Showing posts with label taipei_civic_life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taipei_civic_life. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

I attended the Taipei commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and...

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The event was emceed by Lin Fei-fan and Miao Poya

...I'm not going to give you a rundown. You can read one here (it comes after discussion of a conference that took place last weekend leading up to the event, which I was unable to attend for work reasons.


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I'll just say briefly that I've attended in years past, when the crowd was smaller and perhaps a bit more casual, there to remember the events of June 4th, 1989 but not terribly weighed down by them.


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This year's event was better-attended than those in years past. 


This year, I don't know what it was. I would simply expect that there'd be a greater number of PRC spies in the audience than usual, though I can always assume a few are around at any civil society event in Taiwan, so that wasn't it. Perhaps it was the importance of this being a 'Big 0' anniversary. Perhaps trepidation over China's increasing global influence, expansionism and belligerence. Perhaps its increasingly annexationist and violent rhetoric regarding Taiwan. Perhaps a latent knowledge and fear that political conditions in China are worsening, that a genocide is going on while the world shrugs its shoulders ("never again" my ass), that they've already silenced Hong Kong and Taiwan could be next - they intend for Taiwan to be next and this grows more obvious by the day. But I don't really know.

It was something though, and another friend picked up on it too.


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I got to meet Miao Poya

"Why does the crowd feel different?" he asked. I'd noticed it too, but couldn't put my finger on it.

I thought for a minute and answered, simply -


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Vice-President Chen Chien-jen speaks



"Fear."




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Friday, April 20, 2018

Fading Rainbows: my latest for Ketagalan Media

I am super tired with two crazy weeks of teacher training and no weekend break. So, here's a link without fanfare (because I don't have time to create it) to my latest for Ketagalan Media, all about the current state of marriage equality in Taiwan and where we need to go from here.

Monday, September 18, 2017

On China's event horizon and screaming into the void

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Yesterday was my birthday. I turned...well, ancient. That's fine. As a friend pointed out, life keeps getting better, so there's no reason to complain about not being that young anymore. I did all the things that I love to do: seeing friends, organizing things (I completely cleaned and organized my spice shelf, labeling all of the weirder flavorings I've bought in packets and put in jars - sumac, dried lavender, juniper berries, gentian root, black salt, kalonji...), eating Indian food (we went to mik'sutras, the newest offering from the fantastic Mayur Indian Kitchen - review coming soon) and, of course, attending protests.

So, before dinner, we participated in China! Free Li!, dutifully donning red shirts (mine was emblazoned with University of Exeter, because that's the only red t-shirt I have) and going to the Central Culture Park (中央藝文公園) near Shandao Temple to help spell out the words "China! Free Li!" on the grass.

I don't think I need to pretend I'm a real journalist and cover the particulars of the protest: you can read about that here, here and here. I'm even quoted in Storm Media about it (link in Chinese).

What I want to say is this:

I'm perfectly aware that this protest will amount to exactly nothing. Lee Ming-che's "trial" is a joke, the verdict pre-determined. China has set up a toy train with tracks that only run in one direction, and there is little we can do if we're not in the government to derail it. China is not going to free Lee just because we spelled out letters asking it to, nor is the Taiwanese government going to alter its (probably correct) strategy of working to bring him home in a behind-the-scenes way.

Literally not one thing will change as a result of my or any of us attending yesterday. Lee's case and human rights generally in China are a void into which we scream. We are not heard, and there can be no reply because a reply would require some sort of human or collective conscience or system of ethics, and the Chinese government has proven that it possesses neither. By attending, we primarily make ourselves feel better.

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We can "make statements", "send a message", "call on" China, "rally" in support, and all of it is about as useful as writing our statements "calling on China" on construction paper and mailing them in envelopes addressed to "Santa at the North Pole" and waiting for a response.

That's not to say that protests are never useful. Around the world, they have been instrumental in effecting change, although they are rarely the primary force behind that change. The civil rights movement in the United States did not succeed in changing laws and minds primarily because they marched. They succeeded because underneath that a long, hard, quiet campaign of registering black voters, lobbying, petitioning and other forms of less-visible activism created the undercurrent necessary to bring about that change.

What protests do is put all of the activism that actually accomplishes something into the public eye, perhaps providing a catalyst moment, perhaps not, but at least creating some visibility.

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The question is, visibility to whom?

The People's Republic of China is a vacuum - a black hole devoid of any sort of moral or ethical rightness - that is trying to suck up everything on its periphery. Black holes don't listen. They can't listen. They lack the humanity to do so. The government of China, while comprised of human beings, is not humane. There can be no visibility in a system where all light is sucked into blackness, where no light escapes.

