life situations all immigrants face. I do wonder, for some people (though not all), at what point in a crisis I might be deemed “not Taiwanese enough” to receive the same assistance as everyone else, as a taxpayer and part of the system. 

I’ve had a few experiences in the past where expressing a political opinion that a Taiwanese local did not personally agree with caused that person to default to “well, you’re not Taiwanese” (implied: so you don’t matter). That a lot - if not most - locals might actually agree with my opinion didn’t seem to register. I’ve had people just assume that if Taiwan faced a true emergency I’d just leave, because theoretically I "can" (I wouldn’t - and there are real questions over whether I actually "can"). 

At what point does a reaction like that spill over into views on who should get access to what services?

But, overall, I doubt most people would think I should be denied, say, medical care in Taiwan during a pandemic. I pay for NHI just like everyone else, after all, and don’t try to game the system the way a lot of Taishang do. In any case, there’s an element of white privilege which would blunt such an effect. 

Remember, however, that the vast majority of foreigners in Taiwan are not white, they are Southeast Asian, and they have neither the privilege nor often the resources to weather a public opinion backlash against their access to health services in Taiwan.

Is it any wonder, then, that when I hear “Taiwanese citizens first!” that it puts me on edge, even though I know that’s not meant to include me?

But, there’s an even more complex fear: fear that the Taiwanese political left I generally support does not actually support people like me. 

As much as I hate them, I can’t deny that the immigration reforms the KMT passed under Ma Ying-jeou were genuinely helpful for foreigners and conveyed a more welcoming attitude (though, again, that was very much contingent on white and Han privilege - rules were relaxed for Chinese accompanying family, and foreign professionals like me, but nothing really improved for the blue-collar workers who make up the backbone of Taiwan’s foreign labor and community). 

I also don’t doubt that the Tsai administration is more or less on our side: they passed some pretty striking immigration reform themselves, though again they seemed to encode privilege into law, demarcating in even more detail which immigrants were ‘worthy’ and which were not (spoiler alert: I’m not). 

But those left of Tsai - think the NPP, back when they mattered? They were key voices in scrapping the proposed relaxation of rules on hiring foreign workers, such as the required salary floor and required previous work experience for professionals. (Their arguments did not make a lot of economic sense, either - they just ensured that people who wanted to move to Taiwan either could not do so, or got stuck teaching English when they really didn’t want to, which isn’t good for the profession.) I hear noises from them that immigration should be controlled to ‘protect Taiwanese jobs’ and no specific support from them on the ever-present dual nationality issue, despite their putting forward an ‘internationalized’ face more broadly. At the end of the day, a few (though not all) of them are still localists who may be friendly to ‘foreigners’, but will always consider immigrants in Taiwan to be just that - only foreigners, never ‘new’ members of a common community. That is, if they consider us at all. 

So, when newly-elected legislator Chen Bo-wei made the news saying that “foreigners” (外籍人士) should pay more for health insurance in Taiwan, surely it is understandable that it sounded as though he were referring to all foreigners. After all, the term he used is fairly broad: I might be considered 外籍人士

Several people asked his office for clarification, at which point it was explained that he specifically meant Chinese accompanying family, who are covered under a different category of National Health Insurance (foreign residents like me are covered like ordinary taxpayers as we work here), and whose 'residency requirements' were relaxed under Ma Ying-jeou. Simply put, Chen - a known localist - should have made himself clear from the beginning and not spoken so carelessly. 

In a world that made sense, I’d still disagree with Chen: Chinese are foreigners, just like me. Therefore, eligible Chinese nationals shouldn’t obtain NHI coverage under a special category, any more so than any other foreigner. Acknowledging that they’re not like other foreigners, if anything, implies that there is a special quasi-intranational relationship between Taiwan and China when I’d argue that there shouldn’t be. 

However, the world doesn’t make sense, and I don’t know that we’re at a point in international relations where adjusting the law in that direction would be feasible. 

In any case, surely one can see how a statement like Chen’s would raise concerns. The KMT is out of power and they’re awful (and Han supremacist) anyway - they might’ve passed some strong immigration reform, but to them Taiwan’s fate is ultimately Chinese, period. The DPP under Tsai is more internationally oriented than in the Hoklo chauvinist Chen years, when there was essentially no forward momentum on immigration policy. 

But, the Tsai administration is also slow and cautious. The Taiwanese left - those whom I’d otherwise tend to agree with - are not necessarily strong allies of the foreign community. This makes it hard to know quite who to support.

