Showing posts with label public_health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label public_health. Show all posts

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Discrimination against foreigners by Taiwanese businesses rises due to COVID-19 (but there's good news!)

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Point #5 says that foreigners are not allowed to enter this nightclub.



It's become apparent in recent days that several businesses in Taiwan have begun to discriminate against foreigners, using COVID19 as an excuse. They are either outright refusing service to foreign customers, or requiring foreigners (only foreigners - not Taiwanese) to provide passport and flight details. In some cases, this is due to rumors that COVID19 carriers had visited these bars, although some of these stories have turned out to be false.

Most recently, The Bird in Tainan has published a long, pointless rant defending its banning of foreigners from the premises after receiving complaints on the anti-foreigner policy in the screenshot above.

Such policies are discriminatory, and acting on them is is illegal (a friend who is a lawyer pointed out to me that the policies themselves are not actionable but if they were caught turning away a foreigner simply for being a foreigner, that might be.)

Drunk Play, in their recent discriminatory post, says that foreigners showing passports is required by the government in English, but not in Chinese. This leads me to believe that they are aware this is not a government regulation, or it would be in both languages.

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They are also illogical, as most people who have entered Taiwan from abroad in recent weeks have been Taiwanese. Foreign visitors are not currently allowed in, and the foreign resident community isn't traveling much. We're not the ones pouring in bringing COVID19 with us. Most new cases have been Taiwanese returning from other countries, not foreigners. It makes no sense to target us.

Though I'm avoiding using the word "racist", there is a racial element to the discrimination. A Chinese-speaking person of Taiwanese heritage with a foreign passport who had recently been abroad would certainly not be checked. A foreign resident who has not left Taiwan in years probably would be, even if they had an ROC ID (a very small number do). Such policies absolutely target people based on their appearance.

It's also illogical. With visitors banned, most foreigners currently in Taiwan are residents. That means we've probably entered Taiwan on an ARC/APRC, not our passport. We would therefore not have entry or exit stamps, nor flight details to share if we haven't flown recently. I'm not sure what they could possibly ask for if these establishments tried to enforce such policies. I wonder if some of them assume all foreigners are visitors who have such stamps, and haven't even considered that Taiwan has a long-term foreign community.


This trend seemed to start in restaurants and bars, but is now making its way to hotel and airbnb rentals:


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Here's the good news: since the foreign community began complaining about the discriminatory policies, some of the businesses implicated have either taken down the posts stating that foreigners would receive discriminatory treatment (I have screenshots but will not post them if the policy has been changed), or issued corrections and apologies (update: here's the most recent policy change and apology).

This is exactly the point of speaking up: directly calling out discrimination and requesting that policies be changed can work. The goal is not to hurt these businesses - we're all facing difficult times during this epidemic and nobody wants to make that worse for anyone else - but to spur positive change. It also serves to put other businesses on notice: if such policies become widespread, we will notice, we will respond, and we will tell our local friends. I don't want this to become a trend, so we have to put a stop to it now by making it clear that the foreign community will not tolerate it.

Before changing their policies, two of these establishments said they were "merely following government policy". If it had been one of them, I'd assume it was a face-saving excuse and nothing more. But when the second business said the same thing I started wondering: is some bad actor spreading disinformation? Is this an intentional campaign (not by the government) that has convinced a few business owners that these policies were necessary? Did some Youtuber blame foreigners for COVID19, causing this reaction?

Here's another restaurant doing the same thing: Indulge Bistro is requiring foreigners to provide entry stamps on passports to be served.


They don't seem to realize that, because foreign visitors are banned from entering Taiwan, almost every foreigner in Taiwan right now is a resident. We enter on our ARCs, not our passports, and most of us use e-gate. That means the vast majority of foreigners do not have entry stamps.



They do not require the same thing of Taiwanese - though they do say they won't serve you if you've traveled in the past 14 days, there is no stated requirement for Taiwanese to prove this - only foreigners. This is a form of discrimination.

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Some establishments have still not gotten the message despite complaints on their Facebook page for several days: Abrazo still has language up on their Facebook page that discriminates against foreigners. 

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This part (體溫檢測超過 37.5°C則謝絕入場或上班,並要求到外籍客戶入店消費前,也需出具有清楚標示最近一次入境日期的護照證明正本) says that people with a temperature over 37.5C are not allowed to enter, and foreign customers must produce a passport with a clearly marked entry stamp. 


If they want to be safe and check travel histories, there are blanket policies they can create which cover everyone, not just foreigners. These would be more effective, as most people who have traveled in the past 14 days and are now in Taiwan are Taiwanese.


My gym requires everyone to sign in, leave contact information and record their temperature. This is quite fair, as the policy applies to everyone. This would be a better approach for these businesses, and I strongly urge them to change their policies immediately.
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This is one of the apologies in question.
Clearly, calling out these establishments has a positive effect!

Generally, I feel welcome in Taiwan and I do believe that most Taiwanese are happy to have a dedicated foreign community here. However, actions like this make us feel very unwelcome indeed. If Taiwan wants to retain its reputation as a friendly and international nation, this sort of attitude must stop.

So far, the businesses in question are mostly bars and nightclubs, although some other business have been implicated as well,  including a hotel in Tainan rumored to have refused a room to a foreigner, saying "you should be in quarantine".

Another hotel in Guguan, a pharmacy and a popular dive shop in Taiwan have also been found announce discriminatory policies (e.g. only serving Taiwanese citizens, only selling to foreigners online, or allowing bookings by Taiwanese who've traveled recently, but not foreigners). However, after discussion with the various owners, these have generally been cleared up.


This pokes at a deeper fear that a lot of foreign residents in Taiwan have: what if Taiwan faces a medical triage situation? Again, I'm aware most Taiwanese would not treat me any differently than a Taiwanese patient, and I don't expect priority treatment. I'd be more likely to let those in greater need be treated first. But what if I am assigned doctor or nurse who decides on their own that caring for me is less important, because I am a foreigner?

