Showing posts with label modern_taiwan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label modern_taiwan. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

"It's all in your head, Taiwan"


This says: 國民黨永遠與你在一起 or "The KMT will be with you forever" (or perhaps "The KMT - forever together with you.")

What do you mean, you don't think we're right for each other? Haven't I always treated you well? What do you mean I haven't? Ugh, Taiwan, you know I care about you but I just can't deal with your craziness sometimes, you know? 

Ask anyone - ask my ex, China - yes, I know she's your cousin, but she's also my ex - even she'll tell you you're being crazy. She always says "KMT, you're right - I don't know why you stay with that crazy bitch."

What? Yes, we still talk. What's wrong with that? Are you jealous that I have friends now, too? What? You think she wants to get back together with me? Again - more craziness. Jealous and crazy. It's a wonder I even put up with you.

All the things I've had to do to make sure this relationship works, and not only are you not even grateful, you still get mad at me as though I'm the problem.

Remember the time when you went totally psycho for no reason and I had to break up this huge fight you started and even bring in soldiers to calm you down until you could be reasonable? Yeah, it took awhile but you finally realized how awful you were being. And then you demanded "more freedom" - god, you were really a bitch about that, you know? I even gave it to you, but somehow that wasn't enough.  I gave you everything and you just wanted more, more, more. No more Martial Law. Free democracy. Human rights. It was never enough. You're so high-maintenance, and you don't even know it.

I mean, ugh, I only went through your mail and took reading material out of the house that I didn't want you reading for your own good and safety, because you were being so illogical and hysterical and it wasn't good for you to be reading that stuff. 

I'm the one who got you back on your feet after World War II. You wouldn't be anywhere without me. You seem to think you did that - that your citizens built an economy from small and medium size businesses which was actually hindered by my Leninist attempts at creating a command economy that served to line my own pockets. Do you know how crazy that sounds?  It's so clear that it's just more of your histrionic fantasies - what, you think you could have gotten to where we are on your own? You? You had nothing, and I saved you.

I mean, it's not just me. Everyone thinks you're the problem. They know you've got issues - you know China thinks so. 

But it's not just China. The rest of the world, too. Why do you think they barely talk to you? Most of them pretend they don't even know you. Even the ones you work with. Don't pretend you haven't noticed. Do you think they're doing that because of me? No, it's because of you.

Leave China out of this. If you want everyone to start talking to you again, you know you have to stop being such a bitch to China. You insist she started this stupid argument, but she's been nothing but patient with you, too. You're the one causing all these tensions and everyone knows it.

What do you mean I beat you? You really are insane, you know that? I was defending myself - you were attacking me. And then you go around saying "The KMT treats me so bad", trying to ruin my reputation, but I'm the innocent one here. I mean, I know a few months ago you tried to steal money from me. I have to hide everything from you. You're unhinged. You think I took it from you? More crazy talk. I earned that money. You're still trying to get your claws on my pension but it's not going to work.

Let me tell you something, Taiwan. Nobody will love you like I do. Nobody will be patient with your insane fits like I will. You were meant to be with me. We'll be together forever.

Now calm down, Taiwan. You're being hysterical again.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Black Island: A Review

So, over the course of June and July, with long breaks to research and write an article on learner autonomy through note management that will be published in September, I read J. Michael Cole's Black Island: Two Years of Activism in Taiwan. This came right on the heels of Officially Unofficial, which I appreciated for its perspectives on Taiwanese society and politics that I had also witnessed in the past ten years here.

All in all, I liked Black Island more than Officially Unofficial - first of all, it was free of the ridiculously irritating "using the third person to talk about oneself" narrative employed by its predecessor. It focused more on events in recent Taiwanese history rather than the author himself, which was a boon because, although I have nothing against J. Michael Cole, I am more interested in Taiwanese political history and current affairs than I am the personal history of a journalist I happen to have read. Being lightly annotated republishings of previous work, the present tense (employed because that's what those stories used for obvious reasons) gave the narrative a sense of urgency and contemporariness rather than feeling like "history" (and, in fact, the events documented didn't happen that long ago). The present-tense tone gives one the feeling, while reading, that these events are happening as you are reading it - it makes you want to go to Dapu and protest, rail against the destruction of the Huaguang Community or surround the Legislative Yuan yet again. Then you remember, no, this is all a few years in the past. It's 2016 now, Taiwanese society has processed these ideas and is looking to the future. You, the reader, must do the same. The interesting question that Black Island leaves open - as it must - is what happens next.

