Showing posts with label rants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rants. Show all posts

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Of peanuts and monkeys

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 11.46.38 AM

This is perhaps the third time I've written about this in a week, but I just have more to say.

I've been thinking about a few issues I'd like to [try to] tie together: reactions to my post about how long-termers in Taiwan aren't here for the money but are aware they're being undervalued, the general state of English-language media in Taiwan, and English as a second official language in Taiwan.

When I wrote about long-termers and low pay here, most reactions were supportive. The negative ones landed into two groups: those who think NT$66,000/month is fair, or even good, pay for a job that requires several years' experience, high level skills and (unfairly) a Master's from abroad, and those who said the pay wasn't important because the job would be good for someone who would be in Taiwan for a few years and would likely just want to beef up their resume.

So, let me toss some word salad about why both groups are wrong before I move on.

In terms of fair pay, the fact that pay is too low in pretty much every other sector doesn't make $66k for this sort of job acceptable. If you can make just as much money (or more) as a Dancing English Clown at a cram school, a job that requires no qualifications, experience, education, training, professional development, skills, talent, work ethic or consistent sobriety, why would you seek to improve yourself so that you might qualify for a higher-level job, especially one that states right in the ad that you'll be doing consistent overtime in a stressful environment?

And why would you want to take all of that education, experience and skill to make just about enough money to drink at Bar 7 and live in a shared flat or rooftop cesspit with paper walls, if you have any hope of saving meaningfully? Because after you pay your student loans on that foreign Master's degree and save NT$30k each month, that's about what you can afford, if you have no dependents. If you've gotten a postgraduate degree, learned Mandarin and acquired translation skills and experience, you are probably not 24 anymore, and would rather live like an adult.

Others say that this job is aimed at young Taiwanese Americans spending some time here but not planning to stay, or for those looking for a springboard to gain experience. This also misses the point: first, this isn't a newbie job. This could have been an excellent post for an early-mid-career bilingual professional writer, editor or translator, who might well have stayed on for years improving not only their own work, but elevating the English-language output of MoFA as a whole. It could have been a boon to both some lucky long-termer and to MoFA, who would get excellent work in turn.

That is, if it had been positioned that way: as a good but demanding job with a great salary, rather than as a short-term lark for an ABC kid with a Master's who's in Taiwan.

This whole idea of getting some experience in Taiwan and then leaving actually bothers me quite a bit: there are those of us who wish to stay, and as I've written three times now, we try to contribute and give back to Taiwan in gratitude for what Taiwan has given us. Although I won't spend paragraphs bashing them, I have less respect for those who come, take what they can get from Taiwan, and then leave. It strikes me as a little selfish. I have a more profound appreciation for those who want a fair shake from Taiwan, but also want to give back to this country in a sustained way. And yet, one of those grab-and-go types will probably get this job. MoFA will have a revolving door of people who never really develop themselves and get merely passable work, and Taiwan won't benefit.

Which leads to my next point - if the national government is serious about sweeping initiatives like making English a second official language in Taiwan, it's going to have to shake up its whole attitude toward a lot of things. It can't have a MoFA attitude towards English education, asking for everything and offering nothing.

The government needs to think about employing the right people (which it can attract with the right offers), taking seriously the idea that teaching, writing, editing and translating in English are professional careers that people do over a lifetime and seeking out those people, and basically getting quality by paying for quality in terms of remuneration, benefits and work environment. There are those of us who want to stay, who can do good work, but who aren't going to be attracted by what's currently on offer. We're here and we don't want to go anywhere - if the government is serious about bilingualism, internationalism and multiculturalism, it needs to provide more enticing reasons to stay, and stop creating jobs aimed at grab-and-goers.

And it needs to take those people seriously when they point out the flaws in the status quo vis-a-vis English education in Taiwan: from a poorly-regulated cram school industry to, as a friend pointed out, the fact that students who only learn English in public schools generally don't come out having learned any English, to the way the exam system, through extreme negative washback, hinders the whole process. It needs to hire people who can then develop something better, and that's where long-termers looking to contribute to Taiwan come in. We - not just me, I'm nobody, but we - can actually do this alongside and in support roles to talented, passionate and qualified locals, but only if the will is there. We can't take a grab-and-go attitude.