It's unlikely, but not impossible. This attitude does exist in Taiwan, as these businesses have shown with their anti-foreigner sentiment.

Has a business in Taiwan discriminated against you, as a foreigner, due to COVID19? Do you have proof? (I can't name names with a story). Let me know - I'll add them to the list of places that do not welcome us and are hurting Taiwan's reputation as a country that values equal rights for all residents.

It is important that we call out these discriminatory practices, and more importantly, that we request changes. Although Indulge and Abrazo have yet to respond, and the complaints about hotels and airbnb bookings are just coming in. Ideally, the government would circulate a public service announcement that discriminating against foreigners who are not in quarantine and reside here legally is not okay and may even be illegal, to counter whatever fearmongering the people engaging in this practice are absorbing. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Coronanxiety

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Not at all related to the post. I just figured we all deserved a nice picture of a fancy tea set. 


We're all feeling anxious these days. That should be so obvious that I'm not sure why I'm writing this at all. Maybe someone will read it and realize they're not alone - that's the best I can hope for.

Knowing that most people reading this are in Taiwan or connected to Taiwan in some way, my guess is that your anxiety is similar to mine: not so much fear of bodies piling up due to the CCP Virus - the government seems to have the actual spread pretty well under control - but worrying about our loved ones abroad, and what will become of the Taiwanese economy, and our jobs, at the end of it all.

And, yes, anxiety over a possible lockdown. If community transmission becomes apparent, we can be sure a lockdown will shortly follow, before it can get out of hand. 


On top of that, I've been dealing with diagnosed generalized anxiety for almost a year now, though frankly I've probably had it longer than that. Alongside the pressures of working full-time while writing a dissertation, the CCP Virus has been poking at that anxiety nonstop.

So yes, I've been worried about all those things, but I've also found that wearing a mask triggers my anxiety. It's something about having my face constricted, with breathing made more difficult. It's a feeling of being trapped, and it freaks me out. I've been known to rip my mask off and stand in place so I can just breathe. I'm able to breathe physically in them, but psychologically being able to breathe is a different matter entirely. Oddly, wearing one without a cover is worse than slipping it inside a cloth barrier: the softness of the cloth helps mitigate it somewhat.

It's a difficult position to be in when I want to support the social ritual of donning a mask to show we're "all in this together", regardless of whether or not they're effective (I have no idea if they are, but as an obstacle keeping me from touching the lower half of my face, it can't hurt). But, when I wear a mask for too long, I can't actually function in the society where they've taken on this symbolism. I find myself staying home more for this reason.

Besides, when I've tried to go out without one, as I don't think the risk of infection is serious enough to warrant it all the time, I've been asked why I'm not wearing one, or made to answer for my whole country, or all Westerners: why aren't they wearing masks? Don't they know that masks can help?

I usually don't feel like representing my entire country or hemisphere (yes, I realize people of color in the West are faced with this expectation all the time and if anything, it's a privilege that I am usually not). I truly don't feel like explaining to strangers that I have anxiety and the 'trapped' feeling of a mask triggers it. It's rough.

I have no easy answers for that, other than to mentally prepare myself for donning a mask every time I go out - it does help. So does practice - short trips with a fixed end time when I know the mask can come off. I walk when I can, as bus and taxi drivers are likely to ask questions if I don't wear a mask, and it's straight-up weird not to wear one on the MRT these days. In any case, I'm not in confined spaces with random people if I'm walking in the open air.

The anxiety also tends to fold in on itself: that I have anxiety about the CCP Virus makes me feel anxious, so I'm anxious about my own anxiety. I bet that's a familiar feeling for many.

Let me pile on some cliches: there's also the waiting for the other shoe to drop: Taiwan's been doing a great job, but we're not out of the woods yet. I feel like - if there's going to be a lockdown it would be more mentally reassuring if it just happened already (not that I want it to, but the waiting is almost worse). If the economy is going to ruin us all, I don't want to feel like that's a future thing for me to stew about in the present. It's like a tsunami coming in. Sure, you're safer when the tide is going way out, but watching it recede, you know the massive wave is coming in. For Taiwan, that'll probably be an economic shock, but honestly we could also start to see that dreaded community transmission.

It's so weird reading about how the rest of the world is falling apart and economic collapse is surely coming, when life in Taiwan is more or less normal. A bit more teleconferencing and a lot more masks, but otherwise there's been minimal disruption.

And while this country feels safe, it's not a great feeling to know that so many of my loved ones are not as well-protected. Their governments are failing them, and one of those governments is the one I vote for, the one my citizenship is tied to. That I jumped ship to a country that actually knows what it's doing was purely a matter of luck. 


On top of all of that, I'm trying to write a dissertation. I can do that from home, and do videoconference interviews. But I worry about the operations of my university, how preoccupied my supervisor surely is, and frankly, I don't even have the free time to sit and work on the damn thing. And anxiety over that is also folding in on itself, so I'm anxious about the dissertation and anxious about my anxiety over the dissertation.

So what am I doing about it? Rather than taking medication more regularly (I don't have to take a daily pill) and staying home more, with low lights and pleasant music rather than radio broadcasts from the US, where it sounds like the zombie apocalypse is upon us, I've found that approaching it like a frontierwoman helps.

In addition to stocking up on non-perishables, making a few jars of pickles and filling my freezer with blanched fresh vegetables has kept my hands busy and helped convince my wayward brain that it's doing something useful and proactive. It helps. We have a few weeks' worth of food, and healthy food at that. If the lockdown never comes, we have lower grocery bills for awhile, as we weather the economic storm.