Like Officially Unofficial, Black Island was a good chance to go back and review my memories of the past few years of Taiwanese politics, and pick up on threads, ideas and smaller events I'd missed. Having, as I mentioned before, been more concerned with completing my teaching degree than being fully invested and informed of Taiwanese affairs, there are things I missed. I was more intellectually present during the actual Sunflower occupation - but I think that electrified and reawakened quite a few people; I'm not unique in that regard. I hadn't had a Delta course going on at that particular time, and I actually spent a great deal of time outside the Legislative Yuan, including heading down after work and staying until the MRT was about to close for several evenings in a row. I wasn't there to report on events, however - I was there to support the students. I enjoyed going back and reading (in some cases for the second time) actual reporting on the events of those weeks.

For someone who had already read a lot of the work published in Black Island (I experienced a distinct sense of deja vu several times not only because I had been in Taiwan when those events took place but because I had in fact already read that exact same article two to four years ago), it is a fairly strong compliment to say that it held my interest upon re-reading.

Finally, this is neither a point in favor of or against the book but, as it triggers interesting thought, I think it fits in the "good" section: Cole's work mentions more than once the idea of civic nationalism over ethnic nationalism beginning to take root in Taiwan. It can hardly do differently, not only because there are "ethnic" (if the entire concept of ethnicity means anything, and depending on where you draw the lines) differences in Taiwan itself, between waishengren and Hoklo, "Chinese" and aborigine as well as Southeast Asian immigrant, that must be overcome to realize the idea of Taiwan as a nation, but also because as much as many won't admit it, Taiwan is very ethnically similar to China (again, if ethnicity means anything at all). To differentiate itself from China Taiwan simply cannot turn to an ethnic base for their desire for self-determination as an independent nation. It must turn to a civic one; there is no other reasonable path...
...but this is not the main reason why I find discussion of that concept interesting. Instead, I am invested in it primarily as an immigrant in Taiwan. I call myself an immigrant because, while I am not a citizen and retain something of an American identity, if I had a reasonable chance at citizenship (the double standard of being forced to give up one's original citizenship to attain Taiwanese nationality, while Taiwanese are under no such edict, is simply neither reasonable nor acceptable) I would be highly likely to seek it, and because I have no real plans to return to the USA. It is true that we may leave someday for professional reasons or because we face difficulties as non-citizens, but it is unlikely that the country we'd leave for would be the one we come from.

If Taiwanese identity is one of civic rather than ethnic identity, and therefore anyone who buys into, contributes to and participates in that identity can be "Taiwanese" even if they can never be ethnically Chinese, then the next logical step is to relax immigration and naturalization laws. This affects me directly, for reasons stated above. It has the potential to change on a fundamental level how I relate myself and my past to Taiwan and life in it. To legitimize, to some extent, the contributions I want to make and the participation I would like to offer. To see Taiwan as a home that genuinely wants people like me here and feels we help rather than hinder the nation's progress.

Right now I have to admit that while I feel welcome here, it is not uncommon for events in my life to give me the feeling that Taiwan wants me to come and teach their people English and wants to give me very little in return, and certainly doesn't want me to assimilate or stay permanently or have a say in political goings-on that do affect my life. A "nation of ethnic Taiwanese" is not likely to see people like me differently. A Taiwan that values civic over ethnic nationalism, however, is one that might.

This is, again, why I am disappointed that the party of young activists, who seemed to be the most likely to welcome immigrants like me, instead want to keep us on the fringes. Yes, I will say it again and I will ever, ever, ever, ever shut up about it until things change. They are the direct results of the events described in Black Island, and so far they have not been great allies to the logical conclusion of civic vs. ethnic nationalism.

Anyway. There are some things I didn't like about Black Island, but I'd say they are considerably fewer and markedly less annoying than in Officially Unofficial.

