Showing posts with label problems_in_taiwan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label problems_in_taiwan. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

It is really hard to support Taiwan (Part 1)


Greetings from England!

You probably won't be hearing as much from me as I start the 2nd semester of my Master's program, but I'll pop in from time to time. Don't expect me to be on top of the news cycle - but then, I had always intended for Lao Ren Cha to be about commentary, not original reporting, so I'm not sure it matters.

Anyway, despite having a few postcard reminders of Taiwan on the bulletin board in my less-than-stellar dorm room, I have to say, domestic news over the past few months has not been making it easy to love the country.

I could cite many stories to make my case, but I'll stick with two. The first is reminder we seem to periodically need that the Taiwanese fishing industry goes beyond deeply unethical and straight into 'human rights abuses' and 'slavery'. Yes, slavery. To the point that I don't each much seafood in Taiwan anymore. I am sure there are other ways I consume that uphold exploitative systems which I'd be horrified to know more about, but I am now so hyper-aware of how fishing companies operate in Taiwan that I've lost my taste for seafood in particular.

The other one is the more recent news that Taiwan is essentially complicit in Australian human rights abuses, by agreeing to give medical care to refugees in detention on Nauru so as to ensure they never set foot on the Australian mainland. Of course those refugees need care, and they will be well cared-for in Taiwan, but the purpose is to make it impossible for them to access the Australian court system as refugees who do have the right to apply for asylum. This is unacceptable on the part of Australia, and Taiwan is facilitating this flagrant flouting of human rights.

And, of course, Taiwan itself talks big about caring about refugees, but in fact doesn't really accept them (there is no provision for the granting of asylum or refugee status according to that Taiwan Sentinel link, corroborated here). There are people who have refugee-like status in Taiwan, but...well, it's complicated. Although Taiwan provides some assistance to refugees abroad, this still means that President Tsai's claim that Taiwanese are 'empathetic to refugees' reads like an Asian version of "thoughts and prayers".

So not only are we not taking in refugees ourselves, we're also helping other countries avoid their obligations to consider applications for asylum by ensuring those refugees never have a chance to apply. Taiwan's actual treatment of refugees is like turd sauce on a turd burger, with the aid we do offer being a pretty okay pickle that nevertheless does not improve the giant turd entree we plop down at the international table.

The thing about advocating for Taiwanese de jure, recognized independence as Taiwan (not the Republic of China) is that a huge part of my most convincing arguments rest on what an exemplary country Taiwan is. I talk of people I know who were sent to Taiwan for work, and later found the country so much to their liking that they chose to return as retirees. I speak of a vibrant history of social movements. I speak of how Taiwan insisted on democracy for itself, and won. I speak of friendly - no, not just friendly, but kind - people I know who have become local friends, in a world where many foreign residents struggle to forge truly local connections. I speak of how, although there is room to improve, Taiwan has had, and continues to have, some of the most robust LGBT and women's rights movements in Asia. How in many ways, in the way its government is modeled, it looks to the liberal democratic West and is on the forefront of the fight against totalitarianism. I speak of how, in contrast to China, Taiwan does recognize human rights and there are mechanisms in place to ensure people can access them.

All of that is true, but I have trouble maintaining with a straight face that Taiwan is such an exemplary place, a society of kind people with profound respect for human rights within the framework of a successful democracy when, to be frank, they pull shit like this.

It is really, really, really hard to fight for Taiwan when I know what the seedy underbelly of Taiwan looks like, and when it comes to fishing boat slaves and human rights abuses (and let's not forget abuse of domestic workers, sexual and otherwise).

Fighting for Taiwan isn't just about fighting for independence. What does independence even mean if the country we are trying to build is so deeply troubled? It starts to feel like empty, jingoistic nationalism. Taiwan for what exactly? Taiwan for slavers and rapists? Independence for the sake of independence, nevermind anything else? I can't accept that. We must discuss as well how to create a better Taiwan, so that an independent Taiwan will be one to continue to support.

And yet, here I am, still advocating for Taiwan in whatever way I can. I still talk to my classmates, who have no reason to care, about why Taiwan matters. And it does matter, although it can be hard to see that sometimes.

While we have to talk about building a better country at home, I am reminded that every country has flaws. I do what I can to fight for American democracy in the face of powers that would like to see it disappear (including China), despite knowing full well that the US is a deeply problematic place - from the streets not being safe for women and people of color all the way to the selfishness of our foreign policy and all the nutters and religious freaks and sexists and racists and exploitative rich business jerks in between. I'll still stand up for making the US a better place, and I won't say it's not worthwhile. I'll help friends in trouble and refrain from judgement, even if I know their own flaws helped create the situation in which they needed a hand, because we're all imperfect.

I suppose I hope they judge Taiwan fairly, as they would their own country. Americans don't generally read about, say, how communities of color are afraid of the police because their men and women are disproportionately killed and then say "oh well we should just let China and Russia turn us into a dictatorship captained by a stupid orange puppet because nothing is worth anything", so I would ask them to apply the same level of complexity to thoughts on Taiwan, because it's easy to make sweeping generalizations and form poor judgments from them when you don't really know a place.

