Showing posts with label philippines. Show all posts
Showing posts with label philippines. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Sometimes Taiwan's problem isn't global ignorance - it's China-appeasing malice

From Twitter account Star Trek Minus Context

Until fairly recently, I had a friendly acquaintance. We'd met in person; he wasn't just a Facebook 'friend'. After all I've written about Taiwan, all I've said, all the articles I've posted, he would still make "jokes" asking me about my life "in China". He once referred to my city as Chinese Taipei. I kept asking him to stop, but did not immediately cut him loose, because I knew he was joking and was perfectly aware that Taiwan wasn't China. Wrongly, I believed that if I could convey to him that these jokes weren't funny and only served to irritate me, he'd understand that and stop. He didn't, I got sick of it and unfriended him.

I'm telling you that story for a reason.

In recent weeks, at least three countries have banned (or temporarily banned) Taiwanese travelers over coronavirus fears. These bans weren't directed specifically at Taiwan, but rather included Taiwan in China. Joining Italy and Vietnam (the latter banning Taiwanese travelers only for a brief period), the Philippines is now including Taiwan in Chinese travel bans.

“If you look at the WHO map and the number of cases that they have, Taiwan is included in China. Since we have a temporary travel restriction and ban on China, then Taiwan is included,” Domingo said in a press briefing.

Once again, everything I said about the Vietnam travel ban also applies to the Philippines:

I want to be very clear here: I don't think the dingbats who made these decisions actually believe Taiwan is a part of China. At best it's highly unlikely. Consider the cultural, economic and geographic ties between Vietnam and Taiwan, as well as a fair amount of well-publicized controversy surrounding these ties. There's just no way that Vietnamese policymakers don't know that Taiwan is a thing.
More likely, the airhead bureaucrat who made these decisions either simply doesn't care, or is perfectly aware that Taiwan is separate from China with a separate (and more effective) healthcare system and far fewer confirmed coronavirus cases, but doesn't want to anger China. So they use this exclusion from international organizations and their own country's lack of official recognition as cover for their bad decisions, thinking they're doing the right thing by keeping China happy. 

With all of the connections, both historical and current, that Taiwan and the Philippines have - they're right next to each other! - there is simply no way that Eric "Douchesack" Domingo does not know that Taiwan is not a part of China. Probably part of his job is keeping up on health-related issues in connection with all of the Filipino workers who come to Taiwan. If not his job, then someone under him. 

He knows. He just doesn't care. He's not ignorant; he's making a choice. 

Sometimes ignorance really is the issue. I've met American exchange students in Hong Kong who truly believed that the Chinese government extended to Taiwan. I have relatives who thought Taiwan was not a democracy until I set them straight. I still get mail from people I know that put my address in China. Websites that list Taiwan as a "Province of China" often don't realize that they're using a pre-fab list that says this, and many are happy to fix it if asked nicely. In those cases, it makes sense to patiently and non-judgmentally start a conversation about Taiwan so that they might know more about the issue and reconsider their previous assumptions.

But sometimes, especially at the government and international organization level, the choice to treat Taiwan badly is not made out of ignorance. It's pure China-appeasing malice.

ICAO knows perfectly well that China doesn't control Taiwanese airspace. The WHO isn't stupid (well, they are, but not in this way)  - they are likewise aware. The UN knows Taiwan exists. Italian officials may not be so aware of Asian geography, but certainly Vietnam and the Philippines are quite cognizant that Taiwan's government is not the same as China's. IELTS and TOEFL both know it too. The Lancet is not staffed by morons, they definitely know, and yet they defend themselves with this crap, and people who should know better actually buy it (a fallacious appeal to authority does not outweigh the fact that Taiwan's health care system is different from China's, period).

These people are choosing to feign ignorance, and the result is intentional cruelty and decisions that do more harm than good.

In such cases, an approach of "oh, they must be misinformed" is simply not going to work. Raising awareness is great, when directed at people around the world - the news consumers - who truly don't realize anything is amiss. But thinking that you'll convince Eric Domingo, the WHO or people like them by making a case aimed at raising their knowledge level is doomed to fail - because the problem that needs to be addressed is not a lack of knowledge.

I will reiterate: it's this guy's actual well-paid real job that he is really supposed to do, and do well, for real money to know the public health situation of countries where such issues might affect the Philippines. Of course it is his job to know that Taiwan has exemplary public health, rather than lean on the fallacy of "what the WHO says". It's possible that he's completely unfit for the role, but I doubt it.

He's not stupid. He's an asshole. You can't convince an asshole with "clarification" or sincere discussion, because they are not interested in being informed (or letting on that they already are). 

My husband said once: 

And that's really it. A pro-Taiwan position is predicated on knowledge. People come to Taiwan's side because they learned more. An anti-Taiwan position (that is, any Taiwan position espoused by China) is predicated on remaining ignorant - you can only stay that way if you don't learn about Taiwan's fascinating and unique history and political situation and just invoke repeated, yet fallacious, appeals to authority until the other side gets tired.

At some point, that's a choice, especially when it is your job to know better.

Taiwan advocates have a really great hammer. We might call it Thor's Hammer, but it's really more like Cassandra's Hammer. Cassandra's Hammer works just as well as Thor's Hammer, except nobody believes that it can do the things it does. (Also, it earns 77% of what Thor's Hammer gets for doing the same job.)

That hammer is knowledge - we know the history of this country. We know why it's unique. We know, in painstaking detail, why and how it is different from China. 
We understand that these are facts: That Taiwan's health system is different from China's is a fact. That Taiwan's government is not the same as China's is a fact. That data consistently show that Taiwanese people want to keep it that way is a fact. That we are not overwhelmed with coronavirus as China is...well, unfortunate for China, but also a fact. These facts are not up for debate, and they form a powerful - I'd say unassailable - argument. 

When you have a hammer like that, every problem really does look like a nail. You want to inform, educate and clarify because you have a great tool for it.