The first is that, as this is a collection of previously published journalism, as is often the case when one journalist covers related or ongoing events, there is quite a bit of repetition. Editing some of that out would have made for a stronger narrative.

My husband pointed out, and I agree, that the little interlude of pieces focusing on the fight for marriage equality felt a bit jarring in its discontinuity. I would have rather seen either the book divided not only chronologically but also by events. What I ended up doing was skipping the middle section at first, reading straight through the student activist/Sunflower narrative, and then going back and reading about marriage equality and the outsize influence of churches with evangelical ties in Taiwan. It made for a much cleaner narrative.

I would have also liked even more detail on the actual Sunflower occupation, but I suppose I can read a history textbook for that. A bit of a deeper look into the Next Media acquisition would have also been of interest to me.

Brendan also noted that if you are looking for stories about other events of that time - such as the tussle between Ma Ying-jiu and Wang Jin-ping for power within the KMT, you won't find it here. I understand why, but I actually think the story would have been strengthened by including such seemingly unrelated events. In fact, as the Sunflowers and a few political commentators understood at the time and as most people understand now, Ma Ying-jiu having both KMT chairmanship and the presidency, and using that double-barreled power to not only twist arms to get the Legislative Yuan to rubber-stamp his increasingly autocratic-seeming demands, but for the president to try to fire the speaker of an entirely separate branch of government because he wasn't falling sufficiently in line was nothing short of a constitutional crisis.

If you think this attempted ouster of Wang and the power grab that represented was not done in part with forcing passage of the CSSTA, without proper review, in mind, perhaps you are not paying attention. I wouldn't say CSSTA was the only goal of that attempted consolidation of authority, but it was certainly one of them. One directly relates to the other. The smartest activists and commentators understand this, though they don't always elaborate on it because it feels like something of a rhetorical cul-de-sac. Pointing this out would have made the book that much stronger.

Finally, I did feel that a few asides in which Cole expressed more personal views and ideas detracted from the overall narrative. For instance, his rant about cell phones on the MRT and the feeling I get that he feels he has the right to pass judgment on how people pass their commuting time or other downtime. While I agree that using one's various electronic devices to keep abreast of current events, maintain professional and social ties and engage with the wider world is preferably to using it to playing Angry Fruit Crush or whatever, it doesn't matter. We all have our vices and our stupid things we like and it's just not a great path to go down to judge that. I'm sure Cole loves some music I hate or owns a shirt I think is stupid or has a habit I find a waste of time. So what? It's not for me to judge. Besides, while at the height of stress working toward the Delta, I played game after game of iPhone solitaire (I am nothing if not an electronic game traditionalist, also, I'm an Old). Why? It helped me de-stress, gave my mind something else to concentrate on without taxing it too much, and was almost meditative in its repetitiveness. It helped mentally. Don't judge.

The multiple references to hired thugs or other "unsavory" types as "high on betel nut" or as tattooed, smoking, beer drinking betel nut chewers were also off-putting. When talking of actual hired thugs you don't really need to treat their appearance or lowbrow habits as damning evidence - treat what they actually do as evidence. I would be willing to bet just as many tattooed betel-nut chewers showed up to support the Sunflowers. What substances they imbibe or what they choose to put on their bodies is simply not the point and reeks of condescending classism. There is just no reason to do it.

Two little extra things: I agree with Brendan about the lack of translation for quotes in Chinese. We can read them (perhaps with the help of the Chinese dictionary on my - gasp! - iPhone at times) but I would gather many can't. An editor would really help with these sorts of issues. And I really didn't need to read two or more (I didn't count) references to Cole being definitely straight and not gay at all. I literally could not care less if he prefers hot dogs or hamburgers. Doesn't matter and not relevant to the story.

 But, these are relatively minor complaints. The overarching narrative is interesting - and perhaps would be even more interesting to someone who hadn't read these articles when they were originally published - and would be a useful addition to the research of a political science student learning about student activism in Taiwan.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The protest that wasn't, the narrative that isn't


So you know how Taiwan independence demonstrators are so often found in Ximending on the corner near Red House? Well, today a bunch of pro-China supporters got permission to use that space - they had tents and a police presence and everything - to set up a bunch of Chinese flags and a loudspeaker blasting pro-China songs and rants about how if Taiwan insists on Taiwan independence, then "there will be war, missiles will reach Taiwan in just 7 minutes, Tsai Ying-wen had better take heed and recognize 'one country two systems'" followed by more bellicose patriotic songs.