I've been focusing on Taiwan's excellent response, not just from the government but the people. There is a sense here that "we're all in this together", and I see people being generous and forgiving with each other more than cruel and opportunistic. It's calming to witness, as I watch the US government outbid state governments for medical equipment, people steal masks from hospitals, Chinese cities steal masks from each other, the UK deciding that it was okay for lots of people to die (a decision they reversed too late) and the US government floats the same idea, so that rich people can stay rich.

In Taiwan, the government is doing its job, people are doing as asked, businesses are starting to take precautions (as opposed to risking lives). It's not perfect but if I focus on the local situation, I can wake up every morning not wondering what fresh hell awaits.

Yes, bus drivers have asked me why I don't wear a mask, when I just can't take it anymore. But, rather than hector me, one gave me an extra mask he had. 


Oh yeah, I've been drinking a bit more frequently (though not more heavily) too. I have a list of people that I would be happy to see get the CCP Virus (Xi Jinping is at the top of it. Trump and Mitch McConnell are there too). One guy on my list already has it, though that's not entirely good news.

Basically I'm also a dark-hearted person.

So, just in case you thought I was dealing with this in only healthy ways - I'm not! 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

On immigration, Taiwan does the right thing - and Tsai Ing-wen is the leader of the free world

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Bad idea, guys. 



Super hot breaking news!

The Bureau of Consular Affairs has just announced that visa waiver, landing visa and visitor visas will automatically be extended by 30 days, with no need for further application, as long as the total stay does not exceed 180 days.

The Mandarin announcement is here, and here is the English.

The government may re-evaluate the policy as circumstances require. That's good news - it means that if the pandemic continues, the period can be potentially extended. 


Note that if you are one of the few people who has been able to extend a 90-day visitor visa, this probably doesn't apply to you, as the visa plus extension would be 180 days exactly. 

This is phenomenal news, you guys. Unlike the 'voluntary departure' program which was trying to get people to go home on their own, this gives people an explicit option to stay. That's safer for them and safer for the world, and doesn't hurt Taiwan. They are already here, they are not known carriers, and because their stay in Taiwan is contingent on the government's beneficence, they are probably not going to go around violating quarantine and being jerks.

It's also truly amazing that the government took this step, given the animus some have shown towards COVID19 carriers who have arrived in Taiwan, with some taking a "name and shame" approach, saying they 'deserve' it for traveling abroad. It can be expected that some of this anger may be directed at foreign visitors, and indeed some have asked whether Taiwan 'owes' these visitors anything, even though almost all of these cases have been from Taiwanese citizens, not foreigners. 


That shows a truly progressive and compassionate side to the current administration's policies which should be praised. 

I have to admit, I teared up a little at the news. This helps at least three of the people in visa limbo who I wrote about, including the Honduran man who cannot marry his Taiwanese partner (I asked). In a world that feels like it's off its hinges, with some people being cruel when it wouldn't hurt them to be empathetic, this is the right thing to do. Taiwan doesn't officially or ethically 'owe' visitors a thing, but it shows striking kindness to do it anyway.



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There's a surgical mask under that flowery cover

Not a lot of countries would do this - most seem to want foreigners gone as the pandemic rages - but Taiwan did. It deserves credit for that.

Is Taiwan doing a perfect job? No. It probably should be testing more people, and it absolutely should not deny testing to anyone with symptoms - whether or not there is community transmission yet, we're not going to know if there is if we don't test the community more generally. The fear and confusion over immigration issues also caused a lot of anxiety.

However, I would still say it has the best possible response. It has been more pro-active, more empathetic, more sane, and more calm than any other country - to both citizens and foreign residents - than just about any other country.

On that note, President Tsai - at this point, the true leader of the free world - calmed the nation while warning us all that the next two weeks were critical, especially in terms of preventing the onset of community transmission.

What I glean from this is that this 'second wave' of imported cases was expected, that the government does feel there is hope to stay the course, but also that they expect a spike in cases in the next two weeks, with possible community transmission. This was a calming, unifying speech but also a somber warning.

That doesn't mean we should panic. It does mean that instead of panic-buying, we have a week or so to slowly start building our lockdown pantries. My advice: don't go for the items people are panic-buying, like instant noodles. Most of us don't have yards we can exercise and get sunlight in. Do you want to emerge from quarantine or lockdown as a pale, sickly and heavily-salted blob? No? Then fill your freezer (or buy a portable freezer) with fresh vegetables (some of which need to be blanched before freezing, stock up on freezable or canned proteins (beans, tempeh, tofu - the latter two freeze well), a variety of healthy grains and whatever you need to make it all taste good. Stuff for soup, items high in nutrients (especially Vitamin C). Stay healthy.


Finally, a quick note about "blaming".

If we are talking about actual COVID19 cases, I agree with Tsai that we shouldn't be blaming those who contract the illness. It's a pandemic - getting sick should be stigma-free.

It should be obvious as well that blaming "China" isn't helpful. Chinese people have suffered under the CCP's mismanagement of the pandemic as much as the world has, and the CCP is still lying about it. I will never condone calling this thing the "Chinese virus" (yikes) - it perpetuates racism against Chinese people rather than accurately blaming the CCP, and frankly is exactly what the CCP wants. It makes them look like victims when they are in fact perpetrators and makes it easier for them to put a favorable spin on their horrible, world-endangering pandemic response.

However, I've noticed an uptick in the number of people who might be critical of the CCP at other times (or not), who seem to specifically not want to blame anybody. That, I disagree with - fighting racism doesn't mean refusing to lay blame on a government whose actions merit it - being too soft on the CCP is harmful in its own way as it allows their behavior to continue (including a disinformation campaign that is, in fact, working). We can, should and must blame the CCP. Do not let them off the hook. Do not be kind. Blame and shame, and shame and blame some more. Play the blame and shame game.