That's important - raising awareness among people who truly don't know plays such a crucial role. I will never say we should stop doing it - in fact, we should do it with patience, humility and joy.

Did I mention patience?

But not everything is a nail. You can't win someone to your side with "clarification" and "awareness raising" if they are already clear and aware, but are choosing to be a douchesack anyway. You're trying to solve a problem they don't have.

I don't know how to fix the issue of intentionally harmful decision-making aimed more at the political expediency of appeasing China than actually doing the right - and most effective - thing by including Taiwan, as itself, in international affairs.

Call them out? It works to some degree - that's how we got ICAO to stop mass-blocking anyone who mentioned Taiwan and got some online participation at the WHO. It sure feels like cold leftovers when we deserve a full seat at the table, though.

Unfriend them, like I did with that guy on Facebook? I'd sure like to see Taiwan say to the Philippines, "okay, if you think we're China, please send all work applications for Filipinos coming to Taiwan to Beijing and see how that works out", but the fact is that we need to stay on good terms with other countries in the region. (It would also hurt workers who are just trying to earn a living).

Continue to push persistently, refusing to be gaslit by their feigned ignorance, while cultivating 'establishment' allies who can get things done for Taiwan? Sure, but it's a slow process.

The work is brutal and the road is unclear. I don't have any better solutions. But it must be done. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Bad reporting, Han Kuo-yu, and racism against Filipinos in Taiwanese society

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 12.02.45 PM
This meme - not established Taiwanese media -  is the most accurate translation of Han's actual remarks that I've found. 

So, I'm sure you've all heard by now that Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu is a racist crapsack, but you might not be entirely clear on exactly how much of a racist crapsack he actually is, because it's impossible to figure out what his exact words were from print media. 

In looking for Han's direct quote, I found three different versions in United Daily News, Liberty Times and Storm Media, and decided none of them could be fully trusted. So, I found a video. Here's exactly what he said, with video evidence:


My translation:

I think the hearts of Kaohsiung residents and Taiwanese would be greatly shocked, how can a Maria become our teacher?

'Maria' is a pejorative for a Filipina woman, connoting a woman of humble means who performs domestic labor. It's equivalent to calling them maids - referring to every woman in the Philippines as 'the help'. This particular insult is well-known in Taiwan, where many workers from the Philippines perform blue-collar labor in Taiwan. It's not just a racist word, it's a sexist one too as it specifically denigrates the domestic labor done by foreign women.

That word, "shock" (衝擊) can also mean an assault or lashing - it could just as easily be translated as "would assault the hearts of Kaohsiungers and Taiwanese".

The "...because how can a 'Maria' become our English teacher" is also important to understanding Han's meaning, it implies unlikeliness, impossibility, or mockery. How could The Help possibly teach us?

This is what he means and an accurate translation of his remark makes that clear.

Han goes on to say (from the video linked above, translation mine):

往菲律賓取才我覺得這個在一個克服的過程。... 如果我們從菲律賓引進教英文的師資,高雄的家長能不能接受? 所以我才會用瑪麗亞三個字,來做一個表述,所以我用瑪麗亞三個字不是有其他的意思在。...你為什麼不找美國,澳大利亞,英國的,你為什麼找隔壁菲律賓的?我的意思是說,家長心裡會有一個障礙。可是呢?菲律賓外語人才的輸出,已經很成熟,這個兩個這間,怎麼樣說服高雄的家長? 
Filipino talent, I think this is a process of overcoming....if we introduce qualified English teachers from the Philippines, would Kaohsiung patriarchs/heads of household/old-timers be able to accept it [with the implication that they would not]. So, I can only say 'Maria' it's just an expression, so when I say 'Maria', there's no other meaning....Why don't you find American, Australian, English ones, why do you find people from the nearby Philippines? My meaning is, that's a mental obstacle for these 'patriarchs'/old timers. But? The Philippines sending out foreign language speakers is already very common. Between these two [extremes], how can we convince those old-timers?

This sounds like a reasonable position to take, because it's surely true that there are many racist people in Kaohsiung and Taiwan who would be bothered by or opposed to having teachers from the Philippines in positions of authority and respect in Taiwan, because to them, they are just "Marias".

That doesn't absolve Han of his initial comments, though. First, to say "I didn't mean anything other than that by the word 'Maria'" is about as tired an excuse as "I only used the N-word because I heard it in a rap song, not because I meant something racist."

And it doesn't hold up to even the barest scrutiny as an explanation: he's not quoting anyone in particular when he calls Filipinas 'Marias'. The word came out of his own mouth. He used it offhandedly, like a normal word anyone would use. He didn't adequately signpost his remarks as a quote or description of an attitude, because that's not actually what they were despite his "clarifications" later.

If Han had really meant to describe what Taiwanese think, and make it clear that he disagrees, he wouldn't have said 'Maria' so casually in the first place. This marks him not as an ally, but a concern troll: defending his words as describing what the other side thinks, but showing through his unconsidered language choices that, on some level, he is a part of that 'other side'. Someone who truly wants to change racism against Southeast Asians in Taiwanese society would simply not say " can a Maria become our teacher?"

It boils down to his meaning being, "I don't hate Marias, I'm just worried about racism in Taiwan, what with everyone used to them being so poor and being maids and all, it's sad to me that nobody wants those Marias to be their English teachers. I'm just concerned!" 

He didn't say "many Taiwanese unfortunately have an obstacle in their thinking to accepting the idea that teachers from the Philippines could teach them, and that is wrong. We need to persuade them and overcome this obstacle, because there are many qualified professionals, including teachers, from the Philippines." He didn't even say "many Taiwanese think of workers from the Philippines as 'Marias' and that is a problem", which, while a bit gasp-worthy, is at least kind of an accurate description of what some Taiwanese people think.

He said, and I repeat, "how can a Maria become an English teacher?" as casually as an American racist might say "How'd a ________ like her get a nice car like that?" 