Video is from Taiwanreporter - I took some videos too and will put them online soon, for now this one is fine. In fact he got a lot of the same people on camera as I did, including the person saying "Taiwan Number One". Watch through and note the reactions of bystanders. Who does it look like they support?

This guy is my hero!
Photo by my friend Ellery Hamann

My first thought was that these were protesters from China, which should absolutely not be allowed. But, no, with police protection and all the trappings of a legit protest, they were almost certainly Taiwanese citizens who just happen to have douchey opinions.

In fact, as Taiwanreporter pointed out, they are (almost certainly) the same folks who until recently protested and try to create trouble around Taipei 101, until Mayor Ko put a stop to it.

That's not a reason to deny anyone freedom of speech, of course, and they have the right to do this in public as much as, say, any of us have the right to demonstrate for Taiwanese sovereignty. I'm also not going to join the calls to 'deport them back to China' because, well, they are citizens too. I'd love to deport Ted Cruz to Canada but he is as much an American as I am. Every country has its jerks. But, I can't help but wonder if they'd be happier in China, and if they love it so much, why don't they just move there of their own accord? Why do they have to cramp our style, insisting on a political solution that will never be acceptable to Taiwan, when the majority is just not with them and never will be?

So my second thought is that they were paid. And they almost certainly were - I highly doubt this is just a spontaneous display of love for China. That's just not in the national. attitude right now and honestly, hasn't been...well, ever. Even  the "we will force you to. Be Chinese, we are better than you because we come from China so we'll murder everyone who disagrees with us and stamp out your cultural touchstones" KMT fucklords weren't pro-PRC. until recently, and even now they wouldn't dare be so open about it. Almost no doubt about it - these guys were paid by China to stir up trouble in the run-up to Tsai Ying-wen's inauguration and provide a colorful backdrop that China can refer to when trying to make the dubious claim that some Taiwanese support "reunification" (heh).

It happens a lot in Hong Kong - on important days or on days when there are pro-Hong Kong demonstrations, pro-China counter-protesters show up too, and they are almost always paid. Whether or not they are sincere is almost beside the point - if the government has to pay them to protest, then they are not acting in good faith vis-a-vis public discourse. This is also in part for photo ops that Beijing can shop around to show that some Hong Kongers 'want to be a part of the PRC'.

Not to get too conspiracy theorist but seeing as it was in part an anti-Tsai protest, I have to wonder how much they were encouraged or 'allowed' by the KMT. Remember, as much as we'd all like to forget, Ma Ying-jiu is still the president.

So why am I writing about them? Why am I giving them air time? They may have the right to protest but they don't have the right to be paid attention to, yes?

Yes! But.

I wanted to point out two things. The first is that there are almost no actual protesters there! Take a close look at the photos once they are posted. There is one guy in a vest, a woman with a sign and an old guy waving a big flag (who looks suspiciously similar to the driver of the Musical China Douchemobile - and probably is. It's like the same four people at every protest, because China couldn't even get more than that with money). There may be a few others in the tents hiding from public view. All that sound and fury is coming from a LOUDSPEAKER! They're no better than some stupid recording blaring about discounts on Panadol outside of a Watson's or Cosmed. There are a few flags, a loudspeaker and a couple of people.

Look! There's nobody actually there!

Perhaps it was because the Chinese government perhaps could not find enough people who would even do this for money in Taiwan who could do so legally. Wouldn't surprise me if that were the case. There are maybe three or four people in all of Taiwan who support unifying with the PRC, and the same three or four people show up at every paid protest with flags and loudspeakers to create some sound and fury, to seem bigger and more important than they are.

What amuses me is that unless these photos are strongly photoshopped, with people added in, or cropped creatively, they actually make China look worse - you can't even get a person to sing that dumb Chinese song? You have to use a loudspeaker? You can't get more than less than half a dozen people? What does that prove? How does that make China's case? It doesn't - it shows the opposite.

