Showing posts with label taipei_politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taipei_politics. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Yes, Ko Wen-je said a sexist thing again

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The ladies of Taipei according to Ko Wen-je


So, it's time we all just admitted frankly that Ko Wen-je is a sexist jackass.

This time, it's over comments that "Japanese women make themselves up more beautifully" than Taiwanese women, with Taiwanese women not wearing makeup "go directly outside and terrify people", and that being aesthetically pleasing not only shows dedication but is a responsibility (presumably, of women).

I mean, I totally understand. What with Ko Wen-je being such a well-manicured hottie, he sure takes great care of his 'aesthetics' and women can't help swooning over him, I mean, just look at that carefully-maintained visage that makes ladies' hearts go a-flutte - -


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Oh yeah THAT guy really has standing to talk about how women need to make themselves prettier. 



Oh, wait, that's not him. Sorry. The other guy is Ko. Hmm. Gotcha.

Do you like gardening, Mayor Ko? Because that is one massive glass house ya got there.

Obviously, it bothers me that the mayor of the city I live in, who is likely to be re-elected, is a sexist jerk.

It bothers me that he remains popular despite being a sexist jerk (if he'd committed actual sexual harassment he'd probably be a goner politically, but apparently stupid, sexist comments aren't enough), and that the media seem to cover for him.

I mean, there's no excuse for his recent comments, but please enjoy some smokescreens for sexist comments in the past:

Ko "clarifies" that both unmarried women and men over 30 are a "national security risk" (note verb choice)

"Gaffe-prone" Ko says he's "still learning to be a politician", which sounds like apologia for comments that are shitty even when non-politicians make them - note the way the prominence of Ko's "explanation" and the use of "gaffe" downplay the nature of what he actually said. And not just one thing - this is over two separate comments, both of which were horrible!

It also implies, from Ko's perspective, that everyday men say these things and that's OK (men I know have assured me they and other men typically don't, even in all-male company), but politicians shouldn't. No, dude. You shouldn't make comments that a woman is "so pretty" that she's not fit to be mayor but that she should instead "be a receptionist or model for tourism promotion materials", or "I didn't become a OB-GYN because I'd have to make a living between women's legs" even if you are not a politician. So there's nothing to "learn" to not say about women in order to be mayor. You're just an asshole.

You really think after these sorts of comments that the women of Taipei think you can do a good job as their elected representative? What woman would want to be governed by you?


So, this time around, let's not do that, okay? Let's call it what it is. Ko Wen-je definitely has his distinct personality and so he makes off-color remarks. Fine. I do that too! I live for off-color things (as long as they're not mean to the wrong people). But can we just admit that off-color sexist remarks belie sexist beliefs no matter your personality? Thanks.

But what bothers me more is that he's the best choice we've got in the upcoming election.

I don't care about one stupid comment, not really. I care that he keeps making them and yet there's no other solid choice to vote for.


I'm not writing this stuff because I want to trash Mayor Ko for no reason, and I'm not writing it because I want him to lose the upcoming election (what I say here won't matter in that regard anyway). I'm aware that the other two choices are worse: Ting Shou-jung is a China-loving, anti-independence sack of empty slogans and Pasuya Yao...I mean, lol.

If anything, that's the problem: Ko is a jackass - a smart, hardworking jackass, but a jackass nonetheless - yet we don't have a better choice. We finally get the first non-KMT mayor since Chen Shui-bian and he's...a jackass. It burns.

Monday, October 2, 2017

...that's a lot of rapists

Focus Taiwan reported yesterday that a special operation that took place from March to May resulted in the apprehension of 31 fugitive rapists.

While this ought to be good news - 31 is a lot of rapists - it raises more questions than it answers.

First of all, would a "special mission" have been necessary if the Taipei City police had paid more attention and allocated more resources to catching rapists generally? I don't think anyone knows how many people in a city the size of Taipei would, on average, be rapists, but...this just seems like a lot, no?

Assuming we should not be nervous that there even were 31 rapists to apprehend - again, I have no idea how many any given Taipei-sized city would typically have on the files - I have to wonder how they managed to catch so many in 3 months. Could it possibly be because they had some idea who these people were, and therefore once it was made a "special mission" with "extra resources", finally bothered to go out and nab them?