This isn't true only for the government, but for the education system as a whole: from buxibans to universities, if you want talented educators who can actually help Taiwan achieve English as a second language, you need to not only give those who are already working toward this end a better environment in which to succeed, but to offer jobs that entice talented professionals, not a revolving door of Chads and Braydens who aren't implementing even so-so curricula well, and will go back to Idaho in a few years anyway without seriously considering whether they actually contributed to Taiwan.

Oh yeah, and if you are serious about multiculturalism, how about treating the many Southeast Asians who come here for work with a little more kindness and respect? Even just better working conditions and pay, not being all racist towards them, and not raping or enslaving them would be a good start.

This bleeds over into English-language media as well. Why is Taiwan News, which is essentially a gossip rag peddling the same sensationalist articles translated over from Chinese-language gossip rags, now the most recognized English "news" source in Taiwan? How'd we hit the bottom of that barrel?

Because there aren't very many jobs for talented journalists in Taiwan, either. By all accounts, the Taipei Times made a go of it once, but are now so under-resourced that even if there were talk of updating its website and media strategy for the 2010s and beyond, the resources just aren't there to make it happen. It was (is?) the English-language paper that both the expats and the Taiwan advocate Beltway crowd read, and probably never would have been a huge money-maker given its smallish target audience, but it could have sopped up the market that Taiwan News is currently engaging.

Great people have worked at the Taipei Times - and some have even worked at the China Post (believe it or not) - but they all leave. Few people build a career and stick with it, because the jobs on offer just aren't that great. We all know about the one guy who wrote a whole book on it (though you'll need a nacho bowl for all the shoulder-chips it comes with), but I've heard this from many sources. Low pay, long hours, hardly any time off (typical Taiwanese annual leave, which means not much at all), difficult environment. No wonder the best journalists they hire, if they can attract them, cut their teeth and then leave. The state of English-language news reporting suffers for it.

A friend pointed out that this has real-world consequences: she was talking about racism in Taiwanese society specifically towards Black foreigners (which is absolutely a thing), but it also has international consequences. If Taiwan News is the best we can are willing to do, and Taipei Times is offering peanuts and putting out thin content, what news about Taiwan from local sources is reaching the pro-Taiwan influencers abroad? What effect does this have on Taiwan advocacy internationally? What effect does it have on reporting on Taiwan from outside sources? Would that improve - because the state of it is pretty damn bad - if local news put out better, thicker, more compelling stories in English (and Chinese, but this post is about the foreign community)?

Could they perhaps accomplish that if they offered better jobs to committed long-termers looking to make a difference?

The long-termers will stick around - most of us, anyway.  We'll continue to fight for Taiwan in whatever way we can, and carve out niches for ourselves. I do the work I do (I have no single employer, by design) because I can get some satisfaction that way, and make sufficient money. If Taiwan wants us to come out of our little self-carved niches and join the fight for real, there have to be opportunities for us to build real careers in important and useful places, which offer adult remuneration and conditions for real skills.

If Taiwan engages the long-termers who are looking to contribute more meaningfully (and the locals too), the country will be better for it. Media, education, the government.

But if this work continues to toss peanuts our way, we aren't going to pick them up.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Events in Taiwan are bad and the planners should feel bad

So yesterday my husband, sister and some friends decided to go to that "Strasbourg Christmas Market in Taipei". We figured it'd be crowded on a weekend but didn't really have any time we were all free during the week to go together.

I bought tickets in advance at 7-11, having heard that sales were limited on-site (which seemed like a good idea when I thought you needed a ticket to get in - limiting numbers. Great.) Then I found out entrance was actually free, but you got the cost of the ticket (NT$500) turned into vouchers you could spend at the fair. Okaaaay, I get not wanting every stall to be handling tons of cash, but it seems a bit byzantine, and it wasn't very clearly announced. Then I saw a video panning the market, saying they did only sell 1,000 tickets per day at the site (whether or not that's true is still unclear).

So we are told that because we have pre-purchased tickets, we could not get the vouchers at the area near the fair with almost no line. We had to go to Taipei 101 Mall's B1 information counter and exchange them there. We got there and took a number (so we bought a ticket to get a ticket to wait in line to get more tickets that we could use as cash?) and waited a good 10 minutes to get our vouchers plus some worthless plastic crap 'gift'.