But there sure are a lot of people counter-protesting.

Perhaps it was because the protesters knew that they would not get a lot of support from passers-by, or any support really. They knew that if they showed their faces they'd get booed or laughed at, so they didn't show their faces for the most part. That is, of course, if more of them exist than were present earlier today.

This part really gets me - if you have a douchey opinion, fine, as long as it more or less lines up with facts you have the right to it (you do not have the right to be right about it, though). But if you're going to set up a street protest to express it, at least have the balls to show up in person. What kind of dickless wonders take Chinese money, then hang up a few flags, set up a loudspeaker and won't even show their coward faces? Absolutely no sympathy, no respect for that. I've got bigger balls than these guys. I may be a foreigner, but at least I'm willing to say, from my own mouth and in person, what I think (yes, foreigner residents to have the right of assembly in Taiwan - we can protest legally as long as we are legal residents and not undocumented or tourists). Christ. Grow a pair.

And protest I did, though I look tired and haggard today which is why I partially hid my face
If they can protest, so can I!

Also worth noting is that not only were bystanders not supportive at all - lots of middle fingers, lots of shouting back, lots of making fun of these guys, I quite literally did not even see one person walk by and actually support this in any demonstrable way - but that the counter-protest (remember, the pro-independence guys usually have this corner) was exponentially larger than the laughable shell of a pro-China protest (it's not hard to have more people than a protest of three). The counter-protesters had at least several dozen people, seemingly more walking around (they'd sit, march around etc.)
All this goes to show that not only have things changed in Taiwan, but that China can't even drum up enough people for a real demonstration nor will they ever garner enough support from the Taiwanese public. Taiwanese civil society is just not on the same page as the Chinese government or even the KMT, and while the latter may change (pendulums do swing), the former never will. China has lost this one.

They have nothing. They have no soft power in Taiwan - the Taiwanese hate their government and don't want to be a part of their country. They have no supporters. They have no path to "peaceful unification". They have nothing but empty photo-ops - a few flags and a loudspeaker. They are nothing. Their words mean nothing. They never even had a grip on Taiwan to lose. Like this protest, their words on Taiwan are are hollow. Meaningless, because they have zero - zero - support in a country where support matters.

I can't help but also notice that, while these guys were once aggressive outside Taipei 101, punching those who disagreed and counter-protesters and trying to start fights, that they now seem almost cowed. One woman quietly holds a sign. The old guy waves a flag. Someone in a vest stays well behind the police line. They know they don't have the  high ground, local support or even political support to start fights anymore. They bluster and bloviate and wave their flags, but look a little closer under all that sound, they are cowed.

They may talk of "peaceful unification", but that will never happen. That battle is already lost (and China is the loser). China doesn't want war - I still think they don't, anyway - but it is simply not going to get Taiwan any other way but by looking like the bratty little fascists they are to the rest of the world and forcibly annexing a developed, democratic country. All that talk of "peaceful unification" is, like this "protest", an empty shell. Meaningless. Sound and fury, signifying nothing. A few loud people who do not speak for the vast majority of Taiwanese. It can't be peaceful if the Taiwanese don't agree to it, and they never, ever will. Won't happen, can't happen. Fuck you, China. You lose. Taiwan doesn't want you, they never have and they never, ever will. Eat me.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Dissecting Flowers: Rainy Day Musings

It's pouring today. This is a good thing in that we need rain thanks to the legislators tasked with keeping water management infrastructure up to date have done such a shitty job of it, but also a bad thing in that it's my only day off this week.

On the way to a cafe, I passed a familiar face - the woman on the corner who sells those fragrant flower blossoms wired onto little hooks that you hang around the house to give it a fresh, natural scent. I know her - she's a Taroko aborigine, a wife and mother, in her early 60s, a devout Christian (she gives me Christian literature sometimes that I don't read, not because it's in Chinese but because as an atheist it's just not my bag). A few health problems that you'd expect a 60-year-old woman who stands outside all day to have. Obviously she doesn't have a lot of money, if she did she wouldn't sell flowers on the sidewalk.