I'll quote a lot here as the article is paywalled:


We must all be specific in blaming the Chinese Communist Party for its actions. It was the CCP that hid the virus outbreak for weeks, silencing doctors, jailing journalists and thwarting science — most notably by shutting down the Shanghai lab that publicly released the first coronavirus genome sequence.
The Chinese people are heroes in this story. Chinese doctors, researchers and journalists risked their lives and even died fighting the virus and warning the world. The Chinese public’s community solidarity holds lessons for us as our own situation worsens. The Chinese are also victims of their own government’s draconian measures, which caused massive extra suffering.
“It is critical to remember that the Chinese people have no meaningful say in the measures taken by their government,” said Christopher Walker, vice president for studies and analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy. “In the haze of authoritarian information curation and disinformation now coming from Beijing, we can’t lose sight of the massive authoritarian governance failure at the global pandemic’s point of origin.”
This is not just about the coronavirus; it’s a crucial point relative to our whole approach toward China. Our beef is not with the Chinese people; our problem is with the CCP — its internal repression, its external aggression, and its malign influence in free and open societies.

We should blame the CCP not only for their own pandemic response, but for actively keeping that information away from the world, by putting the WHO so far into their pocket that the organization ignored early warnings from Taiwan, a country they routinely exclude (again paywalled - here's the money quote):


Health officials in Taipei said they alerted the WHO at the end of December about the risk of human-to-human transmission of the new virus but said its concerns were not passed on to other countries. 
Taiwan is excluded from the WHO because China, which claims it as part of its territory, demands that third countries and international bodies do not treat it in any way that resembles how independent states are treated.

Fight the virus, yes. But don't pretend there's no reason to blame anyone. The WHO has been actively harming human health, and the CCP is a global threat in more ways than one.

Blame them. Do not shy away. Do not pretend it makes you a better or more high-minded person to soften the blow. It just means you're not helping to hold the perpetrators accountable.

They should burn for this, so make them burn.

I want to end this on a positive note, so - stay safe everyone. I suspect Taiwan is in for a bit of a ride in the next two weeks, so be prepared but do not panic.

This country has been a global leader through the COVID19 fight, and is used to dealing with CCP lies. You are safer here than anywhere else, and most of you who were afraid you'd have to leave now thirty extra days.

You are in the country that is now the de facto leader of the free world, governed by the woman who might just be the most competent president on Earth right now.

As one of the only leaders in the world handling the crisis well, while maintaining freedom, human rights, compassion and empathy while holding strong and calming the nation, she has shown an ability that is unmatched. I wouldn't want to be under anyone else's leadership in this time.

What does that make her if not the leader of the free world?

Her government tried to warn the entire human race, and were ignored. They were the leaders the world needed before anyone realized it.

Maybe the world should realize that, and recognize Taiwan.

Be safe and stay strong.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Thoughts on the "Expanded Overstayers Voluntary Departure" Scheme

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I cannot imagine a poster with more Taiwanese-style design choices



I'm still forming a full opinion on this, so my position is subject to change.

At the moment, Taiwan has a program running where visa overstayers can voluntarily turn themselves in until 30 June 2020. They'll pay a minimal fine (NT$2000) and face no detention or entry ban.

Please be aware: anyone caught by authorities will be subject to full penalties which may include a ban on re-entering Taiwan. That includes being caught at any time, including the "voluntary departure" period.

There is no promise that the immigration authorities will not conduct checks during this period, and if you are caught you will be deported with full penalty. 
In other words, this program isn't aimed at helping you stay - it's aimed at convincing you to leave by making that option relatively painless. The government is not saying "you can overstay your visa", they're saying "you can't overstay your visa, but if you do, we'll make it easy for you to get out".

Therefore, "taking advantage" of the amnesty program is a huge risk. Do this at your peril: I can't in good conscience advise it. If you are an overstayer, you may get caught, and you may be deported.

It's quite clear that if you turn yourself in, at that time you will be expected to leave, so this is not a "you can stay" program. It's a "if you leave on your own before we catch you, we won't punish you" program. Bear that in mind.

On one hand, this is more than most countries do for people whose visas are running out, or who may be in the country illegally. It feels like a very 'Taiwanese bureaucracy' way of saying "in practice, you can theoretically stay until 30 June, which is our intention, but we have to pretend to be tough on immigration for appearances' sake".

It's not perfect and it doesn't reduce anxiety, but we really must recognize that the vast majority of governments would not do this. Taiwan did. That counts for something. 



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It also gives them leeway to decide to extend the program for as long as the CCP Virus rages. So, there is humanity in it. It offers options to some of the people who otherwise might have none.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the CCP Virus will have abated by then (do not believe the data coming out of China) and no guarantee that the program will be extended. There's no guarantee that a cheap, regional visa run will be possible at that time.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people it doesn't help. People trying to get paperwork through that would allow them to stay legally, but won't be processed by the time their visas run out and might have to wait out the CCP Virus in a far more dangerous country where they might not have a clear place to stay aren't offered much here. People who do regional visa runs (like the Honduran man in my last piece who wants to marry his Taiwanese partner, but can't) can use this program as an unofficial extension, but face uncertainty after that date. Illegal workers, especially those who are scraping by in Taiwan, might not have the resources to leave if they do turn themselves in.

What bothers me about it, I suppose, is that philosophically it's still in the "go home!" camp, and a lot of people facing visa issues in fact consider Taiwan home. As a supporter of open borders, I'd prefer a "you are here, we'll shelter in place together" approach. Instead, it's a kinder form of trying to kick people out.

Allowing all landing visa holders to convert to a visitor visa would be the real game-changer, as those visas would start running out at about the same time, but would grant temporary legal status rather than giving people anxiety for choosing to overstay. It looks a lot less "strict" but it would be a more progressive approach.

And yet, at a time like this, can I really expect a perfect response? 


It's hard to say I like this approach, but I have to recognize that it's a slight improvement in the situation with some practical benefits.

However, it really doesn't solve the issues faced by those who are affected by the travel ban as their legal stays in Taiwan start to expire.

Thoughts?