I don't even think I'm being melodramatic. It is really that bad. The situation is truly that dire. They aim to not only eradicate the concept of human rights in China, but the world. They aim to force the CCP's amoral, ethics-free, humanity-free way of looking at the world onto the rest of us - and we aren't paying attention - we don't see it coming because they're not using guns to do it.

Taiwan is close to China's event horizon, and yet, outside of Taiwan's activist circles few seem to think this is an immediate threat. We aren't going to be sucked in tomorrow, or this year, or even next year, but black holes know nothing but sucking, and they are going to keep sucking until we - and everything we stand for - no longer exists.

Those are the people I want to see this - that is the visibility I desire. They're the ones I want to hear about this case and the more general threat from China. They are the ones who, as they go about their lives - although I thrive on worry and agitation, I wouldn't want to take from anyone the ability to have worry-free days where they are not terrified for the fate of their country at every moment - should keep in mind that this is a more general threat, and to vote and be prepared to fight accordingly.

I want them to know what it would mean to be on China's event horizon - it means a fate similar to that of Hong Kong. Does Taiwan want a shell democracy in which China decides who stands for election, disbarring and even imprisoning anyone whose beliefs don't fit their narrative? Do they want a shell press where journalists and writers theoretically have freedom, but in actuality are kidnapped, tortured and killed by faceless thugs?

 The Chinese government will hear nothing because voids do not hear, they only exist as a place where sound dies. But the people of Taiwan and much of the rest of the world still possess their right minds and senses. They can see and hear. They are the ones I want to reach, the ones I want to start thinking and act accordingly.

I want them to know that these issues exist, and people care about them. I don't want them to think that Lee, or China generally, are not a threat because people are apathetic. I want them and the world to know we are paying attention and perhaps get some of them to pay attention, too.

It is doubtful that the rest of the world will notice this small protest. I wouldn't even expect them to. But if Taiwan notices, and the rest of the world notices that Taiwan's vision of the future is fundamentally incompatible with China's, that will be one positive long-term outcome.

So I didn't attend China Free Li because I thought it would actually help free Lee Ming-che, or because I thought it would send a strong message to China. Fuck China.

I did it to send a strong message to Taiwan. 

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So after Miao Poya speaks and while everyone's clapping, I shouted "we love you, Miao Poya!"
I'm not sure if I hope she heard me. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

One step forward for marriage equality and thoughts on the nature of disobedience

To my great regret, I was unable to make it to the marriage equality rally today, to support the referral of the bill that would amend the civil code to the Legislative Yuan from committee. I had a class at exactly the wrong time - although I could have shown up on the early side if I had known the meeting was likely to end that quickly - and by the time I was able to go downtown, everything was over. I'm not unwilling to sacrifice work time for this cause - I consider it a donation to the fight for justice. I have very understanding employers who know this issue is important to Taiwan and to me, so I'm able to do so from time to time (I am not unaware that this is a great blessing for someone who is civically active - a lot of employers would not be so flexible). But, I've already done a great deal of that already and at some point I actually do have to show up and do my job.

In any case, there seems to be good news and bad news (and if I've got any of this wrong, please do correct me in the comments. I have never claimed to be an expert in Taiwan's legislative process, and frankly I'm a bit confused by their being three or four bills, which ones are progressing, or all of them, and why).

The good news is that the bill has left committee, which is a small step forward.

The bad news is that it won't go straight to the full legislature, it will go through caucus consultations first. If I understand how that works, it means each party will consult on the bill (I had thought it was with all of their legislators, but apparently not, and the consultations are cross-party). Whether or not there is enough support for the bill to continue might be determined, and at this point either side might introduce changes to the draft.

The good news is that these caucus consultations are live streamed now, so we can pay attention to who's being a jerk and hold them accountable. This makes it less likely legislators will jerk around, I hope.

The bad news is that people who know these things predict that the KMT is likely to "butcher" the bill in caucus consultations. If a change is agreed on, it goes to the legislature as such, if not, that deliberation happens in the full legislature.

Another touch of bad news (if you can read the Chinese, I got this info here) is that this is perhaps not the great bill that activists had hoped for - it amends the code, but waters down the language and basically adds another category of marriage rather than changing the language referring to gender in the original law.

On the good side, however, the legislature finally seems to be aware (I hope?) that support for marriage equality is strong and more than superficial (if it were surface-level support for a 'trendy' cause, 250,000 people would not have shown up on December 10th, and 30,000 or so people would not have shown up today), and the Ministry of Justice will not be drafting its own bill for civil partnerships (which would likely not confer equal rights, would be akin to segregation - separate is not equal after all, and civil partnerships are not considered 'marriage' - and would not result in a change in the civil code).