(And see how I made it quite clear that such horrid language describes views that exist in the world, but does not reflect my own views? It's not hard.)

At the very least it didn't occur to him that unthinkingly tossing off the 'Maria' epithet might be a problem. That only happens when someone already thinks of a group of people that way, not when they are signaling disagreement or condemnation of an opinion others hold.

And if a leader is caught in such a gaffe and tries to insist that they don't personally feel that way about a particular group, but they're just worried that everyone else does, that's simply unacceptable. Leaders should not inflame societal prejudices, even if they are common; they should be examples of a higher, more forward-thinking standard. 

Let's keep in mind as well that he tows the same 'concern troll' line with marriage equality, saying his real concern is "the next generation" (won't someone think of the children?), not that he is anti-gay, while fraternizing with anti-gay groups

And he didn't even bother to defend his remark until later in the meeting when directly asked about it, or show awareness that 'Maria' is more than 'just an expression'.

If you look at reporting of Han's comments, you get distortions of what he said all over the place (all translations are mine). Some make his wording look a lot worse - from UDN:

Introducing Filipino talent, I'm afraid (as in, scared - not regretful) that this will be a shock to Taiwanese and Kaohsiung residents, because how can a Maria become a teacher? 

From Liberty Times:

I'm afraid that this would be a shock to the Taiwanese, because how can a Maria become a teacher?

And from Storm Media, inexplicably making him look better:

Han Kuo-yu believes it is indeed possible to take advantage of /get benefits from [talent from the Philippines], but the psychological barriers of the people of Taiwan must first be overcome - to let "'Marias' become teachers", a lot of people will be shocked.  
"I think / I think that Kaohsiung residents and Taiwanese will be very shocked, Marias become our English teachers, we need to overcome this, this can be a huge shock." 

Storm tried to soften the impact of his words by mashing two quotes together - "Marias become our English teachers" and "we need to overcome this", making it seem as though he said these two things at the same time, when he didn't (which the video makes clear by his different positioning). It also erases the "because how can a Maria become our teacher?" by selectively cutting his quote and replacing "because how can..." (怎麼) with "let" (讓) outside the quote marks. 

In English the reporting isn't much higher quality.

From Focus Taiwan, which offers the most accurate translation:

Responding to a proposal that Taiwan could hire bilingual Filipino white-collar workers at a conference on Wednesday, the mayor said employing "Marias" as teachers would be a psychological shock for Taiwanese.

There's also this from Taiwan News, which is far worse but just translates the garbage from Storm Media above but does so in a way that make Han's comments sound erudite in English, when they weren't particularly eloquent in Mandarin:

In response to this, the Kaohsiung Mayor admitted the Philippines’ abundance of skilled labor could benefit the city, but said its residents would first need to overcome some “internal conflicts.”
“I believe witnessing ‘Marias’ become teachers would cause a clash in the hearts of the people of Kaohsiung, and Taiwan’s population at large. This is something that needs to be overcome; likely a huge internal conflict,” Storm quotes Han.

And the Taipei Times, with what I think is the most inaccurate translation:

Han on Wednesday told a meeting of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce in Taipei that he feared that hiring educated employees from the Philippines as English teachers “would cause a psychological shock for Taiwanese, as people might wonder: How has our Maria become a teacher?” 

Focus Taiwan accurately placed the 'Maria' comment within the attitude of Han, which is the context in which he made it, and not as a description of what he thinks other Taiwanese think. The other two make him sound much better than he actually did, and situate the 'Maria' quip not as Han's own word (which it is) but as a description of something he disagrees with (which is not what he said until pushed - which outs him as a concern troll.) Some translations (like Taipei Times' work) add connotations to the translation - e.g. "wondering" - that are simply not there in his actual words. 

All of these seem so odd to me, because the video of his remarks is publicly available. I'm not even a native Mandarin speaker or a perfectly fluent one, and yet I found and translated it with little problem.

So why do some quotes - like Liberty Times and UDN - make Han's remark seem more shocking than it was (and to be clear, it was quite shocking on its own and did not need to be sexed up)? And why do others - like Storm Media - make it sound like not much at all? How is this unclear and inaccurate media reporting of Han's remarks affecting how Taiwanese think about the incident, and is it distorting public discourse?

In English at least, it is having a distorting effect. Several posts on social media have pointed out that Han's remarks should not be considered offensive, because that's what some Taiwanese really think, based on the Taipei Times and Taiwan News translations.

This makes me wonder how can we even have a real conversation about Han's remarks and racism in Taiwanese society if what we read isn't quoting him correctly.

I'm not sure why Storm Media - which I've found to be typically more reliable - made Han look better than he deserved, and why a pan-green and pan-blue rag each made him look worse. But because the inaccuracies are present across the entire media-political spectrum, it doesn't point to an attempt to polarize the Taiwanese political cleavage.

Rather, I think it's just plain old bad reporting.

I'll finish off with something bad, then something good.

Something bad:

Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) on Saturday apologized for a recent remark in which he referred to Filipinos as "Marias," saying the term, considered by many to be a racial slur, was a slip of the tongue.
Han was sorry for the misunderstanding caused by his misuse of the term and said he looks forward to future cooperation with the Philippines, it added. 

No, Focus Taiwan. NO NO NO NO NO.

"Maria" is not "considered by many" to be a racial slur. Jesus F. Christ. It is a racial slur. Period. Han Kuo-yu said it, and only tried to insist it was a description of what other people think after he was called to task for it, without ever explaining why he'd throw it out so casually (because there is no explanation that absolves him).

It was not a "misunderstanding". We all understood him perfectly. People in the Philippines understood him quite accurately. And he didn't misuse the term - he used it exactly as it's meant to be used in racist speech.

Just as when my (dearly departed) grandpa referred to "those people" and then insisted, when I pressed him, that he hadn't meant it as an insult but "they're just a different community", I knew perfectly well that that's not what he'd meant. 