Today (or tomorrow?) is Mother's Day, by the way. It makes no difference to the story, except to highlight how crappy it must be to be 60, a mother on Mother's Day, when it's pouring out, selling flowers on the sidewalk.

So, I often buy flowers, but not always, as I am not always headed home when I pass her. Today I pass her and honestly, I didn't really want flowers. I already had some hanging up around the house that I bought from another guy who sells them on the sidewalk near one of my workplaces. I was heading to a cafe with a cat that is likely to try to eat the flowers (I'm pretty sure they're non-toxic but the owners don't really like it when he does that). I felt like as a consumer it's my right to decide if I want to buy something or not, I shouldn't be forced into it by a guilt trip, a sob story or a hard sell. My money, my choice (for my private money, obviously when it comes to taxes and contributing to the running of a society that's different).

But, I did get the hard sell: it's Mother's Day, it's raining, I want to go home, maybe buy some on your way back?

I don't have the heart to tell her that I already have flowers hanging up, and I don't know when I'm coming back.

I still don't really want the flowers.

Yet, reader, here I am in the cafe with a little plastic bag full of flowers on wire hooks.

On one hand, I'm not wrong about feeling I have the right to spend my money as I choose. On the other, what a privilege it is for me to not have to sell flowers on the street just to make ends meet. Even if it's raining. Even if I'm tired. Even if it's Mother's Day (if I were a mother - I don't think being a Cat Lady counts). Even if it's raining, I'm tired, and it's Mother's Day. What a privilege to have enough money to not have to, to have enough, even, to go to a pricey cafe and get a Bailey's latte and sandwich. What a privilege to have the discretionary income that I could drop NT$100 on some flowers I don't need and hadn't intended to buy and not have to worry about it. I haven't always had that luxury (see: Jenna ages 23-25, and briefly after first arriving in Taiwan). As a foreigner here I am relatively well-paid, though I lack a lot of the securities enjoyed by citizens despite their lower salaries - jobs with paid leave, bonuses, pension plans, access to credit in Taiwan. Does that status of being paid well above the average for a teacher - more like the average for someone of my age and experience in finance - confer a responsibility? If so, a responsibility to do what?

Put in a situation where I could say "no", keep my NT100 (about $3 US), meaning she'd have to stand in the rain that much longer until someone else bought them, leaving my right to only buy things I want intact, or spend the $3 for something I really don't want or need so she could go home that much earlier, I chose to spend the money. (I would have just given her the money and turned down the flowers, but that probably - and rightly - would have offended her. She wasn't a beggar).

This brings with it all sorts of tough questions of privilege and right - exercise my right not to buy an unnecessary item and feel like (and, honestly, be) kind of a jerk? Or be a nice person - a softie even - but give up my ability to resist a hard sell? What would you think of the sort of person who said no? The sort who said yesWould it have been better if she'd not given me the hard sell and I'd chosen, without any push, to buy the flowers? Then it would be me owning the fact that I didn't really want them.

What is to be done about the fact that there are people who need to make money to survive, or need money to accomplish certain worthy things (like feeding their children or going to school), and people with the money to make sure everyone is fed and can get a level of education that suits them, but that we can't force that money to be more equitably distributed? (While I'm in favor of using tax dollars to redistribute wealth - make sure everyone has access to the necessities of life, health care and an appropriate level of schooling - not even I would agree that it's okay to force people to spend their non-tax dollars in this way).

I thought about this especially as Stephen Colbert made headlines recently by funding every single teacher grant request in his home state. He chose to do this - nobody asked him, nobody told him he should, nobody gave him the hard sell. He got to own that decision. I do think it's a shame that our children's education is now in part funded not by communal tax dollars, which are inadequately allocated ([s]I guess we gotta feed the military industrial complex somehow because that's soooo important[/s]) but at the whims of the wealthy, but what he did was fundamentally good.

Would it still have been so good if he'd been pressured by teachers to do so, and relented?

I can only dream of having the kind of money that would allow me to do something like that. I like to think that I would. But even then, would it be the same if I'd been pressured into it?