We get our vouchers and get about 10 meters into the market when Brendan decides to bail - he had had to leave in an hour anyway for work, and we wasted most of that getting those damn vouchers, and honestly it was just too crowded to be any fun. So I completely understood.

We passed a few stalls of unimpressive stuff you can buy in any store - Carrefour, Jason's etc. - and way overpriced Christmas decorations (hey, wanna spend NT$300 on a cutout wooden tree ornament that you paint yourself? Me neither!) and noticed that instead of Christmas music, the live band - which wasn't very good - was playing...Green Day?

Why?

Like, why Green Day? When I think Christmas I don't think "Dookie".

Would it have been so hard to hire a jazz band to play Christmas classics, or even have a cappella groups or brass or string mini-ensembles here and there playing Christmas music (no Green Day!) instead of a big stage? Why did there need to be a stage at all?

Way too much market space was allocated to seating for people wanting to listen to music that absolutely nobody wanted to listen to.

So we found the more European-looking wooden stalls down one edge of the market - there were maybe ten of them. Some had food or sweets, but everything we wanted to buy was sold out (gingerbread cookies, olives and cheese) and nothing available was particularly appetizing. Some sold wine, one sold beer. We got some beer, that was fine, but the wine was way too expensive by the bottle. We got mulled wine which was okay, and the one thing we didn't have to wait for. We got egg nog which said it was spiked (in Chinese) but...if it was I couldn't taste it, and it wasn't egg nog. It was milk with some vanilla in it and maybe fake rum flavoring. It was not good.

It was so crowded: those ten, maybe slightly more than ten, stalls in that long, narrow space meant there was no way to just walk around. Even if you wanted to, random areas were cordoned off, but the crush of people near the stalls was so bad you literally could not move. We ended up walking behind them. There were a few tables and chairs, all of them constantly full.

Evening came and everything lit up - that was nice enough, and we finally got a table that was covered in some other group's trash. My friends got food at McDonald's because nothing at the market was appealing and fairly priced (I am rather used to this and ate in advance). My sister said she spent her voucher money and wasn't sure what she got for it - some mulled wine and bad "egg nog"?

There were a few other things you could buy, like truffle salt and foie gras, to bring home, but all of it was very expensive. There were no mid-range goodies on offer that people could buy as small Christmas gifts, and nothing pricey was impossible to get elsewhere, in less crowded
stores.

When it came down to it, the whole thing was poorly planned. The ticketing system was ridiculous - clearly nobody who'd ever worked in event planning and understood Taiwanese crowds had planned it. There were not nearly enough stalls. I would not have minded that some of them were fairly humdrum, like Carrefour, if there had been more stalls selling anything at all unique or at least appealing.

Taiwan-style crowds are to be expected, and can't be avoided. The organizer's clearly did not understand that basic fact about this country. It's a densely packed place, and weekend events like this will draw numbers that you simply won't see in Western countries. The event space was far too small, with far too little to do, for the number of people who showed. They either needed to control numbers by making it voucher-entry only (and have more on offer for the cost of entry), or pick a bigger damn venue. Banqiao, despite being far from the city, would have been a good choice, as would Maji Maji square if they decorated well and used both the outside and inside areas. Cramming it behind Taipei 101 was probably decided because it would bring in the weekend Xinyi shopping crowd, but it was a very poor choice of space in every other respect.

At the end, I had several hundred NT worth of vouchers I hadn't spent on mulled wine or shitty egg nog, and used it to buy bottles of German beer to bring home. I still had NT$100 after that, which wouldn't buy another beer, and went for some mediocre-looking Carrefour chocolate only to find that, too, had sold out in the time we'd been there. I ended up with a carton of pumpkin soup...for some reason?

That was even sadder, because I was planning to spend quite a bit more, maybe get some new nice Christmas decorations, chocolate and other treats, alcohol and stocking stuffers. None of that was really available, so I had to search for something to spend my money on (to be fair I would have bought the beer regardless, but the selection should have been bigger - there could have been more beer stalls in general).