Taiwan is imperfect too - that doesn't mean it's not worth fighting for. But we might sometimes have to incorporate this plea for complex judgments into the arguments we put forward.

But, damn, it's sure hard to make the case sometimes, when you're discussing the country you call home with people, and not knowing if you should be frank that it is indeed rife with problems just like everywhere else, or hope they never come across the relevant reading material and in light of that information, dismiss everything you've said (I've seen it happen). Or, if they do, that they weigh it against the case you made and understand that every country is flawed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ready, Set, Go

Edited to add: I forgot to include a link to the song that underscored this post. Here you go.

They keep us at sea level so I'm stayin' on my A-game
They're local like the C when I'm express like the A Train.

I had wanted to get back into blogging smoothly, with a few softball posts about traveling in Kinmen and the East Rift Valley before yet another family emergency (this one turned out OK though) sent me back to the US for a good portion of the summer and Delta Module 2 began.

But this article in the Straits Times caught my eye - I do think it's worth a quick reaction post with some thoughts on racism and the ghettoization of foreigners in Taiwan.

I don't feel, up to now, that I have been limited in my career by living in Taiwan - if anything Taiwan helped me launch my career. But, I say that as a career English teacher: of course it would be easier for me than for a foreigner in literally any other field. With the exception of a few really bad years toward the end of my time at my former employer, after they treated my husband like dirt but I stuck around just to get an APRC (and had to pretend just to get through each day that I didn't think what they did was so heinous - when it was heinous, and unforgivable), I've generally had positive working experiences. I have been able to move on to freelance with two very good schools that, while they may technically be buxibans, are places that actually prioritize education and look after their people. I've been able to get a Delta - at least I am basically sure I passed and will have that baby in my hands soon. English teachers can do that. Nobody else, save perhaps an editor or journalist, can.

However, I have to basically agree with this:

The challenges that Caucasians face are more in the form of being "ghettoised", said Mr Michael Turton, 52, an American who has lived in Taiwan for two decades.
"Everyone is very polite to us, but try finding a permanent position in a university or business in one's own skill," said Mr Turton, who teaches English at a local university and said he knows of only two Caucasian deans among Taiwan's numerous universities. "Tension is ameliorated because everyone knows foreigners have no power."
One reason is, unlike Singapore or Hong Kong, Taiwan is not a regional financial hub that would have as many job opportunities.
Language is another barrier.
That said, Taiwanese women do tend to find Caucasians to be desirable matches, said Mr Turton, who is married to a Taiwanese woman. They have two children.
"How many local girls want to marry foreigners? Lots. That is because foreigners are an escape fantasy," Mr Turton said, referring to familial obligations women married to local men have to fulfil, and a perception of a better life in a Western country.
First of all, I feel that Taiwan has been a really great place to live this past decade. Up through getting my Delta it's also a nearly ideal place to work. While salaries are stagnant, generally speaking the pay is better than in much of the rest of the world and the lifestyle makes up for the fact that we really all should be earning more. Locals included. Flexible work allowed me to get that Delta while doing three modular courses. Taiwan is relatively well-connected to the outside world so I was able to access books I needed for my coursework. I've been able to travel a lot because of affordable airfares to the rest of Asia.

However, I have to say I've started noticing cracks in the facade of our great lifestyle here.

First, I know someday I will get a Master's - the issue is paying for it, not the actual work. I was born in a country where higher education is prohibitively expensive, I can't just say "Imma go to grad school!" the way Canadians, Australians and Europeans (and many Taiwanese) do. Once I do, I have to admit that I see the end of the line. At that point will I really want to be working in private language schools, as good as my two current employers are? Probably not, to be honest. But what else can I do? International schools aren't ideal (plus I'd also have to get a teaching license most likely) as I don't particularly want to teach teenagers full-time. Universities simply don't pay well enough (salaries are in the range of NT$60,000/month I've been told, and frankly, that's not enough even with paid vacation). But we foreigners really are limited in terms of moving up if we actually want to teach. There are a handful of schools that hire foreigners as academic managers or teacher trainers, and those positions don't always pay particularly well either (plus your job is often to be the 'bearer of bad news' between the teaching staff and Taiwanese upper management if it's a locally-owned school, which sounds like my idea of hell). The schools I work for don't do this, but a LOT of schools see foreigners as foreign monkeys to put in classrooms to get students in, and just take for granted that they should never be anything more. So, when that time comes and I'm ready to move up in my career...where exactly is there in Taiwan for me to go, when the only 'better' jobs are not actually better?

In short, Taiwan has been great for my career up to now, but I can see clearly down the road where it won't be forever. Someday that's a problem I'm going to have to grapple with, and it would be a lie to say it's not causing me stress now.