Could they not have apprehended any of these fugitives sooner? Because really, I cannot emphasize this enough: 31 rapists is a lot of rapists.

I know I'm supposed to be applauding the police, but I can't shake the feeling that they were sitting on their hands before, not taking rape cases seriously when it was even remotely challenging - or perhaps not even challenging - to find an accused rapist and take him (or her - but usually him) into custody.

Let's keep in mind that the rape law in Taiwan was only changed in 1999, which is a very long time to wait for a change in such a law. Until then, the old law was written to define rape as an offense against women, in which the offender used force so that she "could not resist", and was a "crime against public decency" (it is now a "crime against sexual autonomy"). Under the old law, men were not included, and not all types of coercion or non-consensual pressure or activity were covered. The 1999 change was an improvement, but I have to wonder if its being less than 20 years old has anything to do with current attitudes towards rape: not that I think the police don't care, but that they don't care enough to devote resources to finding offenders, or perhaps still think of rape as an issue of "chastity", or something that is perhaps, to them, not as much of a crime if the use of force was not as violent as they might expect.

I know that's a pretty strong accusation to make, and to be fair, every police officer is an individual, and I am sure many of them take rape reports seriously. However, if there is no truth to it, why is it that it took until May of this year to apprehend so many rapists, and how were they apprehended so quickly?

Finally, I fear that the general attitude of law enforcement is laid bare in the final paragraph of the Focus Taiwan article, and it is deeply problematic.

Although the mission has ended, police efforts to crack down on sexual assaults will continue, Taipei City Police Department Commissioner Chen Chia-chang (陳嘉昌) said. He also urged women to take precautions for their own safety, such as avoiding walking alone in remote areas and always locking their car doors after getting in. 


Ahem - excuse me?

First, this ought to cause any woman in Taipei to question the old belief that the city is completely safe for women.

Secondly, while I understand the impulse to warn women to be careful, I can assure you that more or less every woman is already well aware that the world is a more dangerous place for her than for men. By admonishing women with something we already know, Chen is not only being condescending, but drawing very close to victim-blaming.

Instead of telling women how to be safe, Commissioner Chen, how about working to make Taipei safe for women? How about continuing to spend the resources necessary to apprehend rapists in a timely manner rather than waiting for a "special mission" so that women can safely walk alone in remote areas and don't have to fear being chased into their cars? You know - so that we can walk around safely and not feel nervous whenever we get into said car?

A woman being as safe as a man on the streets of most Western cities is often considered a distant dream, but it is possible in Taipei, which is generally regarded as safer. I walk around in Taipei, alone, at all times of night. Just this past Saturday I walked from my sister's apartment to my own - Brendan had gone home early - at 2:30am and did not feel unsafe.

Taipei could be a city where women are safe in public as men are, but it won't happen if it takes a special mission to capture all of those rapists - really, let's just consider one final time how many rapists that is - and it certainly won't happen if the police themselves, rather than allocating resources to keeping women safe, admonish women that Taipei is not safe. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Mayor Ko and the "importing" of foreign brides

Link in Chinese

Apparently when speaking at a women's equality forum, Mayor Ko, to use the words of other commentators, "gaffed" by pontificating on how there can be more unmarried Taiwanese men than women when Taiwan "imports" foreign brides, using the word for "import" that is used for objects rather than people (is there a word in Chinese for importing people?).

I tend to agree - this was a gaffe, one of many for a mayor whom I generally support, but still have reservations about regarding his views on women. I know, people say dumb things, people speak poorly, or they get in a fit of pique and say things they don't really mean or that don't reflect the entirety of their worldviews (or just aren't accurate in light of their entire worldviews).

But he's done this more than once: in the past saying he - a doctor - couldn't have been a gynecologist because he didn't want to spend his career "with his head between a woman's legs". I've thought for awhile these "gaffes" are more than poor choices of words, and veers into the "when people tell you who they are, believe them". In terms of his views on women, I can't help but think Ko is telling us who he is, and perhaps we should listen. Especially in light of his more eloquent handling of almost every other matter - why does he keep getting this one wrong if his statements don't belie some deeper belief that he doesn't dare acknowledge in public, in a country that despite being deeply traditional is also one of the most, if not the most, progressive in Asia, and possibly the best country in Asia for women.