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Confucius is as relevant to Taiwan's COVID19 response as Aristotle is to the US's

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We're in our house keeping our stuff in order because nobody else is going to help. 


Some outside Asia (and, honestly, some people here) seem to think Taiwan's success in dealing with COVID19 is due to "Confucian" ideals of collectivism and respect for authority which allowed the government to adopt measures that people in Western countries might find uncomfortably strict.

I don't want to search for too many examples because the entire line of thought makes me want to barf, but here's one:


In South Korea, as in Japan and Taiwan, the lingering cultural imprint of Confucianism gives a paternalistic state a freer hand to intrude in people’s lives during an emergency, says Lee Sung-yoon, an international-relations professor at Tufts University. 
“Most people willingly submit themselves to authority and few complain,” Mr. Lee said. “The Confucian emphasis on respect for authority, social stability and the good of the nation above individualism is an ameliorating factor in a time of national crisis.”

Such thinking is difficult to refute, because it comes from an Asian source (dominant narratives that don't actually describe the experiences of many, but appear to come from the "same" cultural sources, are a challenge for this reason). But I'm going to invite the furor of the Whole Internet and say that Lee is wrong. 

A cultural difference indeed exists, but at least for Taiwan, it was hard-won in living memory. First, seeing firsthand what SARS was capable of, people realized the need for immediate action and recognized government initiatives as wise (and they were). There's also the living memory of a police state in Taiwan, which helps draw a stark contrast between "a strong centrally-planned response" and "authoritarianism", because most Taiwanese remember the latter and can tell the difference.

Perhaps there is some additional "collectivism" baked into these cultures but I wouldn't go overboard with this: there's a point at which it becomes a stereotype. I see most "collectivist" action here as merely "not being stupid", and I'm an "individualistic" American.


In fact, if Taiwan had been in the WHO to begin with - or if the WHO didn't generally faff about with their thumbs up their butts - the world could potentially have been warned about this long before China officially recognized it, and "mitigation" strategies similar to the UK's might have had some effect. In fact, the UK's strategy, which was just announced to be a failure, sounds a lot like what Taiwan was doing as early as January 1. And it worked. Life is mostly normal here as a result.

That said, I can't help but quote this wonderful tweet:


And, of course, threatened by China and ignored by the WHO, there is a recognized need to "deal with this ourselves" because Dr. Tedros sure ain't coming to save us (or anyone, but especially not Taiwan). So people do as asked by a government that appears competent, which they've just re-elected by historic margins, and a Central Epidemic Command Center that is doing a better job than the WHO. The results are visible, so people trust them. That's not "Confucian", that's "not being stupid". 

Do I swan about writing editorial bullshit about how "the Western failure to contain with COVID19 is due to the cultural imprint of Aristotelianism"? No. Because that's dumb. Stop being dumb.

In fact, Confucius is about as relevant to the average Taiwanese person as Aristotle is to you.

Think the comparison doesn't work? I assure you that it does. Ancient Philosopher Guy from a foreign land (because Taiwan is not China, and South Korea isn't China either) does some philosophy which is considered impactful enough to still be studied today?

Yup, checks out. Except only one is touted as the foundation of several distinct cultures, rather than what he really was: an important thinker, sure, but not the Father of All Things.


Also, let's talk "respect for authority" and people who "don't complain". Let's talk about things that would make dear old Confucius turn over in his grave.

Not too long ago, Taiwan looked a dictatorship in the face and said "get fucked". And it actually worked! South Korea did the same thing.

And they did it without an army - against an army, in fact. They did it with few resources and no firepower. They had only themselves and the power of their words and unarmed bodies.


Did your parents and grandparents do that?

No?

Then sit down, Billy McFreedomfries.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Data and Lore (a COVID-19 story)

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Does this mean...I'm Wesley?


I had always imagined that, living on an island, I'd feel trapped if disaster struck. There are no borders to cross, only open sea. I know it's not a reasonable worry: land borders can also be treacherous, but knowing your only options are a plane or a boat (and probably not even a boat) rather than a truck, car or your own two feet can honestly induce claustrophobia.

So, while the world around us seems like it's collapsing, I'm surprised by how wrong I was in predicting my own feelings about island life in a global catastrophe. Thanks to Taiwan's pre-emptive, centrally-planned and intelligent response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel like I'm living in an island of safety, calm and normalcy in a world gone mad.

I am not terribly concerned that Taiwan will be felled by COVID itself. Even if there is a spike in cases, the time the country bought itself through a strong, early and professional response will be priceless: it is time Taiwan has had to prepare for that potentiality, and considering how they've treated the issue so far, we can be fairly sure they've been using it wisely. 

People are doing their part too - for every anecdote I hear about someone not practicing good pandemic hygiene, I see 20 people who do.

Of course, my confidence extends only to health. I worry quite a bit about the economic backlash. We have enough savings to weather a brief storm, or even a somewhat-prolonged quarantine, but what about an interminable economic crisis? A lot of my clients are businesses, and when the economic crash really hits, the first thing they're going to cut is English training. My teacher training work might see an uptick, but it's honestly hard to say.

Let's not think too much about that, though. There is literally nothing I can do about it except spend less on non-essentials. Once it was clear that climate change was real, I never expected the second half of my life to be easy anyway.

So, what has Taiwan been doing right? I won't write out a whole list because there are lots of places where you can read about that: see here, here, here and here. Suffice it to say, a large component of Taiwan's response has been data collection and public regulation. Most notably, for certain people quarantines are mandatory, and everyone that person had been in contact with might also be asked (or required) to quarantine. Quarantined individuals have their phones tracked and are notified if the government can see there is a violation. The CDC calls them every day (though this is a lot friendlier than it sounds). Isolated people report their temperature online once a day. All face mask production lines were bought up (in essence, expropriated) by the government, and masks are now rationed. Huge amounts of personal health data - including masks purchased - is tracked on National Health Insurance cards. Some public transportation, including all Kuo-kuang buses and all airport MRT trains - require face masks.

