Showing posts with label taipei_101. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taipei_101. Show all posts

Friday, March 10, 2017

It's time to stop those pro-China protesters

Yeah, China!

Awhile back, I ran into those odious but seemingly-legal pro-unification protesters that sometimes pop up at major Taipei landmarks. Imade the case that, as strongly as I disagreed with their views and goals, that as Taiwanese citizens they had the right to protest. I find it ironic that they have been protesting in support of Taiwan being unified against its will with a country that would immediately take away their right to protest, but they still had, I argued, the right to protest. Their ironic goals make them stupid, but don't negate their rights. 

I want to take that back. I no longer feel they should be allowed to demonstrate.

This is not because I vehemently disagree with their views (though I do). I disagree with lots of people, but it doesn't mean they don't have the same rights I enjoy. It is not even because what they essentially advocate is the termination of the existence of the nation they live in: if Taiwan were to democratically decide to unify with China, I wouldn't like it one bit (I'd probably sob for days), but there wouldn't be much I could say about it if the vote was fair and not done under threat. A nation can, in theory, vote to terminate its own existence. I don't even feel this way because their views are so out of line with the vast majority of Taiwanese - they would still have the right to voice them through legal protest.

No - they should not be allowed to demonstrate for a few key reasons, none of which go against the basic rights of freedom of speech and expression that I believe in.

The first is that they are one of the few protest groups whose violence is internal. 

Violence sometimes erupts even at peaceful protests - which the vast majority of protests are in both intention and execution - for what I have observed are three reasons (says this person who is not an expert in social movements or protest). The first is because law enforcement or some other force is pushing back on them in a way that begets violence. Even if your intentions are peaceful, if the police (or some other group) are coming at you with clubs, mace, smoke bombs and water cannons, or trying to keep you from exercising your right to protest through aggressively breaking up groups or fencing them in, it's easy for what is intended to be a peaceful demonstration to get out of control. The second is when an outside group or force - perhaps loosely in agreement with the protesting group, perhaps in opposition to it - intentionally steps in to sow a bit of chaos. This is what often happens in Taiwan and Hong Kong when gangsters, in the employ of other forces, try to incite violence by aggressively bullying peaceful demonstrators. The third is when the injustice set upon an aggrieved community is so great that people just snap. 

None of the reasons above is cause to dismiss the idea of peaceful demonstration.

However, there are also groups who use aggression and violence as a tactic - as above, their violence is internal. Perhaps they do it to create fear among another group (anti-abortion protesters do this, to the point that some women feel unsafe going to a women's health clinic - and that's the point). Perhaps they are in the employ of someone who wants to discredit the idea of protesting at all. Or, perhaps it is simply to anger others into striking back, or simply to get media attention.

The pro-China protests in Taiwan cannot be classified as one where violence is brought in by outside forces. They are one of the ones for whom it is a tactic - most likely for media attention. They need it - there are only, what, five of them? They have been aggressive and will continue to be aggressive because it is intrinsic to their goals to do so, not because law enforcement, gangsters with dubious motives or the righteous anger of deep injustice. They were given several chances to stop the violence and protest peacefully, yet they persisted.

Update: apparently the most recent video of protest violence is not of this group but of another gangster-led pro-unification group. Still, my point stands - they're not going to demonstrate peacefully because nobody will pay attention to them if they do, so it's time to stop them for good. Freedom of speech does not mean the freedom to be violent. They had their chance, and now they need to go.

Even when they are not physically violent, they purposely skirt noise ordinances: there is no way their Musical China Douchemobile is within the legally allowed decibel level for...whatever it is they are doing. Blasting pro-China opera songs? Yet it's difficult to stop them because they are hard to report when they keep driving around. 

Another reason why they ought to be stopped? Because I am no longer convinced that they are simply private citizens with a strongly held opinion demonstrating for what they believe in. I am sure there are a few sincere pro-unificationists running around Taiwan: every society has its extremists. However, I truly don't believe that this group is so sincere. Given how common it is for pro-China, anti-localist and anti-self-determination protesters in Taiwan and Hong Kong to have ties back to gangs who, in turn, have ties back to government (it seems to usually be the Chinese government, but I wouldn't put it past some of the more radical deep blue factions of the Taiwanese government to do this too), it is not crazy to think these guys might also be paid PRC stooges, too. If - and this is a big if, but I think a plausible one - the PRC has something to do with the little show they put on at various high-traffic sites around the city, then that amounts to a foreign government sticking its hands into Taiwanese affairs. Governments do this all the time, but that doesn't mean it should be tolerated.