Secondly, I (well, we, but this is me writing) feel absolutely ready, once I rescue my finances from the clusterfuck that was late 2014-2015, to do adult things like, oh, actually own the place where we live so we can modify it to our liking. Have a credit rating in the country where I actually live! Have a job with benefits! Good luck doing any of those things - getting a credit card without a big fight, getting a mortgage (if you're not married to a local, forget it), finding that higher-level job without running into a pervasive feeling that foreigners shouldn't be considered for such positions (again I'd like to point out that neither of my current schools have that attitude, but they are the exceptions, not the rule).

Speaking of marriage, Michael makes a good point that a lot of foreigners here do marry locals, but I didn't - and in fact that's a bit of a male-centric phenomenon. Some foreign women do marry Taiwanese men but the balance is squarely in favor of foreign men and Taiwanese women (marriage equality is not yet law here but one can hope it will be soon as most Taiwanese support the idea). Nothing wrong with that generally (though that does mean there is a problem in the expat community with the slimier kind of fetishizers, but that's for a post I don't think I'll ever write). There seems to be this blanket assumption - and I'm not saying Michael is guilty of it, just that it exists - that 'expat' means 'straight male expat', like Plato's ideal form of Expat definitely has a penis and definitely wants to put it in a vagina. What that ends up meaning is that male expats, if they marry locals, are more likely to stay because they get the local benefits of that union. They get the mortgages and credit cards because their wives can co-sign. They get the guanxi. They get the sense of permanence. Other than the few foreign women married to Taiwanese men, female expats are just that much more marginalized. And yes, that is a problem. I happened to marry a white guy, and as a result, we can't get a freakin' mortgage in the country where we live. That's not OK.

Which brings me to my next point - yes, I do feel increasingly ghettoized as a result of all of this. As a professional English teacher - yeah shut up I have a Delta now :) - I feel stereotyped with all of the Johnny McBackpackers who just got off the plane and think that teaching (good teaching that is) is an easy and fun way to make a few extra bucks and requires no special skills. I feel marginalized because I can't even consider becoming a homeowner in the country where I live. I feel limited because after I get a Master's there won't be many growth opportunities career-wise, and it will become increasingly hard to push my salary up (as it is for everyone: see stagnation, wage). It does create the feeling that 'you're a foreigner, we allowed you to do a lot, but this is all you are allowed to do. Know your place." 

This is not an attitude I can point to in anyone in particular, but a general sense I get. It's compounded by the fact that it is commonly believed that foreigners - at least English teachers, obviously this is not true for largely Southeast Asian laborers - are treated better than Taiwanese. And in many cases we are - pay for teachers who don't know TBL from TPRS, or scaffolding from subordination, and teach weird things like "I'm well" rather than "I'm good" because they don't know what a copula is let alone how it works - is higher than actual qualified teachers who happen to have Taiwanese passports (which brings in the other discussion of how good teacher training is in Taiwan - not something I want to get into here). We get away with not following work culture expectations because it's not our culture. We get to take longer vacations, generally speaking, as long as our employers aren't too terrible. We generally get a lot of leeway.

But I can't say wholeheartedly that we actually are treated better. We don't get annual bonuses, which most Taiwanese expect as a matter of course. We don't get paid vacation generally (although this is partly why we can take longer vacations so there is a trade-off). We can't get a pension even if we pay into the system. We don't get paid Chinese New Year, although technically by law we ought to. We have trouble asserting our basic rights - non-discrimination, labor insurance, even a contract not full of outrageous illegal clauses including very illegal fines for "quitting" even with proper notice (again I'm lucky in that regard but a lot of people aren't). We can't become citizens unless we give up our original citizenship - a rule not imposed on Taiwanese who get citizenship in other countries. My husband got screwed by our former employer because they had entirely too much control over his visa, for someone who had been here for nearly five years. They should have never been allowed to do that to him, and yet they were. And again, we are limited in the jobs we can take because a lot of locals don't consider foreigners as serious candidates for real, skilled, high-level work. We'll always be outsiders.

A final thing that bothers me is how many Taiwanese - rather like Americans in this way - deny that there is any racism at all in their country. Here is a near exact excerpt from a conversation I had with a neighbor (translated into English):

"Well, there's racism everywhere, so of course there's racism in Taiwan."
"No there isn't! We treat you well."
"Sure, you treat ME well, but that itself is a form of racism - in some ways you treat white people better than locals. But really the problem is that you don't treat EVERY foreigner well. Only the Westerners, and often only the white ones."
"No, I don't treat others badly."
"You personally don't, but do you think Southeast Asians in this country are discriminated against?"
"Well, yes, there's some racism there. But it's for a reason. They come from poor countries with a lot of crime, so we have to be careful!"


So, while I personally have never experienced the sort of racist rant that Christopher Hall did, and likely never will, I definitely feel it in big ways and small, and I have to say it's become more noticeable in the past few years, especially as someone not married to a local. I don't know what the end result will be, but I can't deny it's an issue.