I note all of this because there seems to be a lot of confusion as to when this is finally going to be voted on, if it ever is, and what today stood for. People are celebrating, which I can understand to some degree - the bill being finally out of committee is undoubtedly a step forward and we ought to recognize that. I, however, will be saving my celebration for when the path forward is clearer than it is now. I am not at all confident that it will get through caucus consultations unscathed.

On the other side of the debate, there are a lot of images circulating on Facebook noting that the pro-equality demonstrators are peaceful and friendly, whereas the anti-equality ones, perhaps knowing they're on the losing side, perhaps just being judgmental tight-asses in general, have gotten angry and rowdy. There were reports of smoke bombs going off, and several were arrested.

On one hand, it is a credit to the pro-equality side that they present a better image and are advocating peacefully and intelligently for their goals. On the other, how peaceful demonstrations are is not necessarily an indicator of how 'right' the goal of the demonstrators is. Remember scenes of the student movement participants that became the Sunflowers shouting at police, being dragged down the street and - at least as it was reported by J. Michael Cole - egging and spray painting a government building. They occasionally got rowdy, they blocked access, they climbed walls. They were, however, absolutely correct in their convictions. I appreciate that the pro-equality crowd is peaceful but let's not make this distinction too simplistic, shall we? It could come back to bite us later.

Along those lines, the anti-equality crowd, when they were arrested for trying to climb the walls surrounding the Legislative Yuan and many of them were promptly handcuffed with zipper ties, were said to shout "how come the Sunflowers did this and were not restrained?" (not an exact quote).

Honestly, if they think the reason why they were handcuffed and the Sunflowers were not had anything to do with ideology, they have not been paying attention. I happen to think they know this is not a valid comparison, and are being disingenuous, but I digress.

The police were not on the side of the Sunflowers, they didn't "let" them get away with it because of the ideology driving the students. They got away with it because nobody - including I would gather many of the Sunflowers themselves - saw it coming (at least that's how I've heard it told). Nobody expected the occupation would happen that quickly, it caught everyone off-guard.

Now, there's a precedent, and police are ready. Should a group of strong-willed students try to occupy the Legislative Yuan again, you can be sure they would be similarly arrested, if not had worse things done to them. You can also be sure the students are aware of this.

It just so happens that the Sunflowers were right and the anti-equality demonstrators are wrong, but that has nothing to do with who was arrested and who wasn't. Remember as well that, while the Executive Yuan case against the Sunflowers was dropped, as far as I am aware, prosecution for the Legislative Yuan occupation is ongoing. (Please correct me if I am wrong or have missed something).

It's a bit of a logical fallacy, and also painfully reductive its, to equate either 'passionate civil disobedience' with being right, or 'we were peaceful, so we must be the good guys' with being right. The rightness or wrongness of your stance is not determined by whether you demonstrate peacefully or make a scene, and it could come back to bite those who pretend it is. The Sunflowers were right, but not because they happened to occupy. The anti-equality crowd is wrong, but not because they grew rowdy. The pro-equality demonstrators are right, but not because they are peaceful (though it does make them look good). As long as your tactics don't result in the injury or death of innocent parties (I take a more liberal approach to property destruction but it probably doesn't help anyone's cause to engage in it), how laudable your goals are should not be tied to how you fight for them.

This seems to be another fundamental misunderstanding of the legacy of the Sunflowers - like the KMT who still can't understand that such civic actions are not necessarily orchestrated by an opposing party and who try to pull off unsuccessful imitations, the anti-equality demonstrators do not seem to understand that their legacy is not "if you are right, you must occupy". It was, and always has been to fight for what you believe in through non-violent but also non-passive means, physically if you must, and ethics, logic and the progress of society will determine whether you are right or wrong.

On a more personal note, I've noticed recently that I have kind of been hankering to be a part of something like this, well, for awhile. At least since my own country went to hell and I vowed to engage more in the civic realm, but in Taiwan which is my home, rather than America, which is not. My absence today was not a problem, I surely was not missed. Enough people showed  up that that one extra body did not matter. However, I personally wanted to be there to physically support a cause I care about, and regret that I missed the chance. I understand that today was not entirely safe, and there was the chance of an altercation, however, if anything such a risk just makes me more committed. I don't want to start anything or get involved in such a confrontation, but I am not afraid of one, and will not be intimidated.

Apparently some anti-equality protesters shouted to a 'foreign' journalist to 'go back to his country'. I would have responded in that situation that I am in my country, that Taiwan is my home.

Next time, then, I will be there.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Why isn't the labor movement drawing the crowds it should?