It also calls into question exactly who the police are listening to when they cordon off or act aggressively toward peaceful protesters (harassing the indigenous rights protesters at night, or isolating peaceful marriage equality demonstrators), but allow this group to start fights unchecked until the mayor steps in (and similarly do little to stop anti-marriage-equality protesters, blue-camp-aligned protesters or actions by groups organized by known gangsters such as White Wolf).

This is quite similar to my reasoning behind supporting laws that do not allow non-residents to participate in protests or demonstrations beyond observation: if we allowed it, thousands of paid Chinese "protesters" would be on the next flights over from China, marching in the streets for unification. Stopping that may mean that some well-meaning people who don't have the right visa can't engage, but I find this a reasonable price to pay.

The final reason why I think it's time to pull the plug on this group is related to the point above. I do not think they are sincere because they don't seem that concerned about actually convincing anybody. That's good in one sense, because if they were, they'd be failing. It raises the question, though, of who exactly they are protesting for. My best guess - and a lot of my friends agree - is that they're doing it to create good photo ops in China. Perhaps for a time they were there to put on a show for Chinese tourists streaming into Taipei 101 - look, we were right, our Chinese brothers across the strait do want to be a part of China, you can see them protesting for it against their evil government right here! - but those are basically gone now. Now, I'd put money on it being done for photo ops that can be strategically placed in Chinese media.

In short, they're not there to convince Taiwanese. They're there to make Taiwanese society seem more divided on the issue than it really is (as it's not actually that divided at all).

Freedom of speech and assembly comes with some basic assumptions: that you are acting of your own accord and not in someone else's shadowy employ; that your motives are sincere and your goals genuine; that you are not a part of some foreign government's strategy and that your intentions are non-violent.

This doesn't mean I think we should ban all pro-China or pro-unification protests. Not even close - as much as I disagree with it, the actual viewpoint being expressed is not the problem. My problem is with this particular group.

While it's difficult to say for sure, my honest opinion is that these specific pro-China protesters meet none of these standards. In such a case, I truly do not believe it violates the basic right to freedom of expression to stop allowing them to demonstrate.

The chances of the Taiwanese government investigating, let alone doing something about this?

Most likely zero. I'd love to be proven wrong.

I suppose we can look forward to them blasting music and pushing us around for awhile yet.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's in Taipei

Happy New Year everyone! I am sure some of the fantastic photographers blogging from Taiwan got better shots than me, but I thought I'd put this up anyway for friends and family back home.

 We used our  gorgeous tatami tea room to eat dinner (Thai basil chicken with brown rice) make tea (泡福壽山高山烏龍的老人茶) and catch up with our friends Cathy and Alex.

One of the great things about living where we do is that we can walk right up to a good view of 101 with minimal hassle - 10 minutes up Da'an Road, maybe 20 coming back. No muss, no fuss!

It's a bit far, but a good perspective from which to see how far back the crowd stretches every year.

We saw Cathy and Alex off on Xinyi Road, where they caught the train back to their place. We came home and enjoyed a quiet cute-couple moment with glasses of Bailey's. I bought the glasses, which look clear but actually have the slightest hint of Depression glass yellow in them, at Aphrodite: currently my #2 favorite secondhand/antique/thrift/vintage shop in Taipei. The other is near Guting.  (Aphrodite is in Neihu just next to where Minquan Bridge lets off, walkable from Costco).

A blurry shot. I expected more of a show, this being the 101st year of the ROC (not Taiwan!) and Taipei 101 and was pretty average. Still nice though, especially as the view is now walking distance from my place without horrendous crowds.

Happy 2012!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Taipei!

Occupy Taipei is coming on Saturday!

I won't be there - I'll be somewhere in Massachussetts between my parents' house and my in-laws', but I wish I could be there.

On the bright side, I'll be in New York twice next week and hope to get the chance to stop by Wall Street, stand around and shout socialist slogans, because I really do believe in what Occupy Wall Street is trying to do - even if the media doesn't seem to understand it.