But then there's the good thing: when I moved to Taiwan 12 years ago, I don't know that a comment like this would have caused this kind of uproar in Taiwan. I passed more than one "Foreign Labor Go Home" protest, with old men carrying signs. I don't even know if such language was common then, because my Mandarin was crap, and I never heard of anyone raising a fuss about it.

But in 2019, despite some attempts to justify Han's language, the overwhelming response of Taiwanese public discourse is that it is not acceptable to talk this way, and racist speech and actions should not be tolerated.

If Han is correct about how many Taiwanese might think of English teachers from the Philippines - and he is, for some people - the fact that the backlash has been so swift and damning proves that not all Taiwanese think this way.

That said, it doesn't seem to be hurting his approval ratings, although I have long suspected something is really weird about whatever force underlies those ratings which is propping up Han. 

Taiwan has a long way to go - we need to treat immigrants from Southeast Asia better, end discrimination and give them the same opportunities for permanent residency and citizenship that white collar workers (who are largely Western) have - but this is real progress. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Reason Not To Love Taiwan :-(

Sadly, this whole Philippines/fisherman clusterfuck (which became so in no small part due to the incompetence of Ma Ying-jiu and his inability to solve even the tiniest diplomatic crisis) has made me more aware of a few general tendencies in Taiwanese discussion and rhetoric that I don't find particularly appealing.

Without really meaning to I ended up in a discussion about this with my neighbors - ordinarily nice, well-educated people - last night. I wasn't pleased with what I heard. I know it's not uncommon to hear these things, but they go so against what any local friend of mine would say that it's still shocking to hear.

Of course, these things happen everywhere - Taiwan doesn't have a monopoly on racism, groupthink, defensiveness and narrowmindedness. Far from it - I generally say, and truly feel, that Taiwan is one of the more tolerant, openminded countries in Asia, if not the most tolerant and openminded in Asia. I do see these sorts of responses to "sensitive" issues (although for the life of me I don't see why it's so sensitive) in the USA and other countries. It's just that they all tend to take on the same tone and use the same rhetoric in Taiwan, distinguishing it from the tone and rhetoric of the USA or elsewhere. For example, you may hear "American exceptionalism" or some bullshit derivation or elongation ("We're the best country in the world!") of that phrase, but you won't hear "Taiwanese exceptionalism". 

I just happen to live here, so I'm applying this observation to here. I don't mean to imply that it only happens here or that everyone here does it - neither are true (I'll get ugly comments anyway. Oh well).

Mooooommm! He hit me first!

Apparently it's fine for the Taiwanese government to be acting like a petulant child, because they shot our guy, and then their government did some yadda-yadda-yadda so our government is justified in doing yadda-yadda-yadda+1 and anyway they didn't really mean their apology. Sigh. Yeah, that's a great way to solve international diplomatic snafus. It worked in the backseat of your parents' station wagon, why not here? Oh, except it didn't really work and you still hold a grudge against your brother for throwing your toy out the window that one time and not really apologizing.

We're not racist - we're so friendly! We're so nice to you.

Yeah, you're nice to me because I'm white. That's also racist, in case you didn't know, because at times you can be nicer to me than to other Taiwanese people (not all the time, but it happens). You - maybe not you specifically but a lot of people - aren't as nice to Southeast Asians. They're not white. That's racist.

We're not racist - those Southeast Asian people come from undeveloped countries so they are a threat to our economy.

That's even more racist. It's also not true. Perhaps study more Economics?

We're not racist - the Philippines is a more dangerous place, so if Filipinos come here, it will be more dangerous here. But we don't mind that they are here. We're not racist. 


Shakes head.

Well, anyway, assuming that any given Filipino or group of Filipinos (or other Southeast Asians) are automatically making Taiwan "more dangerous" is a.) not related to the fisherman issue; and b.) ALSO FUCKING RACIST. If I said "I'm not racist, it's just that minorities commit more crimes, so I have to be more careful around them", I'd be a racist person because assuming someone will do something (good or bad, but in this case bad) based on their race is racist.

Also it sounds like you do mind that they are here, but do realize that that's racist and won't say it.

Nobody's threatening Filipinos or blaming Filipinos in Taiwan.

Yes they are. Read the news.

We're not racist - those guys who beat up some Filipinos don't represent us. They're just some low-class guys. Racism isn't a problem in Taiwan.

I believe you in that those guys who beat up some Filipinos don't represent you. You wouldn't do that, and you are probably perfectly nice to Filipinos you meet in your daily life. But just because you don't do that, and nobody you know would do that doesn't mean it doesn't happen, and that it's not a problem. Also, my pointing it out doesn't mean I'm implying that you're such a person.

I mean, I'm a New Yorker. I would loooooooove to say that the bigoted beliefs and ignorant statements I hear trumpeted by other Americans, too numerous to even get into here, don't "represent America", because they don't represent me. It's true that they don't represent me, but they are a part of American public discourse and therefore do in some way represent a part of America. I'd love to pretend that America is an accepting, women-minority-non-Christian-and-LGBT-friendly country, but I can't just ignore the other side because I don't like it.

And you can't just ignore this as the actions of a few low-class people. They are Taiwanese too. This is a problem in your country.

OK, some people are racist, but people are racist everywhere. China's more racist.

Both technically true, but it sure sounds like you're hiding behind an excuse there, tryin' to save a little face. I don't blame you, but just because racism exists elsewhere and is worse in other places is also not an excuse to ignore it in your own country.

Ma Ying-jiu handled this badly, true, but he's a nice guy, not corrupt like Chen Shui-bian.

Yes he is. Whole damn KMT's fucked up.

But their government is worse than our government!

It is true that the government in the Philippines is racked with problems. But again, that is not a reason to excuse your government. It's just not a good defense.