There was an interesting piece in Taiwan News recently about why marriage equality, not the labor movement, is attracting demonstrators and catching the public eye. I would especially like to learn more about traditionally Taiwanese representations of gayness as I know basically nothing about it.

I don't agree with every conclusion - in fact, although marriage equality impacts a small segment of the population, it affects that segment in a huge way, and is something of a social litmus test for the kind of country Taiwan wants to be.

I do not think allowing bigots to score a point by allowing civil partnerships is the answer: first, because I don't believe in giving in to bigots (could you imagine telling, say, African Americans to compromise with racists during the Civil Rights Movement and accept less than full equal rights? This suggestion doesn't feel different), especially when they are a small minority with outsize influence that it's time we cut down, and secondly because it's a straight-up human rights issue.

So, I cannot accept the conclusion that we need to let marriage equality go and focus on labor: in fact, I think we should ramp up marriage equality, get it passed quickly, and then focus on labor. I am not a fan at all of the argument that we should delay conferring full civil rights on a group because they happen to be a small group and because some bigots don't like it. I do not think a new law - rather than amending the civil code - will bring about the realization that marriage equality is okay, leading to later change in the code. It'll get stuck there. We'll try to push for the civil code to be changed, only to be told "but we HAVE marriage equality, can't you just accept that and move on?" The bigots will not stop being bigots, they'll bring out the same old fight. It'll be a bureaucratic nightmare, a postponement of the real battle. I'm not into that, sorry.

My views, however, mean little - I can't vote and I can't organize. It's what the Taiwanese are inspired by that counts. I have a few anecdotal thoughts for why labor is not attracting crowds but marriage equality is:

The marriage equality crowd is a young crowd, many of whom do not intend to accept jobs with poor working conditions when they graduate. 

This is the generation that gets involved in public life, that goes abroad, that starts their own business, that goes freelance, that moves back to their hometown to open a cafe or run their family business. Some of them are surely on the naive side, thinking they have an escape route from the hell that is a typical job in Taiwan, and some will likely come to regret their idealistic assumptions. For many, however, that is a fuzzy eventuality, a gray cloud on the horizon. They have gay friends now, this means more to them.

Turton is right about one thing, though: marriage equality is cool and trendy and progressive, but labor movements often call to mind the sad reality that most of us eventually end up working for The Man. They're not young, hip or cool (and, as the article also got right, they don't tap into an identity one can display through consumption). When you either don't want to think about your eventual working life, or don't think it will happen to you because you'll never be stuck in some interminable cube monkey job, your heart is just not going to be in a labor protest.

I just don't happen to think all of that identity-broadcasting done by demonstrating for marriage equality is necessarily a bad thing. We all do things to display our identity. I do it, Turton does it, we all do it. For some, it really is a representation of who they are (if you're gayer than a Christmas tree and act like it, then is that not authentic rather than an identity you have chosen to display through consumption? If you really are someone whose fire gets lit by human rights causes, as I am, are you not being authentic in displaying that identity even if through consumerist means?

This is about more than just being fashionable, or a way to display an identity

A friend pointed this out, and I agree. Yes, there is consumption, identity display and some amount of being attached to a fashionable cause when it comes to marriage equality, but 250,000 people don't turn out on a Saturday for that reason alone. It is far more than the core LGBT+ fighting for equal rights and other activists passionate about the cause, and shows a deeper engagement than just being trendy or hip. You might get a few of those, but you don't get 250,000, especially when they were not brought out by tight, cohesive church networks the way the anti-equality folks were with their far smaller numbers, if it's just people showing off how cool and progressive they are. People do care, there is real support, and it does go deeper than strutting around in order to cement an identity for oneself.

Honestly, the labor movement doesn't get the word out effectively. 

I don't know about you guys, but I always hear about marriage equality events well in advance, and can plan to attend them. Labor protests? I read about them the next day from Brian Hioe, or see them happening when I am already in my pajamas. I don't know until it's too late that I could have been there. I don't know how they hope to attract more people if people don't even know something is going on.

Marriage equality seems solvable, labor issues do not

I think a lot of activists know they have society and even much of the government on their side in the marriage equality debate. They know this is winnable. They know it's winnable soon - a big victory in a short time over an opponent that is outmatched. The fight against the Boss Class will be a long, grueling, interminable one with a huge amount of media, money, crony capitalists, corrupt politicians and straight-up asshats bearing down on them. It will be another Sunflower Movement, if we let it get that far (and I do think labor has the potential to be that, but few seem to agree) - an angry group of activists up against insane odds. Perhaps the nation is still a bit hungover from the last big movement, and wants a break, to achieve something that can actually be done.