It's no secret that I teach in a lot of financial institutions - the whole gamut of that industry, not just banks. A lot of my students and some of my friends work in Xinyi near where Occupy Taipei will take place, and work for the institutions that the protesters are decrying as aiding the "1%" and taking money from us 99%. I justify this by reminding myself that the economic structure of Taiwan is not the same as that of the USA. Pay disparities between the normal and the very rich aren't as pronounced. It's not as wealthy a country in absolute terms (even if it has a PPP higher than that of Japan, meaning that the average Taiwanese enjoys a higher standard of living than a similarly positioned Japanese person). Americans are being crushed by student debt - an issue most Taiwanese don't face: rare is the Taiwanese student who pays his or her own way at a private institution, and the public universities, widely acknowledged to provide a better education, are affordable. Americans are being crushed by housing debt: while the real estate market in Taipei City is facing some major problems and massive price inflation, the issue is more that new buyers and families needing to expand can't afford to live in Taipei City - it's not people who bought McMansions and can't meet their mortgages (or regular folks who bought modest houses and still can't afford them due to layoffs or structural problems in the economy). I don't see Taiwanese crushed by medical debt or health care they can't afford: the excellent NHI system takes care of that for the most part.

The issues I see in Taiwan are different: new graduates and entry-level workers are ridiculously underpaid. I'm sorry, but in Taipei especially, for the hours they put in, $25,000-$30,000 NT a month is simply not acceptable. I wouldn't work so hard for such little pay, and I wish there would be a grassroots change, spearheaded by the young, who refuse to work so much for so little. I see new graduates who can't get a job (which, come to think of it, is just like the USA) because their qualifications are nothing special. I see management that honestly and truly does not care about employee well-being and work-life balance, no matter the age, seniority or level of the employee. I see them willing to let valuable employees go rather than pay them fairly or ask them to work reasonable hours (the worst of this is in the accounting industry - don't even ask the hours that an auditor, especially one in their first two years of work, has to put in. It's criminal.)

I see a country where people use tradition as a reason why young people live with parents well into their twenties or even thirties, while everyone ignores the truth: this generation doesn't live at home entirely because they want to (although some surely want to), or because their parents won't hear of them living on their own if they're unmarried (although some parents surely do insist on this, and some children do capitulate). They live with their parents because they have to: they don't get paid enough to get their own accommodation.

I see a country where there is still workplace gender discrimination - although it's much better than the rest of Asia and continuing to improve - and couples are choosing not to have children because a.) they can't afford it or b.) the wife doesn't want to be the one pressured to give up her career or take on more than she can handle. I see a system where childcare, if you don't have parents close by who can watch your child, is just as unaffordable as in the USA.

That is why I'd have liked to join Occupy Taipei (with apologies, but also no shame, to my friends in finance). That's why I regret that I won't be in Taipei for it. That's why I hope it takes hold and is still going on when I come back. I may work with many businesses, but that doesn't mean I don't see the problems therein.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Da Jian Mountain (大尖山)

I apologize for not updating for some time - after a long break from wedding planning, I've realized that as dumb as this seems, photographers and DJs are already booking up for September. I think it's ridiculous that one needs to book such things six months in advance - a party for 100 people should not take this long to plan or need to be planned so far in advance, it's purely idiotic - but there it is. After several photographers I liked were either booked already, too expensive or both, we found this very talented professional. We can't afford her for more than 4 hours, but we're fine with 4 hours of coverage and getting photos from the end of the reception from guests. We'd rather have 4 hours of an amazing, offbeat, non-traditional pro than 7 hours of someone not as good, or a typical "Wedding Photographer" who takes the same dumb poses and pictures of pearls and soft focus roses for every wedding, who won't get the vibe we're going for (non-traditional "party to celebrate a marriage", with lots of color, all our favorite people, good food and shenanigans, not a Wedding with a capital W in any way except for the part where we get married. No white in sight, no roses, no satin or taffeta, no pearls, no white dress, no cake that tastes like Styrofoam, no garters, no bouquets, no YMCA, no dried up Wedding Chicken, no "giving away", none of it).

But in the midst of all that - happy to have a photographer, still no DJ because we can't afford the usual cost of a pro - we managed to go hiking last week on Dajian Mountain, and do some other fun stuff in between. More on the other stuff later.

Dajian Mountain is a mountain and scenic area in the town of Xizhi, 20 minutes east-ish of Taipei. The "summit" (not the true summit, which has less of a panoramic view) commands fine views from Taipei - including 101 in the distance - all the way to Keelung, the Pacific Ocean and Keelung Island.
A view of Taipei from Tianxiu Temple in Xizhi

You can also see Yangmingshan and Guanyinshan on the other side if the weather is clear. (Yangmingshan is peaking out over another mountain, so you can only see the top). While it is theoretically possible to set out from the Xizhi train station and climb from there, I highly recommend taking the free bus - it comes every 45 minutes to an hour from the train station to Tianxiugong (天秀宮)- a temple 3/4 of the way up the mountain. Ask around for where it picks up. If you take the bus, you won't miss much in the way of fine views that you can't get at the top.