In fact, because Taiwan can legitimately claim to be a First World country, you'd think there'd be more pressure for the government to put on their Grown-Up Pants and act like freakin' adults. Instead, your government is acting in exactly the sort of undignified way that it most seeks to avoid with all this posturing.

It's not a good idea to discuss these issues, because someone might feel bad or lose face. Don't make waves.

Oh just fuck right off*. Crazy white lady be crazy, and Crazy white lady intends to not only have her freedom of speech, but use it. You're free to walk away. Not making waves is big here, but I'm not from here and I like waves. 

*I did not actually say this. I just thought it. I can't help getting into political discussions - perhaps I should move to southern Taiwan where that's more accepted - but I'm not that rude.

I hate the whole country, oh, but I don't hate the regular people, but I HATE THE WHOLE COUNTRY.

Uh, that doesn't even make sense. You can't hate the whole country if you don't hate everyone in it, and you can't hate everyone in it, because you haven't met them (you could think you do, I suppose, if you were racist, but you insist you're not).

Also a problem when talking about Korea. It's like everyone "hates Korea", but not the people, and not the ones they know, and some singers, dramas or food is OK, really it's just some sports teams/athletes and a few large corporations like Samsung. "OK so I don't really hate Korea. But I hate Korea!"

Americans certainly do this too - many tend to make blanket statements like that about Americans from another area (does everybody hate everybody), Muslims, people of other religions (or for some of the angrier atheists, people with any religion at all), certain subgroups of women...I'm noting it in Taiwan because I live here, but it's not unique to here.

But we are Chinese, this is our culture, or something.

Oh whatever. Can we stop with the blaming of negative tendencies on "culture" and start seeing it as something that can be changed? Because it can be changed. Plenty of your compatriots realize that. 

So you think Taiwan is acting badly in this? YOU MUST HATE TAIWAN!

I don't hate Taiwan. In fact, I love it here. I wouldn't criticize it if I didn't love it, I'd just leave. The fact that I've been here for seven years shows how much I love it. It's possible to love something and criticize it at the same time. It's possible to point to some people acting badly and note that that's a problem for the country without accusing everyone of acting badly. You see,

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

- F. Scott Fitzgerald

...try it sometime.

Love ya.

No, seriously Taiwan. Love ya.

But come on. You can do better.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

This Country For Old Men

I would say you'd have to be living in a cave not to have heard some inklings of the gun control debate currently raging - quite rightly - in the USA. But then if you lived in a cave in America, you would probably own a few guns (that's not to say that all gun owners live in caves). Even non-Americans would have gotten some news of this debate: I know my students certainly have.

Brendan has an interesting view of things that is worth a read - someone really needs to hire him as an advisor to something - but I want to go in a different direction as I explore the merits of gun control here, from an expat in Taiwan perspective.

The Setting

Most of my friends are hippie liberal East Coast Ivory Tower elitist feminist godless socialists, but I have a few Facebook friends who are not: people I knew in high school, mostly. And a few friends-of-friends or people on subscribed feeds with different views. Their perspectives come from being Americans who value the Second Amendment and feel that the right granted to them in this amendment to bear arms is of the utmost importance - right up there with freedom of speech, religion, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (personally, I think universal health care, including paid sick days and maternity leave, falls in with "the pursuit of happiness", but that's a different debate). That this right should be considered before any other discussion of gun control legislation or restriction. Most, if not all, of these people are "responsible gun owners": the ones who own a few guns for hunting or marksmanship, who keep them locked up, have learned how to operate them safely, and who treat them with care. Even as a liberal hippie leftist East Coast Ivory Tower elitist feminist godless socialist Communist, I actually think that's, well, it's OK. I am not entirely against their right to own those guns.

Responsible Ownership: The Other Side of the Story

My own father owns a few guns - for hunting and for skeet shooting. He rarely engages in those activities now, but he used to. I remember as a child that he'd go hunting with his best friend from his hometown, and while I am generally not interested in hunting and have strongly considered going vegetarian, I never had any strong feelings of opposition to this. He knows how to operate a gun, knows how to own them safely (they were always locked away when we were children, disabled, with the ammunition and some other essential part - I'm no expert - locked away in different places).

I never looked for the keys, never tried to break into the gun cabinet. But then I was generally a good kid, although a bit rebellious and mouthy. I was never systematically bad. I was also terrified of those guns, and Dad was very careful to make sure we never knew where the key was (I still don't know). I can imagine a scenario in which  a kid not terrified but fascinated, with a parent less detailed in his efforts to make them unobtainable, successfully tries to get their hands on "locked away" guns.

That's where my very small sympathetic bent comes from, anyway.

But It Really Is Safer!

Now, I live in Taiwan - a country where guns are illegal for all but certain authorities (think government security, law enforcement, the military). I have to say that, as much as I understand the mindset of "responsible gun owners", I feel so much safer in a country where guns are banned. Just plain, outright, done-and-done banned. I do prefer it. I do not feel as though I have lost an essential right. I do not feel that my American right to bear arms compares with my rights to freedom of speech and religion. I feel that peoples' right to "life and liberty" - the "liberty" being something I have not had to obtain at gunpoint, and probably never will - supercede the rights of others to own guns. Guns are a machine designed to take away life, and an area with a lot of guns is not one that I feel at liberty to walk freely in. Just ask how many times I went to the worst parts of Washington DC (answer: I used to do literacy tutoring in Shaw, and on U Street before it gentrified, and while I've skirted worse areas, I have never felt I had the liberty to walk in them). In Taiwan I feel this right to life and liberty has been reasonably granted me.

I simply prefer things this way - because for as much as people say "guns don't kill people, people kill people", the fact is that with far fewer guns on the street, far fewer people are killed. This can't just be a cultural difference, and it can't be that countries who enjoy microscopically low rates of gun violence, who have banned guns, would continue to enjoy that if they allowed guns and "taught people to use them responsibly". Any quick survey of common sense would show that to be ludicrous: if Taiwan had more guns, including legal guns, gun violence would go up. It's not just a matter of culture, it's also a matter of, well...guns.