Hell, the New Power Party has a pretty strong labor platform (though as always I do not agree with their past resistance to relaxing the laws governing foreign workers), and they can't seem to get anywhere. If they can't bring the crowds, or effectively stand up to the Boss Class, how can anyone?

Marriage equality, though? Dude, we can do that.

It's not really clear, due to deliberate muddling, what the labor movement really means or stands for

Which labor movement are we even talking about? The one opposed to pension reform? The tour guide protest? The fakey-fake "Sunflower imitation" protests the KMT organizes because it just does not get civil society at all? Or the real labor protests? It's easy to be confused. I often have to think hard about a demonstration - if I even know it's going to happen - to see if this is a group I actually agree with, or just more civil servants unhappy about pension reform when most workers in the private sector don't even have pensions, or only nominally do. The labor movement needs to clarify who they are, what they want and who they are not, or they're just not going to bring the crowds.

Workers themselves seem to vacillate between grumbling about the situation - and I agree that it is dire - and talking about how "this is just the way things are", not complaining, not talking to their bosses, not going to the company to air grievances. If workers won't even tell their bosses what they don't like, how can we expect them to get riled up enough to protest? And how can we expect others to come out on behalf of them when they won't stand up for themselves at work?

The fight for more vacation days was, to be honest, uninspiring

I'm sorry, I just can't work up a lot of screaming, placard-waving enthusiasm over keeping Chiang Kai Stupid Shek's Stupid Birthday. I know a vacation day is a vacation day and I shouldn't fret so much, but...I just can't get over that. I don't know about the rest of the Taiwanese public, but it's not a galvanizing message.

Add to that the fact that we've only had these extra seven days for one year: in the past ten years in Taiwan I never had those days off, and suddenly I do. It's very confusing, and I don't feel passionately about keeping them because they sort of randomly appeared this year rather than being something I'm used to that fits into the rhythm of the year.

So, it just doesn't seem like a smart route to go in terms of igniting a fire in people to come out and fight.

It is uninspiring to fight for better labor laws when the ones we have are not enforced. 

A friend brought up this point (and the point above about workers who don't complain) and I agree enough to include it. Sure, we need better laws, but what good is it if the ones we already have are more or less never enforced? Who cares if a new law limits overtime if you can't get your boss to abide by the current laws regulating overtime? What are we fighting for, exactly?

That young marriage equality crowd has free time, workers just have stress

...and workers generally do not.

Those that do face family pressure - always a big deal here - to keep their shitty job and not rock the boat, or to 'take what you can get'. It's a society that is very accepting of market trends in terms of how workers are treated - in the US the left screams and howls, rightfully so, when capitalists say that a fair wage is the lowest wage someone is willing to work for, but Taiwan is far more accepting of this explanation. Something about that "this is the best we can do, this is the market, we have to accept it" attitude has to change.

Workers are also less idealistic. They've done jobs, they know how the world is and how most of us eventually get sucked in (for the record, I'm in my 30s and have still managed to not get sucked in, but I may well die old and poor). They are often focused on themselves and their families - by then, most have them - and improving their own lot rather than fighting for the betterment of all. This is another attitude we have to change.

In the meantime, though?

Honestly, you'll find me in the street, rainbow flag in hand.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A sunflower by another name doesn't get any attention...yet

If you read New Bloom, and I hope you do, you might be one of the only people in Taiwan who knew about the workers' hunger strike in front of the Legislative Yuan these past two days. The workers held the strike to protest the DPP government's intent to cut the number of public holidays from 19 to 12 and, for all intents and purposes, legislate away the 2-day weekend that Taiwanese workers fought hard for not that long ago. 

Considering that the DPP rose to power in part on a promise to be more considerate of labor interests rather than blindly sucking corporate dick like the KMT (is it too early to say I miss the unholy triad of gangsters, property developers/big business and politicians that defined pretty much every stretch of KMT rule the country has known? Do the DPP have their own gangster-businessman handjobs to give?), this is basically a slap in the face of workers. I cannot imagine the DPP will be treated kindly at the polls if this legislation passes as-is. It also has me taking seriously the idea that the DPP is a far more conservative government than we'd thought they'd be, mirroring the KMT in ways that society never wanted them to.

What's more, despite the NPP vowing to fight for labor rights, they didn't seem to take much of an interest in the hunger strike either. I have my own issues with the NPP not caring about all labor in Taiwan (they certainly don't care about foreign labor, and no I will not shut up about it as that affects people I know directly and keeps me from fully supporting the NPP), and this is additionally worrying. What are they fighting for if not this?