This gives the government a massive amount of data to work with, which has some fantastic benefits. There is an app (which is a bit difficult for foreigners to use) that can track which pharmacies will have masks, how many, and when. Apparently one can now pre-order masks. Potential disease vectors are swiftly located and locked down to prevent transmission.

Watching the news from the US right now, where the response seems to be to run out in the street screaming and flailing one's arms, it sure feels like they could learn a lot from the way Taiwan has handled this, starting with universal health coverage.

On the other hand, I have to wonder how much of this Americans would realistically put up with. The scale of data collection really is astounding. If you are identified as a risk, you lose a lot of personal freedom - both in terms of data privacy and freedom of movement. It is, to be honest, a lot to ask.

This is the point at which a different writer might start waxing rhapsodic about Confucian societies and collectivism and the people are more willing to submit to authority because 5,000 years or...something like that.

I won't.

This is a country where people set their sights on overthrowing a dictatorship and succeeded. Where protests are practically a hobby and producing protest gear a side hustle for many. Where your average person would be pretty upset if they couldn't day drink under their favorite temple awning (or in front of their favorite convenience store). Where an entire generation of people under 40 defied their elders by voting for same-sex marriage. There's no Confucian about it and I'm sick of the trope.

Instead, I'll say this: as an American, I'm fine with the level of intrusion into my personal life and willing to give up the data. I suspect - though don't know - that most Taiwanese are too. Not because of some 'different, exotic Asian values' fake East-West divide (a divide that online trolls really seem to push, which is how you know it's fake).

Rather, most Taiwanese are okay with Big Government  right now because this particular circumstance is a true emergency, because they know that this particular data is useful and important for a centrally-coordinated response to work, and because they trust this particular government. 

While we can heave a sigh of relief that this government was re-elected (for a peek into how a Han administration would have handled it, you need only look at Trump's non-response), unfortunately, this perspective doesn't offer many solutions for what to do when you don't trust the government. I don't often agree with libertarians but they're right about this: you only want the government to have as much power as you'd be comfortable with them having if you didn't trust the people in charge, because eventually, someone you don't trust will get elected.

In other words, I'll give this information (and power) to Tsai Ing-wen. I would never be happy to give it to Donald Trump. Or Han Kuo-yu. Would you want either of them at the helm of a government that has just taken sole control of key medical supplies? Would you want either of their administrations insisting they had the right to track your location?

All that data, though, has kept Taiwan feeling more like a cozy ark on a rising flood, rather than a prison from which there is no escape. And perhaps, considering that dictatorship existed in Taiwan in living memory so they know the difference between authoritarianism and a centrally-planned response, maybe we should take their word for it that government data collection for this purpose is acceptable?

So what's happening beyond the rough seas? Between many Western countries' totally botched responses - including a massive failure to test leading to rapid, undetected community transmission - and China's repeated cover-ups and lack of reliable data, there is fertile soil for misinformation and fake narratives to take root.

I had opined, when this all began, that such an obvious and self-evidential failure and clear, documentable cover-up on the part of the CCP might just offer up a silver lining: that the CCP itself would fall. That the systemic failure would be so inescapable that they would not be able to control the narrative. I figured it would be so undeniably true to anyone with working brain that China did not "buy time" for the world, but rather that the CCP's initial cover-up is what caused the disease to go pandemic in the first place, that something would possibly - maybe - give to loosen the grip of that brutal dictatorship on a country that absolutely deserves better.

For a brief period, it seemed that the world might just hold the Chinese government to account for this, or at least report clearly on who was to blame  - not China or the Chinese people, but the CCP.

But even before the US botched its response by completely failing to prepare, one could watch the narrative change almost in real time.

First, the media started saying that China "bought time" for the rest of the world, how its "decisive" and "bold"  response - note the adjectives used instead of the more appropriate draconian and inhumane - saved lives, how it "acted quickly"  (see here, here, here, here and here).

I thought when I hate-read these pieces that, yes, dragging screaming people into their homes and boarding the doors is, I supposebold in a sense. But are we really all pretending that the initial cover-up which is directly responsible for the pandemic going global in the first place just...never happened? Are we truly allowing COVID-19's origin story to be re-written so easily?

I'm not the only one who's noticed, fortunately.





Of course, it's difficult to argue now that the US or Europe could have done better, as they have now both failed so spectacularly. The difference, of course, is that in a liberal democracy you can say so without getting shot, and theoretically can put better people in office next time.

I can empathize, however, with people whose governments did too little thinking that maybe the government that did too much - and now claims that cases are in decline - had the right of it. Even if that sentiment ignores the facts. Even if you are in essence saying "it would be acceptable to drag my screaming neighbor into their house, padlock the door and walk away with the key. It would be acceptable to do that to me, too."

These are the same people who think it's un-American to even ask them not to gather in crowds. Do they think China couldn't possibly be as bad as it actually is, or that it's OK to do that to others but "it would never happen to me" or...do they just use the cognitive dissonance like a white noise machine to help them sleep at night? I truly don't know.



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Neither of these are good! 

It doesn't help that the facts are hard to come by. It's honestly surprising to me how many people understand that the US has no idea how many COVID-19 cases currently exist within its borders, but actually believe the numbers from China, despite China's clear history of lying about them. Now people are saying cases in China are on the decline, but can we really trust that, when nothing the CCP has said since the initial cover-up can be trusted? I don't, and you shouldn't either.

The CCP understands this better than anything: in the absence of trustworthy data, you can make up your own lore.

While all of this has been going on, there's been an ongoing discussion of whether calling COVID-19 "Wuhan Pneumonia" or anything relating to its place of origin is racist, as these viruses can originate anywhere. I don't know that changing a disease's name can really combat racism, but it almost doesn't matter. I'm not qualified to say whether referring to Wuhan in the disease's name is, indeed, racist - totally not my lane. I don't use it - it's too long and seems unnecessary. Holding the CCP to account and not treating people in racist ways both seem like more important things to worry about than exercising my 'right' to call a disease by a common name.