I Don't Fear Imaginary Hitler

And, I dunno 'bout you, but I prefer that it stay down. I am willing to give up my right to own a gun in order to keep it down. I do not fear that I will have to arm myself against a fascist government (another argument used). Honestly, if such a government were to arise, people would find ways of fighting back. Taiwan managed to go from dictatorship to democracy without an armed populace - in fact, many countries have made the transition to democracy without a bullets-to-bullets war. The ones that have done so the most successfully are the ones where the people faced the guns of their oppressors and, yes, some of them died, but rather than shoot back, they refused to stand down. I'll take a Gandhian overthrow of a government, or the slightly messier but otherwise successful democratic reforms in Taiwan over a messy revolution (from 18th and 19th century France to the Civil War to the failed Tamil Tigers to Syria today) that leads to, well, chaos and a continued bloody aftermath.


Besides, banning guns does not mean that all the Bad Guys will just get them illegally, either (another thing I heard on Facebook, and have come across elsewhere). My experience in Asia is that some bad guys obtain guns illegally - certainly illegal firearms exist in Taiwan - but those bad guys seem mostly to be Really Big Boss types, and aren't generally concerned with mowing down civilians (instead they mow down each other).

The gunfights that do occur in Taiwan tend to be personal or gang feuds, and these days don't really seem to be something that affects unrelated people (the occasional politician being the exception). I did do some Googling to see if I could find any news of non-gang related shootings in Taiwan, and can't find much at all - nothing dating from after 2004.  (I also found this, but the data is old, and it's not clear who these "unintentionally shot" people were).

What this seems to breed, then, is a country were gangsters have illegally obtained guns, but people not involved in that world are unlikely to be unaffected by it. You are about as likely to get hit by a stray bullet anywhere in Taiwan as you are to, I dunno, catch malaria here (I know, I really should actually do the math on that before I say it...lazy, lazy blogger - all I can say is the last case of locally contracted malaria that I can find in search results dates from 2003). You, as a non-gangster, are almost certain not to be the victim of or involved in gun violence. Home robbery does happen - I can't find much online in terms of statistics of home robbery in involving guns and home robbery without guns in Taiwan - but anecdotal evidence from asking around seems to be that robbers generally carry knives, but your chances of getting killed by a robber with a knife are less than that of a robber with a gun.

It's the guys who might otherwise participate in drive-bys, or try to take out a post office or elementary school, or mug or rob you, who can obtain guns legally in America, can't in Taiwan, and probably won't obtain them illegally here. Those are the guys I'm afraid of - those are the ones most likely to affect me. Restricting gun access keeps guns out of their hands in the way that it doesn't in the USA, and I'm all for that.

In short, "but bad guys will just get guns illegally" is not really a valid argument. Some will, but not the ones likely to kill you, unless you owe Boss Huang a particularly large gambling debt. If you do, good luck t'ya.

(Don't get me wrong, I'd like to see gang violence decrease, too, but I'm more concerned about innocent civilian deaths).

Finally, the lunatics who shoot up schools and kill children?  In countries where guns are banned, they tend not to attack with guns. There are still assaults in schools, but the body counts are much lower.  Contrary to the pro-gun "but they'll just get guns anyway" line, well, no, they won't. That's something.

Put all this together, and I feel safer in Taiwan. I am happier not having the right to own a gun here, and in return feeling safer. I can walk through "dodgy" neighborhoods: I don't fear for my life in down-at-heel Wanlong, or scruffy, gangster-infested Sanchong, or even olde-tyme gangster haven Wanhua/Longshan Temple. Even late at night, those places do not scare me. I would never walk through similar areas at night in major American cities. I would not feel safe.

"But Hitler and Stalin Took Away Guns! And Look What Happened!"

Yes, they did. China has done the same, and China's certainly not free.

But you know who else took away guns? Modern, safe, democratic Germany, not to mention Japan, the UK (in fact, most of Europe), Australia...and those are the safest countries in the world. "They took our guns!" does NOT automatically equal "They're the next Hitler!"

Quite the opposite, in fact. Those countries tend to be free, democratic, developed and safe. Countries I would be proud and happy to live in. Countries where I would feel free, not like my sacred rights are being taken away.

No Really, Guns Help People Kill People

And you know, countries with fairly liberal gun policies, such as most of Central America (but not all - you can do a search by country here. I've set it to Honduras, where firearms are fairly easy to obtain, because it's consistently ranked as one of the more dangerous countries in terms of gun violence)...tend to be the most dangerous.

I have never felt anything other than safe in Japan, Taiwan and Europe. When we went to Central America, we saw lots of guns (like, really lots of guns, guys, as in, armed guards outside ice cream parlors) and didn't feel particularly safe. In fact, we took great care. In the Philippines, where gun ownership is supposedly restrictive, but in fact are quite common. I didn't feel entirely unsafe, but I didn't feel entirely safe, either. The pistol packed by the kindly old man at the front desk of our hotel in Cebu didn't really assuage my anxiety.

As a good friend has said, guns are designed to kill, or at least to injure or instill fear. They are "fine pieces of machinery" too, but the purpose of that machinery really is to kill. Sure, you can use them for marksmanship, but you can also use blanks, BB guns and do archery for that. So I would just re-name them "killing machines", because that's what they are. That's what they're designed for. That's why you can't compare a lunatic with a gun to a drunk driver and say "should we just take away everyone's cars, too?" - a car is not designed to kill. A gun is. Not comparable.

Then, instead of saying "you're just unreasonably afraid" as a response to "I fear guns", nobody would have much to say to "I fear killing machines". Because who wouldn't?

In Summary...