This area is protected - at least I am pretty sure it is - and, like Pingxi, is a riot of butterflies. I saw several different species and while I'm no lepidopterist (that's your word of the day, kids), I was impressed by the color and variety found there, so someone with an interest in butterflies would quite enjoy it.

Creepy Pandas at Tianxiu Temple

We had just missed a bus so we took a taxi to Tianxiu Temple (125 kuai). We ate lunch there - there are many options, all of them mediocre) and you can also pick up water and Pocari Sweat.

Then we headed to Xiufeng (?) waterfall, up the hill and then down a peaceful, easy wooded trail that can be slippery in wet weather. The waterfall was lovely, cascading down a rippled rock face into a heart-shaped pool. The rocks were red and gray -red where the water was not constantly flowing over, allowing lichens to grow, and gray where nothing could grow due to the force of the water. The cool air spilling off the waterfall was also a treat. Down the trail a bit to the end, you'll come to an area with four chairs and what used to be a table - a fine spot for a picnic.

Red lichen rocks at the waterfall

The lovely waterfall off the side trail

After that we walked back up to the road and continued up to the viewpoint of Da Jian Mountain, hung out there, befriended some other hikers, ate lunch and continued on our way.

A view of Yangming Mountain peeking out behind a ridge

Partway up the trail, a prayer-bead holding Guanyin was placed next to a golden rooster and a maneki-neko (招財) cat.

We tried to continue along to another waterfall, skirting Monk's Head Mountain and going over a series of easy hilly summits, and then going down a slippery, narrow path through the underbrush, but met some hikers on their way up who insisted that further down, the trail was no longer passable. It had taken a lot of energy to get down, using our arms and always precariously balancing on the slippery mud and rocks, and we didn't feel like going further only to have to turn back without reaching our goal, so we turned tail and went back up the trail. We decided not to continue along but rather to walk back to Da Jian Mountain, enjoy the late afternoon and then head down on foot to Tianxiu Temple and by bus further down (though we ended up on foot for most of it as it took awhile for a bus to arrive).

An Earth God (土地公)shrine partway down the path that led nowhere

Towards the end, we tried to head to a temple at the base of the hill, not far from the train station, that has a preserved monk idol (another one, like the one we visited in Beitou a few months ago, where the idol is in fact the real body of a departed monk) - but when we got to the turn-off, it was late, we were meeting someone in Raohe Night Market for dinner soon, and it was up another hill that we were too tired to climb - so we gave it a pass for now and will revisit it some other day. We plan to return to Xizhi for the Old Street as well as the Xinshan / Dream Lake hike, anyway.

Back at Tianxiu Temple, some guy was feeding his varmint. Awww, what an adowwable wittle varmint!

Dajianshan in the late afternoon

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Elephant Mountain

View of 101 from Thumb Mountain

Last Saturday we took a hike up Elephant Mountain in Xinyi District, right about the time Ma Ying-Jiu was in the area (we think his motorcade went by and it was in the paper the next day that he was in the hills around there pretending to do something but really just posing for the cameras in a baseball cap).

It's an easy "hike", very good for someone not quite fit or excited enough to mosey out of town, but who wants some wind-in-the-bamboo and a nice view. Also a fine choice for tourists in town for a limited time and not sure where to get the most bang for their hours nearby.
But I hesitate to say it's really a hike because the trails are so maintained that it's really just a series of hilly sidewalks. Only around Thumb Mountain does it start to feel like real hiking.

The hike is accessible from many points in Xinyi - Songren Rd. (the lanes leading to it anyway) south of Zhongxiao, or Songshan Rd. far past the schools, where it's quiet and residential are two - and if you want to really make a day of it, Muzha and Nangang as well. That whole stretch of hills is connected by some nice trails with fantastic views of the city.

Some photos:

Views of Yangmingshan are also abundant on the way up.

After Elephant Mountain, we detoured down a trail to Thumb Mountain, which has a more rustic path part of the way, and several old tombs and shrines.

The mountains from a vantage point on the way to Thumb Mountain

The late afternoon light was quite lovely. We reached Thumb Mountain at sunset (see first picture).

Back to the famous vantage point at Elephant Mountain, which crowds up with lovers & photographers.

Taipei 101 from a narrow view between two towering apartment buildings - reminded us all of Hong Kong.