 But I will note that in Taiwan it's called 武漢肺炎 (that is, Wuhan Pneumonia) in Mandarin. It's slightly amusing to me that the CCP insists that Taiwan is a part of China, but also that calling COVID-19 "Wuhan Pneumonia" is racist...against Chinese. By that logic, Chinese people are racist against themselves.

Anyway, I've noticed a particularly bit of nasty ret-conning on the English front too.

I support a general push not to stigmatize people by using place names in disease names going forward, but there seem to be a lot of gullible people who now think we've never called diseases that in the past, so "Wuhan Pneumonia" is a unique example of racism on this front. Of course, those same people will still use disease names like Ebola, Nipah, Zika, Marburg and MERS.

Don't laugh - I saw someone arguing that "we've never named diseases after places!" under a chart that included all of the above. So I suppose I consider users of the term "Wuhan Pneumonia" exactly as racist as I would consider users of the terms "Ebola" and "MERS".

It's been disconcerting to watch how the CCP propaganda machine has taken advantage of this confusion.

First, insisting that its response was appropriate and effective. Then, trying to tell the world (and their own people) that we should be grateful. Then, getting behind a call to label everyone saying "Wuhan Pneumonia" racist moving to a general call not to "blame China" (which, of course, runs in tandem with labeling all blaming of the CCP "blaming China" and therefore "racist"). And now, we've got CCP officials spreading rumors that the virus did not originate in China at all.

I still don't intend to call COVID-19 "Wuhan Pneumonia", but I do note that it's a lot easier to convince idiots outside the Chinese-speaking world that COVID-19 did not come from China if everyone's afraid of being called racist for discussing how it absolutely did.

And so from an undifferentiated mess of information - most of which is unreliable as China's numbers can't be trusted - we have a myth of CCP "decisiveness" saving the world. Lore spun from literally nothing into a narrative that credible people actually believe.

I had hoped that cold, hard data would carry the day. That it would be clear what works (a response like Taiwan's) and what doesn't (running around screaming like a hemorrhaging goat like the US). How draconian, inhumane methods like China's are not necessary if there is initial transparency and swift action. I had hoped that this clarity would lead to much-needed changes in how governments operate around the world, from an end to CCP tyranny to drastic changes in the US's broken system.

Instead, it seems that between data and lore, the latter can pose as the former because most people can't tell the difference.

We will all pay the price for it.


Sunday, February 16, 2020

住在台灣的外國人為什麼有在乎「台商的孩子」?

I don't often blog in Chinese, and I am sure there are many mistakes. What can I say, I'm a second language learner.

But, I want to address a primarily Taiwanese audience so I'm going to go for it. Enjoy my terrible Mandarin!

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大家可能想問我,「妳為什麼那麼在乎那個小明/台商孩子的問題?」

就是因為我是個住在台灣的外國人。我沒有台灣國籍,所以我聽台灣人說,「台灣人第一」或者「所以我們不需要在乎和幫忙那些孩子就是因為他們不是台灣人」 我問自己~~~

如果台灣有一個疫情/流行病的狀況,他們怎麼對待我?有人會說我不能去醫院,因為台灣沒有足夠的醫療服務,台灣人比較需要,台灣人第一!?雖然台灣就是我的家,我沒有美國的家,我沒有可以去的地方,此外我在台灣納稅,有人會說我可以「回去」美國為了找醫療服務,但是無法用台灣的制度?

我了解我跟台商真的不一樣。我選了台灣,他們選中國(但是,他們的孩子沒有機會選)。我住這裡,他們住在國外。我在這裡納稅,他們避免。我支持台灣主權和台灣獨立(從中華民國殖民地制度獨立!),他們大部分支持統一。真的不一樣!

可是,我聽「台灣人第一」的時候,這讓我想起川普跟他的支持者。那些人也覺得「移民歧視」就是還OK的啦。在美國,這個民粹主義態度讓我不舒服,在台灣,我絕對有一樣不舒服的感覺。「台灣人第一」的意思不但是「小明第二」而且也是,外國人在台灣是第二階級,是不是?如果在未來台灣有個危機,台灣還是我們的家,但是,台灣對我們怎麼樣?我在台灣平常很舒服,我看台灣人很歡迎我們,但是,這個「台灣人第一」讓我不舒服。我需要問自己,「我真的是完全歡迎的嗎?」

我了解大家對這件事有很重的感覺。這個問題非常複雜,沒有一個完美解決的方案。我們住在台灣的外國人對不穩定的情況非常熟悉,因為我們的家不配合我們的國籍。我們大部分支持台灣,也支持台灣獨立。如果中國恐嚇台灣,我們也願意為台灣而戰。我們大部分不是有錢人,我們的生活很像當地人的。讓小明近來也影響我們,因為我們也住在這裡。但是,我求你想一想,我們為什麼在乎這件事情?

就是因為我們很容易會想像我們自己在類似的狀況。我們緊張,「台灣人第一」也排除了我們嗎?

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Nobody knows anything about coronavirus, and there are two reasons why

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Source: Facebook (I've seen it in several places, I have no idea who to credit for creating it)


I noted in my last post that "we know nothing" about coronavirus, and I want to expand on that a little and talk about why.


...the international media is taking government data as gospel, which people in China know right now not to do. We don’t know what the fatality rate is because nobody knows how many people died before being diagnosed because they couldn’t get care. China keeps reporting “2.1%”, a number I don’t think anyone in China believes. We have no idea how contagious it is, either. We know nothing.

Let me be clear when I say "we don't know anything" - we don't know the fatality rate, as I noted. We also don't know yet where it came from (though as SARS originated in a wet market, coronavirus probably did too). We don't know how contagious it is, because if we don't know how many people have it, and how many have died from it, how can we know how easy it is to get?