What makes it tough is that, well, I like the guy. I cheered when Ko won the mayoralty (then again, who wouldn't given the opposition?). I like a solid progressive anti-establishment maverick, and it's no secret that I despise the KMT and support the goals of the DPP, even though I find it hard to support the DPP itself (Ko is not DPP, he's an independent with DPP-leaning views). It's easy to shout down or mock someone you don't like having views you find abhorrent - to give American examples, for me it wasn't hard to laugh at Mitt Romney, and it's quite easy to roll one's eyes at say, Chris Christie or dismiss Bush II for the idiot he is. It's a lot harder to, say, come to terms with the fact that Hillary Clinton is a terrible person, or that Obama has foreign policy goals that horrify me.

Such as it is with Ko - how do I square his statements about women, telling us who he really is, with the fact that I support and even like him?

I don't know. Watch this space.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Conga conga conga...conga conga conga...

That was me after a glass of hot wine last night doing a one-woman conga around our Christmas tree thanks to the pounding, the slaughter, the stomping, the trouncing, the up-the-bumming, the spanking, the slapping down, the kicking to the curb, the killing, the decimation (used in its modern sense so shoosh), the machete-ing that the KMT took last night! Yippee!

They deserved it too. The Taiwanese did not need to prove that they're not idiots and don't like being treated as such or condescended to, but like the elevator at one of my workplaces, the KMT is a little slow on the uptake. 

Side note: they really are like the Republicans of Taiwan - they have policies that benefit the rich and well-connected, they don't care much about the middle and working classes let alone the poor, they're socially conservative (although this is not as much a problem with the KMT, the KMT's issue is just not giving a damn about women's or LGBT rights whereas the Republicans actively oppose the equality of both groups), they're in bed with some very bad people (though you could say the same for the Democrats so I'm not sure that one counts) and they rely on a horrific amount of propaganda to get their bitter pills swallowed. They think very poorly of anyone who is not rich, intellectually lazy or well-connected and especially not anyone of a different race (for Republicans that'd be white, for the KMT that'd be Han Chinese both ethnically and culturally), they try to smear opponents with "they're not patriotic" and "they don't understand foreign policy" nonsense, and they have shitty foreign policy. And even the Republicans have more high-profile women than the KMT. 

The voters sent a clear message: don't condescend to us. We won't take it. Don't tell us we're lazy and privileged, that we say we want change but we don't really, that the reason we don't like a policy is that we just "don't understand it", not because it's a bad policy. Don't act like you were born to rule us, and that we should just accept being lorded over by a bunch of kleptocrats. Don't treat us alternately like ignorant peasants or idiot children. And listen to us. Public opinion means something - just because we elected you before doesn't mean you're the emperors of this country. Listen to us, or get the fuck out.

The KMT didn't listen, and here we are. They're out. BUH BYE.

They're a party of intellectually lazy nepotists - "we MUST get closer to China because it's the ONLY WAY and we can't consider any other ways because it's the ONLY one and if you even think about other ways you JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND...and can we just forget that whole genocide thing we did and haven't really apologized or made reparations or fully released records for? Also vote for my son. He's an idiot with no clear policies, but vote for him anyway." - so I bet they're sitting around now not thinking about how they lost because they didn't do the one thing fundamental to getting elected in a real democracy - - listening to the people. They're either whipping Sean Lien in a back room somewhere and blaming this whole thing on him, or they're grousing about how they lost "because those ignorant Taiwanese farmers who have misguided nationalism as a result of DPP propaganda and don't understand the right and good and morally correct value of being Chinese, not Taiwanese, and they just don't understand our good and morally correct policies and platforms". 

Because that's exactly what they showed us in this last campaign. Today's youth are privileged and dumb. The Sunflowers were just a trendy thing for airheaded children. You say you want change, but you really don't. If you can't get a taxi you'll be so upset that you'll steal vegetables. The only political protest you're willing to stick with is liking or unliking something on Facebook. Listen to us, we know better than you. You hate Koreans, right? Here's an ad about how Korea will beat us. Since you don't really understand free trade agreements, just be racist and vote for us because you hate Koreans. Also, the only reason people argue about politics is that they don't all support the KMT. If we win people will stop arguing about politics because we are the only correct choice.