As someone who lives abroad in a country where it is illegal for civilians to possess firearms, I don't feel as though my rights have been taken away. In fact, I look at my home country, and I am sad for them. I wish the USA could find a way to be as safe, as generally peaceful in day-to-day life, as Taiwan. Where kids really can go to school without fear, where I can walk wherever I like at any time,  where even the majority of bad guys don't have guns, and those who do aren't interested in me. I have no emotional attachment to my Second Amendment rights as an American. I don't put it on the same level as my right to certain freedoms, and I think most people in the world would agree: you'd get a lot of people defending the right to free speech and religion (and some detractors, but there are always people like that), and very few outside the USA defending the right to own a gun as equal to those rights above. And I'm with them.

I'd rather feel safe than have that right, and I live in a country where I feel safe. That country is not the USA. I live in a country that is free, that is democratic, that gives its citizens liberty and a voice in government like the USA, but one that is markedly less violent. That's not just a cultural difference, it's a difference in how many guns there are. There are gangs in Taiwan, there are violent people. The two cultures are very different but in this way, not so much. The difference here truly does lie in guns. Not education, not people, not media (between Hong Kong action films, bloody adult anime and Apple Daily gory cartoon depictions of murder scenes, that's just plainly not true), and it's not exactly a God-fearing country in the way Americans would think of one. Also, mental health care isn't that great (there are good doctors but a lot of social stigma and a dearth of treatment facilities, so a lot of people with mental illnesses go untreated). Guns. Not other things. Guns. Fewer guns =  fewer deaths, and you can dispute that 'till your ass turns blue (because that's where those arguments come from), but it's just plain true.

Living here has allowed me to observe, to watch the news more carefully and with more personal interest, of what goes on around the world vis-a-vis guns vs. what goes on in the USA (or Central America). It has allowed me to see firsthand how a lot of the myths gun proponents tell themselves are simply not true. It has allowed me to see just how right Jon Stewart is (watch the whole show, I say. It's worth it).

Would I vote "yes" on a repeal of the 2nd Amendment? Yes, I probably would. My desire for fewer guns is greater than my respect for the Second Amendment (another amendment was repealed when it was found not to be working - it's not taboo, in my book, to consider it). Is that likely to ever happen? No. Gun owners need not fear that. Would I be also OK with stricter licensing, broader powers for the ATF (including a true national database) and a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons so that responsible gun owners could keep their guns, and crazies could be kept from the bazookas, and gangsters as away as possible from the sawed-offs? Yes. I'd prefer fewer guns overall. It is not my strongest opinion - those are reserved for civil, gay and women's rights - but I won't fight for another's right to own a gun, as much as they feel they have that right. I won't stand behind them.

So, for this and other reasons, Taiwan is where I'm staying. America can't seem to grow the fuck up on this issue, and I feel sorry for them.


And Now For Something Completely Different: Dihua Street Gets Fresh Lease On Life

I wanted to share it because it's a lovely article, and exhort everyone to spend some time on Dihua Street. I go there often (all my tailoring is done and DIY supplies are bought there, and the food is great) - it's worth the trip to the west end of Taipei.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Southeast Asian Food

There are a lot of tips, hints and links for Southeast Asian food on offer in Taipei, but I thought I'd put forth a few suggestions I haven't yet seen knocked about online as my favorite destinations for food from the peninsula and islands.

Yangon (Myanmar)

Gongguan Night Market, near the Molly's Used Books behind Taipower Building. From Gongguan Night Market, turn in the alley near the Vietnamese Restaurant and head to the end, where you come across a small park and the end of the night market. It's on the road on the far side of the park, between a Korean BBQ and a coffeeshop.

Yangon looks like a Thai restaurant that happens to have a Burmese name - no, I can't figure out if I should call it Myanmar or Burma - and if you order incorrectly from the menu, you'll get just that, Thai food. But order correctly, or better yet, compliment the owners by specifically requesting Burmese food recommendations, and you are in for a real treat. We ordered three dishes and a green papaya salad. The eggplant dish felt very Chinese, with sweet soy sauce and a flavor reminiscent of Yunnan cuisine. The meat-in-a-stone-bowl was curried, with flavors from northeast India. The papaya salad and shrimp fritters (I know, I know, but I LOVE shrimp fritters) were very Thai. Put them all together and you have Rangoonian bliss. Also, very affordable.

South East Asia Food Center Xinyi (all kinds)
(at least that's what I think it's called - I've lost the card)

Near the International Trade Building with all the consulates in it (that tall square building between the Grand Hyatt and the World Trade Center) - cross Keelung Road and head slightly to the right. It's the first lane to the left of a place offering Singaporean food, which we haven't had the pleasure of trying yet. Walk down the lane a bit and it's on the right.

The owner, whom I believe is named Winston, is Vietnamese but the place offers food from all over the peninsula. He speaks great English, and the place is packed with Taiwanese office workers coming for a good-value lunch in Xinyi, who want Southeast Asian food but don't really want to pay Shinkong Mitsukoshi prices for it. They have Singapore noodles, Vietnamese pho and spring rolls, green papaya salad, curry fried rice, laksa, Thai curries and more...all for excellent prices.

The green papaya salad is more Lao in flavor than Thai, so those used to the hot, sour Thai style and unfamiliar with the more coriander-and-oniony, crunchy, lemony Lao style might be surprised.

Borneo (Indonesian)

Shida Night Market, at the very end - turn in the road that begins at the Fubon Bank (Shida branch) on Heping E. Road and it's visible on the left

Not exactly Indonesian food, but good. They do not do Padang-style 'small dishes', something I remember quite fondly in Sumatra when we gorged ourselves silly on Padang food in Padang itself...but what they do offer is quite nice. Be sure to request 'extra spicy' or 'local style' - the chef is Indonesian and can cook it up for you the way the staff would eat it, but if you don't say anything you get something a bit milder. They do standard Indonesian fare - nasi goreng, mie goreng, rendang, satay - at bargain-basement prices. I don't think I've ever paid more than NT100 for a meal there. Plus they have a cute white dog named Oliver.