People calling on a random rich person to fund something - however important - when that person would not have been inclined to fund it otherwise - has the whiff of "moocher" to it, and would probably be whipped to death by the media, especially in the USA (I can't say for Taiwan).  A flower seller calling on a random relatively-rich person to buy some flowers out of pure empathy, not so much. Then the person who does so feels like she had her agency taken away, but the person who doesn't comes away feeling like a bit of a selfish prat.

And how is it that the intertwining narratives of consumer discretion and relative (lack of) privilege turned a fairly simple exchange into something so complex?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

So, do I have a Taiwan State of Mind, or am I the weirdo here?

This seems to be making it big across the blogz and Facebook.

I'll admit, I liked it. Especially the first half. It was cute, well-done, fun, didn't take itself too seriously, and didn't shy away from political truths.

"You should know I bleed green, but I ain't that D-double-P though...Chinese Taipei? Fuck that, you got it all wrong. Taiwan Independence, yo, I'm from Taichung!"

Down with it!

But they lost me at the second half, which was basically a verse and a chorus all about Taiwanese women. 

I'm down with appreciating Taiwanese women. Nothing wrong with liking them. Nothing wrong with including them in a song. But did it have to be half the song? Half a verse would have been better. And of that, all of it was about their appearance (long legs, "city of skin", fake eyelashes). The parts that weren't were about them shopping and using smartphones out in public (I liked the part about the betelnut girls - they're such a part of the culture here that I don't have it in me to get a stick up my butt about them). Seems to me there's more to Taiwanese women than their appearance.

And anyway, what about Taiwanese men? I appreciate them in an "I'm married, so even though they can be good looking I'm not interested" way (I blog about 'em a lot because they don't seem to get enough positive press). You couldn't have half a verse about them?

And finally, they couldn't find anything else to say about Taiwan that could have taken up a bit more song space, so you had to devote half the song to Taiwanese women, their looks and their phones?

I guess, as a woman whose Taiwanese female friends are mostly very smart, independent, fun women whose whole selves total far more than their looks, and who didn't come here for the women (I'm straight), devoting half the song to dating Taiwanese girls (and how good Taiwanese girls look) just lost me. I don't relate. The first half of the verse was fun, but by the end I felt it was a bit objectifying. And I do feel at times the (mostly male) expat community tends to objectify Taiwanese women. Not everyone does this, and certainly not every expat man with a Taiwanese girlfriend or wife does it (I'd never imply that), but it happens enough that this made me a bit uncomfortable.

In some ways I guess my Taiwan experience hasn't mirrored the typical bullet list - if you asked me to write a song about it, first I'd laugh at you, but once I stopped laughing it would include little shout outs to festivals, more about food, Hakka culture, men's Japanese hairdos, weird-ass t-shirts, aboriginal culture and hanging out in mountain towns like Lishan with old people. This is a country in which some people get possessed by deities and beat themselves with spiked clubs, and they couldn't find anything else to rap about for the second half of the song?

It's not totally related to the topic, but close enough that I'll say it here: I do feel like a bit of an outlier in the "international" scene in Taiwan (I don't just mean expats, plenty of locals are in it too, for a variety of reasons). It does feel like it's kind of city-centric and party-centric - hopping between the major west coast points and occasionally visiting the touristy rural areas, without venturing far into the non-touristy ones. Where the main events in life are Ladies' Night, Friday nights out, partying in Kending in the summer, a couple of well-known bars, dating Taiwanese women, restaurants and clubs aaaand...that's about it. It's all "yeah, tonight it's On Tap, maybe I'll see you tomorrow. Girlfriend wants to go to Barcode, maybe before that we can grab some tai-pis at 7-11...naw bro, next week I'm in Taichung, you know how it is, then it's Kending, that'll be awesome, my girlfriend's calling, talk to you later bro". In the interest of not sounding like a total loser, I won't dwell on how "I'm not anti-party! I go out too!" and stick with "...that's fun to a point, but it doesn't do it for me as a lifestyle". And the video, while fun and well-done, did sort of portray Taiwan through "international culture" rather than local eyes.

So maybe that's why I was all in toward the first half of the video and toward the second half my  usual feeling of not fitting in with that culture came back.