Well, anyway, the strike ended with nothing achieved. While some labor protests gain social support (see the China Airlines strike just recently), this one lay flaccid and ignored. As New Bloom noted, activists largely did not seem to notice, and those who did seemed supportive but didn't necessarily show up in big enough numbers.

My theory as to why: China Airlines' staff striking meant major inconvenience for travelers and business alike (and not just the airlines' own business). They not only blocked up Nanjing Road, but managed to shut down a fair amount of air traffic. Of course that was going to be more electrifying. Sitting outside the Legislative Yuan, where you affect precisely no one who isn't used to this sort of thing, is simply not going to be as effective. Smarter would be to organize and threaten nationwide strikes on the holidays this new legislation would cut were it to go into effect.

But here's the thing: the government still ignores this at its own peril. The students and associated supporting activists do too. Also, the media. And possibly you.

If you don't remember how the Sunflower movement gained momentum, go ahead and read J. Michael Cole's Black Island: from the Next Media acquisition to anti-nuclear protests to Yuanli to Dapu to Huaguang to Losheng to the Wang residence, the Sunflowers didn't just appear on the scene, suddenly inspired as they never had been before to shut down the legislature. (Note: a lot of what I'm going to say about them is partly from my own experience and partly from re-reading about that time in recent Taiwanese history through that book. Credit where credit is due).

They fought many small, often unnoticed battles and usually lost. The Dapu homes are gone. Huaguang is gone. People didn't pay attention to them as the DPP held opposition rallies that attracted lots of people and achieved nothing, and then one day the momentum everyone had been ignoring on the sidelines (or calling "naive" and "irrational" though it was anything but) exploded in a wildly successful social movement that has quite possibly changed the future of the country.

Side note: notice how I call Taiwan a "country" and aggressively do not call it an "island" although it is one. "Island" is very common in English-language media reporting on Taiwan, but it's a cop-out, a way of being technically correct without having any nuts whatsoever. Taiwan is a country. CALL IT ONE, for chrissakes. Or are my nuts bigger than yours?

This image is "extra large", LIKE MY NUTS.
Anyway, image stolen (sorry, but my nuts need to be seen) from here
Also, I do not recommend you Google "my nuts" to find this image. 

Anyway, those who were surprised were not paying attention. That's on them.

As I see it, it's starting again, but this time with workers. They might lose this fight, and the next one, and the one after that. Their hunger strikes may go unremarked-upon, and the parties that came to power promising to work with them may betray them. But, like the students, they have all of the markers of becoming the next thing that shakes the country.

First, they are right. No question. Fuck the Man. Seize the means of production. All that great stuff. Taiwanese workers are overworked and they are underpaid, and business assholes have been exploiting them for far too long. This has to change.

They are not afraid to strike, and have been inspired recently by the China Airlines strike and the successes it brought. Hopefully, they'll learn from that and conduct more successful strikes in the future.

Worker strikes, if done well, have the potential to really inconvenience a lot of people - rather like occupying the Legislative Yuan but being so peaceful and reasonable that the police don't dare to use force (which they shouldn't). Remember, you need workers to do things. All things. Like literally all of the things. If you like things getting done, you need workers. If workers refuse to work on a large scale, or in very targeted ways at very targeted times, that is going to suck for everyone. This is a good thing. It's actually an advantage the students did not have.

Though this particular protest went unnoticed, like the early student activist protests that predated the Sunflowers, there is a lot of potential there for broad public support, especially against the well-defined demon of Business Assholes. It's true that they have a lot of Business Asshole enemies and some Stockholm Syndrome types (I wonder if my good buddy who is heretofore banned from commenting will pop up and be one of these! You won't see his comments because I won't publish them, but hey buddy! Stay angry. It's fun. Never change) will complain about the inconvenience rather than consider the reasons for such drastic action, but that we know who the enemy is and most Taiwanese suffer under the current worker-business status quo means the potential is there to get the country mobilized behind them (and vote for...who? I don't know. When the KMT and DPP both fail you and the NPP is not doing as well as you'd like, who do you vote for?).

This looks like it's going to be one of those long fights - Business Assholes don't give up easily. What this means is lots and lots of protests that end up training the workers who want better conditions to engage in civil revolt more effectively, much as the activists who became the Sunflowers learned a lot from the protests that helped the movement coalesce. You are going to see workers going after what they want far more effectively - I'd put money on it. If I had a lot of money, which I don't, because teaching English at a professional level in Taiwan does not pay well.  (Again a note: that's not a complaint about my various current employers. It's a complaint about the state of ESL education in Taiwan and the world in general).