The vendor guy next to him who sells crispy Thai spring rolls on a stick also cooks up a tasty treat.

Pinoy (Filipino) food of all kinds

Sundays on Zhongshan N. Road between Minquan W. Road and Yuanshan MRT stations. Walk up between the two and turn right into the lanes at just about the halfway point. Options abound.

I would make specific recommendations but frankly, pretty much everything is good. Try one of the places that looks like a Taiwanese buffet, but you pay by the small dish of food (1 or 2 per person, go with a group and share or go alone) so just order whatever looks good and, frankly, it probably is. If you have no stomach for innards, stay away from the sisig. I could handle sisig in the Philippines because it's soft and tender and bears no trace of its, um, gutsy origins, but the sisig in Taipei is a little more blatant in advertising exactly what it is and where it comes from. This is food for Filipinos in Taiwan on their way home from church on Sunday, so you know you're getting the real thing.

New Bangkok Restaurant (Thai)

Easily found in a lane on the eastern side of Fuxing N. Road between Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT and Breeze Center.

Their fried eggplant and shrimp fritters left something to be desired, but it's worth it to go for the amazing minced basil chicken and green papaya salad, which is among the best I've had in Taiwan. Its hot, sour, sweet and savory flavors are perfectly balanced to create a heavenly chord, like the end of a good Bach fugue, on your tongue.

Thai, Yunnan and Myanmar Food (Neihu branch ONLY) -

Ruiguang Road, Neihu, across the street from the large bus stop of the same name, near E-Ten's office and the Barista Coffee - incidentally the onion pancake guy next to that Barista does an awesome pancake.

Other branches of this restaurant have disappointed me with lackluster tea and mediocre food, but this branch does something very right. I've always been happy with everything I've eaten here, including the soft tofu in coconut sauce, the red curry chicken, the green papaya salad, the greens with sliced pork, and, well, everything.

Tiny Vietnamese pho stall on Heping W. Road

Basically if you head west on Heping W. Road from Roosevelt Road and just continue on for about ten minutes not too far before the pedestrian overpass directly before the botanical gardens and old Academy of Science Building (as well as the other historic buildings surrounding it), and it's on your right in a barely noticeable little card-table-and-white-wall storefront.

I can't remember the name of this place, but the pho is so good and so authentic that it's worth a mention. Really. If you are in that area, maybe heading to the botanical gardens or bird market, it's worth planning a lunch or dinner here if you are a pho fan. The owners are a very friendly Vietnamese couple who are delighted to hear that their food is excellent, and a steady procession of overweight dogs from the next store over comes in as you eat (this is more adorable than it sounds). Really, it's good. Forget Madame Jill's or Yongkang Street and head straight here.

Pho stalls in Xindian and Tonghua Night Markets (Vietnamese)

There's one on the righthand side of the road in Xindian, not far from the pedestrian bridge and partially hidden by some metal fencing. The other good one is in Tonghua Night market about halfway in, down one of the small lanes lined with food stalls (righthand side lane if you enter from Keelung Road, righthand side stall). The one in Xindian makes excellent pho with loads of basil and the other has delicious fresh spring rolls with large whole shrimp for a steal.

If in Xindian, start with a bowl of pho here and head to Athula's on the other side of the pedestrian bridge entrance for a curried meat roll.

Fried Banana and Thai Iced Tea stall (Thai)

Raohe Night Market, near the far end if coming from Houshanpi MRT...opposite end from the temple, but near the bus stop with buses down Nanjing E. Road

This is really just a tiny stall that sells fried banana crepes with a choice of topping - honey, condensed milk or chocolate - and Thai iced tea. It's on the righthand side if you begin at the temple/Wufenpu Fashion Street end of the market and almost at the opposite end. A perfect ending to a meal at Ala-din (delicious, spicy Pakistani food with unlimited vegetables and naan - the veggies are fried in real ghee, not the crappy vegetable oil substitute one so often sees), also in Raohe Night Market.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Camotes

Obligatory Beautiful Sunset, Mangodlong, Camotes

As I mentioned a few entries ago, Brendan and I spent Double Ten weekend back in the Philippines. I haven't posted about it because I have been too lazy to upload my photos until now. We went to the Camotes, which is relevant to Taiwan in approximately zero ways...

...well, maybe one.

Many people who find themselves based in Taiwan are interested in visiting neighboring countries such as China, Japan and - yes - the Philippines. Writing about our time there is a bit of information that can help people get a feel for the place if they haven't been to Southeast Asia before. What I love about the place, though, is that it's totally unlike the rest of SE Asia. It's been influenced more by Western colonialism (English is an effortless second language for most Filipinos and the country is overwhelmingly Christian) and Oceanic cultural norms than the rest of the SE Asian subcontinent.

Oh, and the beaches are better.

I'll write more about the trip later; we have to get up early tomorrow and I have to go to bed soon. But here are some photos:

Danao (Cebu Island) Coral Stone Church

Sunset on Pacijan Island

Little Girl Who Laughed - Then Cried (Danao)

Adorable Kid on a Banca (motorized passenger boat)

Mangodlong Rock Resort - Pacijan Island

Kids and a Bike, Danao

Kids Behind a Fence, Tulag Island

Grandmother, Tulag Island

Tulag Island Village

More Tulag Island

Green Lake Flowers

Green Lake Tree

Altavista View, Poro Island

Two Boaters, Mangodlong, Pacijan Island
(This isn't a very good photo from a technical point of view, but I am drawn to it. I don't know why I like it so much.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Camotes Here I Come

See y'all on the other side of this crap Taipei weather...

...we're off to Cebu tomorrow morning to enjoy some time in the Camotes (tiny islands in the middle of the Philippines).

The Bacuit Archipelago, Palawan

Kid on a rickshaw skeleton, Intramuros, Manila

Sunset in El Nido, Palawan

Curious Kids in Brooke's Point, Palawan

Sunset on the Islands, Bacuit Archipelago, Palawan