Dunno. Maybe I'm just boring.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Big Diamond

Photo from here, not that I think you want to buy an engagement ring, but to
give credit for the photo

Not long ago, I was standing in a crowded MRT car as the train hurtled towards Zhongxiao Fuxing. I looked down at the guy in the seat directly in front of me. He was  quiet, self-contained, a bit nerdy, had the look of an engineer or first-year market analyst. Those ubiquitous black thick-framed glasses sat on his nose. I noticed that he was pallid, hunched forward a bit, and his hands were shaking.

I was about to ask if he was OK - mostly out of self-interest, because if he was as close to hurling as he looked, my shoes were right in the line of fire - until I looked again and noticed the handles of a small bag wound through his blood-drained, earthquake fingers.

A small, bright blue bag. From Tiffany. Inside was a ring box. And then I thought: awwwwwww. Even though I'm not the kind of girl who melts over diamonds, it was still sweet. I mean, he could have been buying his mother diamond earrings - this is the country where Listen To Your Mom (聽媽媽的話) became a hit song - but judging from his apparent need for a sick bag, my guess is that he was about to propose.

I wanted to then say "加油!" (good luck / you go!)  but didn't - didn't want to freak him out any more than he clearly already was.      

What got me thinking, though, was that diamond engagement rings are only a fairly recent thing in Taiwan and are still not all that common. Someone else commented on this story - saying ask your non-Westernized local friends if they bought or received a diamond engagement ring. They probably didn't, because it's not the "done thing" here the way it is in the USA.

But, you know, I was surprised. I did do just that even though I don't have a lot of married, non-Westernized local friends (I do have a few). The majority of those under age 40 said that yes, they did in fact buy their fiancee a diamond engagement ring. I mostly asked the men - I don't have that many married, non-Westernized Taiwanese female friends. They're generally single or at least unmarried. I do plan to ask a few, though.

One student I was chatting with said that his wife wouldn't marry him until he bought her a Cartier diamond ring (he's an executive at a well-known company, so don't feel too bad. He didn't scrimp and save and go without to do this). Two more admitted that they bought their wives or fiancees rings - both still from Cartier. So Cartier seems to be the default place to buy a ring if you're an under-40 upper middle class Taiwanese man about to get engaged.

My own engagement ring - I think I've posted it before. Check out the AWESOME DRAGON

The one person who said no, he did not buy his wife a diamond ring, was the student over 40. I didn't ask a friend of mine who is 40 because he married at about 20 - too long ago (back when it wasn't a "thing") and far too young and just starting out to be buying diamonds.

I was just surprised at how many "yes"s I got - I expected at least an equal number of "yes" and "no" answers, since there's no history of diamond marketing in Taiwan. All those LED-covered shiny "Bridal Diamond" stores you see - especially around Zhongxiao Dunhua, where Hearts on Fire's sign will make you go blind if you look at it directly - seem to be a new thing, not something that started gaining momentum in the early-to-mid 20th century as it did in the USA.

New as it is, it seems to be surging.

I can't say I'm happy about it: the diamond-is-the-only-acceptable-engagement-ring cult in the USA makes me a bit ill. People can like what they like and spend what they want on whatever they want and yes, diamonds are puuuuurty, but the marketing practices, the prices forced up as high as they are and the whole conflict diamond thing stirs great acrimony and sadness in me. I don't really want to see it come to Taiwan.

One thing that was great about living in Taiwan during my engagement was that nobody questioned the fact that I did not get - and did not choose, and would not have chosen - a diamond. In the US during our brief visit it wasn't a big deal, either, because I surround myself with awesome, loving people who wouldn't make shallow "but it's not a DIIIAAAMMMOOONNNDDD" remarks, but if I'd lived there for the entire engagement, someone who wasn't a friend or beloved relative probably would have said something like that - you can't be just around your loved ones 24/7. Sometimes you have to deal with others. Sometimes those others are great, sometimes they're, for lack of a better word, nincompoops.

But in Taiwan, it was totally cool. I didn't even really need a ring to be accepted as "engaged". No judgment, no problem. I would hate to see that eroded by Big Diamond.