And yet they are probably wondering why they got spanked. Even Sean Lien said not "I'm sorry I wasn't a better candidate" but "I'm sorry I didn't try hard enough to win." You did try hard enough to win, Sean, it's just that you weren't a very good candidate and you didn't try to be. You didn't stop to think that maybe the citizens of Taipei are smarter than the KMT gives them credit for and they want good candidates. Jason Hu's people are probably thinking "Taichung residents are just spoiled and don't see that the BRT is simply ironing out some flaws", rather than "Jason Hu was a bad mayor and got what he deserved - he should have done a better job". 

And nationally they are probably not thinking "Even Eric Chu won by only a thin margin, maybe we should do better generally and appeal to public opinion, because he's not necessarily a safe candidate in 2016", but "Eric Chu won, let's run him, it'll be fine". Or "the people are genuinely unhappy with Ma Ying-jiu for some good reasons, perhaps he should change tactics and step down as chairman of the KMT, a position he should never have been allowed to retain in the first place". Instead they're probably thinking "well these were regional and local elections, they have no bearing on the presidency". Except they do, seeing as Jiang Yi-huah has resigned. GOOD RIDDANCE, but not good enough.

Of course, some news outlets got it all wrong. The Economist, as usual, is full of shit:

The polls on November 29th, for 11,130 mayors, councillors and town chiefs, saw big gains for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which has attacked the KMT’s efforts to forge closer economic ties with China.

Way to not be biased, jerks! "attacked the KMT's efforts"? I want to criticize this but it's so obviously subjective garbage that all I need to do is highlight it. Your reporters clearly missed the class on avoiding biased language.

The elections, being local ones, were more about such issues as urban development rather than relations with China. Candidates sought to win over voters with plans for building infrastructure and public housing. But the poll did reflect widespread dissatisfaction with Mr Ma’s handling of the economy, says George Tsai of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. Salaries have stagnated for years and there is a widespread belief that only Taiwan’s business elite is reaping the economic rewards of closer ties with China. (Mr Ma has signed 21 agreements with China, including a ground-breaking free-trade pact in 2010.) 

WRONG. The people of Taiwan are pissed off about relations with China - not so much that they're overly warm but that the KMT has bowed and scraped and given handjobs under the table to get these "warm relations". These elections were the only way that the people could show their unhappiness, as there were no national elections this year. So they showed it locally. This is a rejection of the KMT's let's-whore-out-Taiwan-to-China garbage, whether you want to believe it or not.

It's not even conspiracy-theory madness to say that China's strategy and end goal is to pull Taiwan into an inextricable vortex towards annexation...they've come right out and said it! And the KMT has gone along with it. Would you like another handjob, Mr. Xi? And it hasn't even helped the economy, except for a few very wealthy people who have benefited, and a few more jobs for Taiwanese that are in China - where few if any Taiwanese really want to live - not Taiwan.

And it's not "a widespread belief" that only the wealthy have benefited. You're making it sound like people believe something that's not necessarily true. But it is true. It's a belief, but it's a belief based in fact and it does you no favors as a credible news source to imply otherwise.

Also, "groundbreaking". Screw you and your biased language. Go suck a butt.


It will be even less convinced that Mr Ma will have the political strength to push for more measures to improve cross-strait ties before he steps down in 2016; there had been talk of setting up representative offices in each other’s territory as well as greater liberalisation of cross-strait trade. The DPP’s strengthened popularity might cause some KMT lawmakers to become more lukewarm in their support for these projects (early in 2016 they will be up for re-election too). The coming year will be a tense one in Taiwan’s politics.

Blah blah blah free trade is great we all love it and take it as a given that it is good and right and necessary and there can be no other way and it must be with China and this is always a good thing under any circumstances blah blah blah. Intellectually lazy garbage full of all sorts of biased language (relations have only "improved" if you think Ma's efforts have been good for Taiwan. I happen to think they have not).

All in all, I do think the DPP will do better than the KMT, because they, for all their many, many (many) faults, actually listen to the people, and the people deserve to be listened to. Plus, it'd be hard to do worse than the KMT.