The lights came on, and the stage was empty. My friend pointed out that the transition to evening before dinner was the perfect time for live music, but no music had been booked. A CD of generic Christmas songs played (at least it was seasonally themed and not, like, Weezer. But even Weezer has a Christmas album).

Because I got some German beer, and got to drink mulled wine, I refuse to call it a total wash. But, honestly, it was pretty bad. That is a shame, it could have been so much better.

So, organizers, if you are reading this:

Taiwanese events mean crowds. Plan for this accordingly. You did a bad job.
Fire whomever booked the music. Just kick 'em out.
Fix your ticket issues.
Consider what people really want at a "European Christmas market" and endeavor to offer that.
I don't need to feel like I'm in Europe. I'm not. That's fine. But I at least want to have an enjoyable time and not be stuck in a too-small space with too many people listening to fucking Green Day and drinking gross vanilla milk. Make it better next time. You totally could - Taiwanese clearly are eating up the idea of a European Christmas Market. Certainly you could get adequate food and goods vendors out to take advantage of that.

And that's just it - usually I am okay with crowds. Certain spots on the weekend (and some all week), certain public holidays, certain tourist sites, certain events? Crowds are to be expected in Taiwan. It's a part of living here - either you accept it and roll with it or you don't. If you go to the National Palace Museum, Jiufen, pretty much anywhere on a three-day weekend, or a night market on a nice weekend night, you know what to expect and you deal with it. But it's not too much to ask that the planners of these events freakin' take that into consideration and plan better events.

I might be so annoyed by this in particular because in the past, Christmas was the one thing I had. The one holiday where I could shop in peace because it wasn't a 'thing' locally. I didn't have to plan in October to get Christmas goodies because otherwise it'd be too crowded or sold out. Stores and offices decorated and department stores played seasonal music but that was about it. But it's a thing now - friends exchange gifts, people put up trees, people, well, go to Christmas markets. IKEA is already sold out of Glogg and the wrapping paper I liked, and it's not even December 5th! Christmas was the one time I could celebrate a holiday in Taiwan without having to plan for a guerilla offensive like a 5-star general, and it's gone.

Or maybe I'm so irritated because this is part of a trend of terrible events. A friend of mine was telling me that pretty much every Latin festival was so poorly planned that, for example, air conditioners wouldn't be turned on so people dancing would be about to pass out. I remember that kinda-terrible Taco Festival where lines for any given taco stand were 45 minutes long, and almost everything ran out by the time you got to the front, and how I had to leave and go eat pot stickers because I was so hungry. I remember friends of mine going to art exhibits at Huashan and saying it was, like, a few stalls of mediocre art and not much else. I honestly think the last expat-friendly or expat-planned events I've been to that were in any way well-planned were Dog Days in Drag 2014 (I couldn't make it this year and last year it felt like it ended well before midnight and well before all the raffles should have been done) and that British music thing by the river, which had to have been at least 3 years ago.

How is it not possible to do better?

I see one ray of hope: people are starting to complain about it. A lot of people bitched about how the Taco Festival virtually guaranteed by dint of poor planning that most people would not get tacos. Pretty much everyone is complaining about the "Strasbourg Christmas Market".

Do better.

Seriously...just...freakin' do better. There is no excuse for so many poorly-planned events. There is no reason why this market had to be so terrible. There have got to be locals or long-term expats here with backgrounds in event planning that you could hire.

Do.

Better.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Ears are Burning: A Taiwan Coffeeshop Rant

I have a whole slew of shorter posts I want to write, but I  think right now I am just going to have a short rant about something totally inconsequential, yet dear to my heart.

That topic is "coffeeshop music in Taiwan".

Last year, over Chinese New Year in Kaohsiung, we were watching TV with our friend's family and an advertisement for a set of CDs came on - the set was a collection of the "best" Western music -"if you want all the best songs, from The Carpenters to Richard Marx, don't miss this amazing CD set!" the narrator intoned in Mandarin. In the background, Yesterday Once More, something by Celine Dion, Love is a Battlefield (which I associate more with the Philippines than Taiwan), I've Been to Paradise But I've Never Been to Me and other soft rock hits from the 60s through the 80s played in the background. I don't know all of the artists but I assume they all have names like The J.C. Edwards Experience or Muttles McDougalson Sings The Blues and they've all released albums with mustard-and-brown covers featuring men with bouffants and way too much chest hair, and possibly a belted sweater.

from here
And of course there's Hotel California, which, whenever it comes on someone always says "Oh that's my favorite love song!"