We probably know that it's transmitted through aerosolized body fluids - that is, droplets of saliva from normal breathing - and you can get it by getting it on your hands and touching sensitive membranes in your face. At least, we think we know - that information also comes from China, but it seems highly plausible, even likely. In fact, it's hardly groundbreaking, that's how most colds and flus spread. 


In fact, if you're going to be worried about anything, don't let it be coronavirus. If you are not in China, you probably will not catch it (even if you are in China, you might be fine). Be afraid that we don't know anything about anything, the people fighting it don't really know anything, and even if the CCP did know, they'd probably lie about it.

But why? We can blame two factors - the first is that the Chinese government and health care "system", such as it is, is completely overwhelmed and it's likely they themselves don't have a clue what these data actually are. The second is that the Chinese government thinks it can decide what is true, and attempts to push a political agenda even to their own detriment, as well as the world's. 


So there are two layers of unreliability: the CCP is lying about data it doesn't even know itself. 

The first reason isn't entirely China's fault. I mean, it is absolutely their fault that they covered up the initial outbreak, allowing it to get worse. If they've learned anything from SARS, it's manifested in a slightly faster path from "pretending this doesn't exist and punishing anyone who says otherwise" to "admitting we have a problem", not in eliminating the first stage altogether. It is also their fault that they've allowed the nation's lackluster health care - which is absolutely not "free" or even "public" as many Westerners believe - to fester for so long.

But it is not their fault that the virus broke out there; these things happen around the world. So it's not their fault that they are the epicenter, nor that they had to be the first to fight it, while the rest of the world got a heads-up and some time to prepare.

The second - their consistent lies and cover-ups when SARS should have been a lesson against such behavior - obviously is their fault. That should not need to be explained. The lying, yes, but also their consistent opposition to Taiwan's participation in the WHO and other international organizations (such as ICAO) where their expertise and superlative health care and responsiveness to the epidemic could be of great help in combating it.

With all that in mind, let me hazard a few speculations about these things we don't know. 


First: coronavirus probably is highly contagious - we just don't know to what extent. We don't have enough data to compare it to the common flu, so please stop doing that. But the flu exists in China, and hasn't created an epidemic like this in previous years. If people going out for hot pot can infect much of their family and it's possible to contract it just transiting through Hong Kong, that points to potentially high contagion rates. It's possible that China is overreacting by locking down entire cities, but I doubt they'd self-destruct their own economy - through two sources I know that even Shenzhen is in full-city quarantine, which would be economically devastating - if they didn't have reason to worry.

But - how much of that contagion is simply because it is highly contagious, compared to how much is potentially caused by overwhelmed health care systems in China and poor public hygiene in general? I contracted bronchial pneumonia twice in one year in China; this is almost certainly a contributing factor. How much of it is due to an inability to practice appropriate epidemic-fighting hygiene protocol because masks, sanitizer and alcohol cleaner are all impossible to get, in a contagion zone?

I have no idea, but the fact that the virus seems to be spreading slowly and is basically under control in most of the rest of the world means that it probably can be contained, and isn't necessarily going to be a global pandemic. You might want to keep people in China in your thoughts, however. They don't deserve this and with every Chinese system on overload, it's probably going to get worse.


How much of the unknown fatality rate is caused by those same factors - an overwhelmed system, shortages of necessary hygiene supplies and poor general public hygiene, as well as paranoid quarantine policies that put people in non-virus-related danger and have resulted in at least one death?

It's impossible to say, but the fact that a lot of people are dying from coronavirus in China (though we don't actually know how many) and very few have died abroad shows that the environment and poor government response in China are factors. 


That brings me to my final points - first, I don't even know how much to blame China for actions which seem malicious. That charter flight meant to bring at-risk Taiwanese back to Taiwan, that ended up being full of wives and children of evacuees (who also deserve to be flown out, but not at the expense of at-risk people)? You know, the one which ended up containing at least one confirmed coronavirus carrier? Some have accused China of purposely putting infected people on that plane as an attack on Taiwan, but I honestly think, in conditions that have been described as "wartime", that it's far more likely that they didn't have the wherewithal to intentionally put a carrier on that plane, and just let a person who'd bribed their way into a seat take what they'd paid for.

Second, if you are not in China, please stop freaking out. Taiwan's response has been exemplary - this is what open information and quick responses can accomplish. Japan has done a good job as well; Singapore is pretty good at this sort of thing. In fact, it seems that even if this coronavirus is highly infectious and highly fatal, that a strong public health response can keep it in check. Again, it's not China's fault that it was the epicenter - only that it spread in a government-imposed information vacuum.

That the rest of Asia has done a brilliant job of organizing a strong response before it could spread further is good news for the world.

This is probably not the last epidemic virus that will originate in China - the huge population, generally poor public health care, poor public hygiene (think bad plumbing, undrinkable tap water, rarely-cleaned public toilets, public spitting - though that has decreased markedly in the last decade) and prevalence of wet markets almost guarantee it. I certainly hope for the people of China that coronavirus is brought under control, though I also hope that they can overthrow that useless CCP and create a government more capable of responding to such outbreaks.

In other words, sunlight is in fact the best disinfectant. Open information, strong public health and quick action seem to be pretty effective in combating coronavirus, and they are protecting entire populations. I can only hope China figures out those three coronavirus 'vaccines' sooner rather than later. 


But the ability of much of the rest of Asia to coordinate a containment response and share what information they have freely is good news for the rest of the world. Forget the "first island chain" and South Korea in terms of traditional defense - warships, airstrips, bases and whatnot. This is the front line when major epidemics originate in Asia, and rather than excluding a key node in that defensive chain from organizations like the WHO, maybe the world should stop pretending the CCP is a true ally, and start realizing that the rest of Asia - including Taiwan - should get more credit.