Regarding that last point, the workers also have the benefit of coalescing, clarifying their message and engaging in more effective civil disobedience while the rest of the country is mostly ignoring them. Their mistakes won't be particularly public. I noticed that the student leaders were incredibly well-versed in the history of effective nonviolent civil disobedience. Someone for sure has read up on their King and their Gandhi. I can only hope the workers have leaders who are well-read in the history of labor movements and what has worked.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, they are persistent, because they really believe in what they are fighting for, and the conditions they are fighting against are truly untenable and have been going on for far too long. It is reaching a tipping point. Taiwanese actually drop dead from overwork on a startling basis, and almost everyone - even if they pretend otherwise - know that the work is far too grueling hours-wise and far too low-paid to be something Taiwanese give up and settle for. The idea that this is just going to go away is nonsense. It's not, because there is no option to give up. The consolation prize - a continued shitty work life and not even earning good money for it - is not acceptable. So they are not going to stop pushing.

And when you won't stop pushing because losing is not an option, you tend to break through and succeed, jumping over so many proverbial fences and storming so many proverbial legislatures eventually.

I do hope people start to pay attention. The youth movement needs to pay attention, certainly - even those who are still in school are going to be entering the Taiwanese working world soon. Anyway, they care about the future of the country - so not only will these workers be them soon enough, it would be a very unfortunate thing indeed if they missed where the next big movement was coming from and did not contribute their own experience, followers and support to this very important issue.

Business Assholes need to pay attention because otherwise they are going to be shocked when they wake up one day and find they can't grind Taiwanese down to nubs day after day for circus peanut pay.

Foreigners need to pay attention, because we need to fight for better labor rights, protections and immigration rights too. Foreigners not in Taiwan need to pay attention, because all your semiconductors are belong to us. 

Everyday people need to pay attention, because life is eventually going to start to get difficult for them.

And the media needs to pay attention, or they are going to be as caught off-guard as they were by the Sunflowers. Something tells me that this is exactly what is going to happen, though, because the Taiwanese media.

I don't know what they will be called - which flower or berry or something entirely new - perhaps the White Orchids, because as much as you mistreat an orchid it stubbornly blooms? - but they are coming, and you'd best wake up.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Something Old, Something New

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One of the things I love about living in Taiwan - though I suppose this is true for expat life in just about any country - is that I can see something that looks as though it will be the same as something I've seen in the past, but discover something completely new within it.

For example, I happened upon a temple parade in my neighborhood a few weeks ago. It is fairly rare to find one there; they usually take place in the older part of the city, not the most densely populated part of Da'an! I enjoyed it in part because, being more of a neighborhood thing, it didn't draw the massive crowds that the more well-known festivals draw. I was able to get solid close-ups of the temple cohorts and performers, including some more unique or characterful shots that are hard to get when you are pressed in by a massive crowd at, say, Qingshan Wang, Baosheng Culture Festival, the Matsu pilgrimage or others.

The other thing I liked about this festival was that I saw something I'd never seen before, despite having thought I'd "seen it all" as far as temple parades go.

And that is the offering of beer to bajiajiang, or the 8 generals!

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This was really interesting to watch - a tiny temple, more like a shrine, in the lanes around Rui'an Street, coming out with a tray of Bar Beer and offering it to the performers. The performers accepted it formally and drank it quickly.

I didn't know this was something you could do, in fact, I wasn't aware they could be seen drinking, talking or using technology (though I have definitely seen bajiajiang chatting, smoking or on cell phones when they shouldn't be.

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Another thing I didn't expect was the "temple parade enthusiast" (which I joked might be me in about 30 years) - I had seen spirit medium type parade followers who became possessed during parades but never one who was clearly not possessed but simply wanted to also be a part of the procession. She even had the right outfit, and was allowed to join by the rest of the temple troupes.

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I was quite sad to see a truck with poles for sexy temple dancers being used for Three Princes (santaizi) instead, and none of them were dancing on the poles. A pole-dancing child god would be a wonderful photo! 

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Otherwise it was a fairly normal neighborhood parade, with small crowds coming out to watch, not unlike, say, a Firemen's Day parade in the US but more colorful and interesting, at least to me. There were two bajiajiang troupes, the second fiercer than the first. These guys were legit scary: 

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And the usual cohort of dragon dancers, lion dancers and tall god costumes.

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What bothers me, and I feel like writing about here, are complaints about traditional temple activities and how they should be curtailed or banned. Not just temple parades but ghost money, Mid-Autumn Festival barbecue and Chinese New Year firecrackers.

People complain that they are noisy, they are dangerous, they pollute, they annoy neighbors. I have very little patience for this (maybe for the ghost money but honestly the most polluted days to me are not the ones on which it is being burned). People who think the occasional temple parade causes "pollution" don't seem overly concerned about the actual biggest source of noise and air pollution in Taipei - scooters. Or how they are far more dangerous than a few fireworks from a parade.