But that's not the worst of it - although that's pretty bad.

I mean, I don't want to come off as some music snob. I like a lot of different stuff and I'm not anti-popular artist. I don't like to say "you've probably never heard of them". I like rap (Talib Kweli!), I like rock (The Dandy Warhols! The New Pornographers!), I like folk (vintage Ani DiFranco! Neko Case! Joni Mitchell if you wanna go old school), I like classic rock (Led Zep!), I even like "goth metal" (Lacuna Coil!) in small doses and lots of world music, on top of "everyone likes them except that one guy who thinks he's so cool" bands along the lines of Radiohead and Jay-Z. I admit to liking Cake even though they're so over. I like a lot of music I expect people to have heard of, like Esthero and Tabla Beat Science, and am surprised when they haven't. I don't like much contemporary music in Asia - not a big fan of Mando-Pop or Canto-pop or J-Pop or Korean pop. I do like a lot of classical music, Western opera and Taiwanese opera (but not Beijing opera, mostly), Indian music both classical and contemporary and world music, too.

The music in coffeeshops in Taipei rankles even my relatively modest tastes in music. Forget the '70s stuff -  some of it was innovative at the time, some derivative, some pure schlock. I'm talking the stuff that actually makes you want to rip your ears off and run, screaming and bleeding, into the street.

Here's a run-down:

-  A harp instrumental cover of I Am The Walrus, with no lyrics. What is the point of that? The same exists in piano form. WHY?

- The Entertainer, slowed down to ballad tempo and played softly and lyrically on a harp. WTF

- An R&B version of A Charlie Brown Christmas, notable for being played sometime in mid-July

- Ballad. Covers. Of. Radiohead. I really have no idea. Who thought that Wolf at the Door, Idiotheque, Paranoid Android and Everything in its Right Place would make good soft rock ballads? I mean this is seriously the worst thing to happen to music since hip hop artists figured out that "in the club" could be rhymed with "sippin' bub".

- Songs by Journey - fun as they are as a pure guilty pleasure to sing to if they're playing in a bar and you've had a few - played on and I seriously kid you not, a glass harmonica. I really wish I were joking but I am not.

- The Sonny and Cher Techno Remix, and again I wish I was making that up.

- Rap music that really has no place in a family-friendly environment. I mean it's funny enough when you're shopping in Old Chen's Bedding Emporium (which is a tiny store in a crowded lane flanked by a store that sells random stuff and a 7-11) and hear Slap That (All On The Floor) blasting, and you wonder if Old Chen really has any idea what the song is about, and funnier still when you're in a taxi chatting with your student (mild-mannered nerdy engineering type) and hear lyrics along the lines of "I'm gonna hit the club wit' it, and sip some bub wit' it and and later imma hit the limo wit' it and stick my **** in it..." and I can't go on, because I started laughing so hard that I couldn't understand the lyrics anymore. But when that starts up in a coffeeshop? Really, I don't need to know who you're going to stick your what into and where it will happen and after which events it will take place as I sip my siphon Yirgacheffe.

- Something I need to add as of today: entire CDs of synthesized dog barks and cat meows belting out famous tunes. You can buy cats meowing Christmas songs (great for your coffeeshop's ambience, especially if you play them in March), dogs barking show tunes, a mixed mammal choir doing their toe-tapping, bacon-begging renditions of Karen Carpenter songs...maybe you can even buy Eminem's Greatest Hits Barked By Synthesized Dogs! If you can name an artist, song or type of music, you can probably find it in Taiwan being barked or meowed.

I'd like to say "to each his own" but...I wouldn't wish this music even on someone who actually liked it!

It leaves me to wonder not who buys these CDs (clearly coffeeshop owners do) but who makes them. Why? Why create that and send it out into the wild to make our world just a little bit worse?

And I also wonder - do the baristas care that they have to listen to this all day? Do they get nightmares? I would.

Do the owners actually think that this is good music? Would they listen to it at home? Or do they not care for it personally but think it's what we want to hear?

Basically, what I want to know is - why?