With all this in mind, is it any wonder that criticism of “non-Taiwanese” getting access to “Taiwanese” resources would cause worry in Taiwan’s foreign community? We’re not exactly sure who our allies are, though we know we have them.

And we're the most privileged foreigners (after perhaps overseas Chinese who have obtained ROC nationality). What about the most vulnerable?

But, there are times when something that looks on its face like an anti-foreigner backlash isn’t really that at all: it’s a reaction to years of being bullied (by China) and really has nothing to do with “foreigners”, or “children”. I can’t ever agree with the more extreme comments I saw (e.g. “bastard children of traitors and their mistresses”) and I still think that the child of a citizen deserves to be treated as more than just a foreigner regardless of their nationality. Context matters, however, and the anger I witnessed certainly has a a fraught one. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Update: Speaking up works - YouBike will allow foreign residents to register

Here's the great thing about Taiwan - when something actually gets done, it happens so efficiently and with such personal care, that it can be astounding. 

Of course, this assumes that something is done properly in the first place, which isn't always the case (see: every English language education initiative the government has ever announced).

But yesterday, YouBike did (mostly) the right thing, and so fast that the news cycle could barely keep up with it. 


After the news broke that YouBike's new insurance scheme wasn't available to foreign residents or tourists, and therefore foreign residents and tourists could not register their EasyCards to use YouBikes normally but would have to go through complicated and expensive processes each time they wanted to rent, we positively tsunamied them (I made a new verb!) with complaints. 

Within a day those of us who complained by e-mail received a reply that they would talk to the Department of Transportation about the issue, and then they actually did so. Now, foreign residents would be able to register their EasyCards to use YouBike on December 24th. (This is quite acceptable; it will surely take time to update the code).

The city government even released a statement acknowledging the volume of complaints:



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I honestly believe that in the country I come from, those complaints would have simply been ignored. If a solution came, it would be long after the fact with no clear notification made. (Not that any American cities except New York have remotely acceptable public transportation in the first place, mind you, and even New York's transit smells end-to-end like pee). If you were lucky you might get a form letter in reply that did not actually address your issue in any substantive way.

There are good and bad things to say about the course of events. I'm in a positive "we got stuff done!" in a positive mood, so let's start with the good.

What we've learned from this is that speaking up works. It works!

There were a lot of comments on social media saying we were just "complainers", "first world whiners" or "guests in this country" who should never complain, or that we couldn't possibly get the problem fixed so the only choice was to accept it.

What they didn't realize was that this wasn't whining, it was strategy. The more people make noise, the more likely the problem will get fixed. If even 5% of the people who read this post wrote to the city government, that's still several hundred e-mails they received. 


And we did get the problem fixed, so all those "don't complain, you can't change it" people were simply wrong.

That doesn't mean everything's great because the problem is solved, however.

Tourists still have to go through the more cumbersome process of one-time rentals, which require an NT$2000 deposit on a card which is not refunded for up to 15 days. The process also takes a lot longer, and it's frankly silly that Taipei city encourages tourists to get EasyCards but then doesn't make them useable for YouBikes. The city rolled out YouBikes in part to appeal to tourists, and routinely recommends tourists use them (here's one example, originally published in Taipei magazine. Making rentals annoying and expensive for tourists is self-defeating when all they have to do is add code to the system that opts foreign visitors out of the new insurance scheme that caused this whole mess. 


And, of course, the quick turnaround we got on this issue does highlight "expat privilege" to an extent. I discussed the issue with a few students who said they didn't think of the Taipei city government as particularly responsive, and we may have gotten the problem solved in a day simply because we were foreigners. Not only that, but we were mostly (though not entirely) white "expat" foreigners who tend to get preferential treatment.

To be frank, that almost certainly played a role. Let's not pretend it didn't. 


Which means that, if we can make change by speaking out as a privileged group, maybe we should do that more often, in service of goals that benefit people who are more likely to be ignored by the powers that be.

Finally, there's the fact that this simply should not have been a problem in the first place. I doubt it was active discrimination, but rather that the impact of the new policy on non-citizens was simply not considered. That results in discriminatory impact. Discrimination can exist in impact just as much as intent (if not more so).

To avoid these sorts of issues in the future, the government can't just passively ignore the foreign community and pretend that's the same as 'not discriminating'. It has to actively consider its actions through the lens of understanding that the city it governs has foreign residents, too, and that its tourism strategy should be coherent and synchronized across departments. 

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