They say Mid-Autumn Festival BBQ annoys neighbors, without even thinking about how noise trucks, those stupid loudspeakers outside of stores, or community events (Fireman's Day is a big one in my community, and there are quite a few concerts and children's events too) that are just as noisy and maybe just as annoying to some of us. But no, a few days of barbecue is somehow more polluting than Taipei's traffic, and somehow noisier and more annoying than all the other events in the city.

Give me a damn break. I just can't take seriously the idea that temple parades are somehow worse than scooters for traffic snarls, noise, air pollution or general danger and public annoyance, that Mid-Autumn BBQ is worse than a political noise truck or more polluting than the imprint of a large, air-conditioned, concrete department store, that Chinese New Year fireworks are more annoying than the Musical China Douchemobile. That ghost money smoke creates more pollution than factory or traffic exhaust (again, the worst pollution days to me - someone with a weak respiratory system - are actually not ghost money days).

So stupid. So wrongheaded. 

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I'm usually not one go to in for conspiracy theories, but I can't help but wonder in whose interest it is to slowly let the air out of the cultural street life of Taipei (and Taiwan in general, but this seems to mostly be a Taipei problem). Whom does it benefit to see temple parades become smaller, quieter and more rare until they disappear altogether? Whom does it benefit to squash autumn barbecues? Whom does it benefit to allow noise trucks and civic events but not firecrackers? Whom does it benefit to ban or discourage election posters so Taipei looks less like a democracy going through an election as you drive around?

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Because it seems to me that while temple parades may have originated in China, they aren't really done much in China anymore (one year in China and I saw exactly one lion dancer, hired for the grand opening of a supermarket), and a lot of the quintessentially "Taiwanese" practices, such as bajiajiang, have their origins in a few temples in Fujian and aren't really pan-Chinese in any real sense of the word. I didn't see much ghost money burning in China either although it originated there and I am sure is still practiced to some extent. The others, such as barbecue (which originated in Taiwan with a barbecue sauce ad, but I still love it and anyone who doesn't can shove off) and, well, democracy, are not Chinese in origin at all. Night markets may be a thing in some parts of China - I went to an okay one in Yantai - but most people associate them with Taiwan...and a lot of neighborhoods have become recently and mysteriously interested in closing down night markets in their vicinity where no such animosity existed before.

Is it an attempt, consciously or not, to make Taiwan look more like China?

I don't know, and I realize I'm baiting conspiracy theory by even asking, but that's sure how it feels. 

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Some people, for sure, probably aren't even thinking along those lines and think these are the things keeping Taipei from being a truly modern city - quiet, clean and upscale.

Which is of course utter nonsense.

These things are what make Taipei Taipei, rather than, I dunno, some crappy box-building city in China with streaky luxury apartment complexes rotting out by the 80th ring road, or Beijing which is even worse than that despite the cultural heritage because you literally can't breath and they are slowly razing anything of interest (rather like the cultural razing of temple parades and other items of cultural interest in Taipei in favor of luxury apartments, boring civic celebrations and department stores?), or Duluth or Peoria or Des Moines or some other city I wouldn't want to live in that feels like a stand-in for a boring, poorly-planned metropolis more known for suburbs than actual urban vibrancy. 

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I mean, if I wanted to live in Duluth I would have moved to Duluth. If I wanted to live in 屁眼, China, I would have moved there.

I live in Taipei because I want to be in Taipei, and a part of that is the street life, the overall street-level liveliness, and the cultural aspects of living here. I'll put up with a traffic jam because a ten-foot god is walking down the road for that. 

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Some people do say it's because so many temple events are connected with gangsters, because gangs, temples, businessmen and politicians are in many ways just an inbred group of cronies in Taiwan.

Sure, that's true.

But who cares?

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Honestly, of all the things gangs in Taiwan are involved in, this is by a very wide margin the least problematic. Stopping temple parades isn't going to make gangs go away, and even if there is gang activity inherent in them, it's fairly harmless as gang activity goes.

I mean, imagine if the best pasta joint in town were run by the local mafia (which in New York might very well be the case, though not always). Would you want to stop the gang from doing anything illegal or truly problematic? Sure.

Does that mean the pasta restaurant is the problem, and you shouldn't enjoy delicious pasta there? I don't think so. It just doesn't seem like a very strong reason to me. You want to crack down on gangs, crack down on scammers, prostitution rings/pimps/brothels, drug cartels and a scary large percentage of politicians and big business.

The temple parades are not the problem.

Anyway, rant over, enjoy a few more photos:

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