Of course China will blow its wad - I look forward to reading about that, anything that angers and frustrates the Chinese government makes me want to get up and re-start that conga line - and of course The Economist and other crappy news sources are going to say it's the DPP's fault, that they're not good at governance, that they're "troublemakers", when China's the real troublemaker. The DPP isn't anti-China (anym0re). They're in favor of respectful dialogue with China - that is, dialogue in which Taiwan's sovereignty is respected. If China can't manage even that, they are the problem, not Taiwan and not the DPP.

The people of Taiwan understand that. I wonder when The Economist (and the US government) will. 

In the end, I know this is not the end of the KMT (too bad). I'm not against changing parties every few years, but I'd like to see a more pluralistic system, and I'd like to see a better party than the KMT challenge the DPP. It's good and healthy for parties to change up every few years, even if you like - or at least don't hate - the party that's just been swept into power. In a few years these headlines will switch around, I'm sure. And that's good - it keeps politicians on their toes. Forces them to work harder and be better (a lesson the KMT did not learn, it seems...let's see if my predictions of their reactions are accurate or if they finally get with the program and start treating the voters, especially the youth, with respect). I just wish the opposition was better than the KMT is (I feel the same way about Republicans - the Democrats need to be kept on their toes or they grow complacent and non-transparent as well - but can't we have a party less odious than Republicans?). 

The KMT ran Taiwan like its own personal fiefdom/treasure chest/gift to China for 6 years, with 2 or so remaining in the presidency. So I hope the DPP gets a crack at running things at least till 2020 or 2024. 

Then we can talk about changing up the guard a little, perhaps with another party that can challenge the DPP and do a better job than the KMT, and without a history of dictatorship and genocide. 

Today, we celebrate.

Tomorrow, we build a better Taiwan. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Running for office wearing a "fuck the government" t-shirt? I'll vote for you.

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It's a little hard to see in this photo, but I got these free tissues the other day advertising the candidacy of Ouyang Ruilian (歐陽瑞蓮) for city council, and she's totally wearing a black Sunflower-protest inspired "FUCK THE GOVERNMENT" t-shirt (if I remember correctly the Chinese on the t-shirts was not as in-your face as the English). Anyone who has the balls to run for a seat in the government while wearing a "fuck the government" t-shirt basically has my vote. I like a little cynicism in my candidates.

Or at least, would have my vote if I could vote. Probably. If I actually could vote I might first make sure she stood for the initiatives and policies I support. They're right there on the back of the tissues. She's against ECFA, she's against using school curricula to "brainwash" (her words) students (if you haven't heard about the uproar over changing the national educational curriculum to imply that Taiwan has more historic links to China and fewer to Japan than it actually does, you should look into it). She's broadly aligned with "the youth". So far I like her.

Either way I'd like to see pretty much any party that is not pan-blue aligned get more representation in Taipei and Taiwan generally, so I'd probably vote for her anyway.

Not that she's going to get that many votes. City councilmembers don't need many and  more than one can be elected per region, so who knows? She may be in.

The front of the ad is just as good:

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Two things I love about this:

1.) She's going for a very specific demographic - the Sunflower-supporting kids and grandkids of old dark-blue 'waishengren' (Nationalists who came to Taiwan from China in '49). You can tell by the t-shirt on the other side coupled with the photo of her at a protest, along with the "我是外省二代/支持台灣獨立": "I'm second-generation waishengren/I support Taiwan independence". There's no way any of the older folks in Da'an and Wenshan would vote for her - they regularly tug the lever for the KMT, who seem to consider it a failure if one of their candidates in this part of the city gets less than 60% of the vote. But their kids...hmm. Their kids just might, especially given events earlier this year. She's aiming to be the voice of the children of the old KMT guard who think their parents' and grandparents' politics are crusty and outdated. (Sort of like how one of my grandmas likes to say 'we are a CONSERVATIVE FAMILY' and yet you will never catch me voting for a modern-day Republican).

2.) I love that she's dressed this way too. It shows how different Taiwanese and American political discourse is. When Tsai Ying-wen was on the campaign trail we got this (scroll down), where she's backed by a pink billboard and hearts. Not to mention two candidates in that post who posed with adorable animals, including a fluffy dog in a baby stroller. The Taiwan equivalent of kissing babies?

Anyway, I couldn't imagine a female candidate, especially a younger one, wearing this in an ad or on the trail. She'd be laughed at as 'not serious' or have all sorts of sexist jokes ("Candidate Barbie!") lobbed at her. Both parties get it in the USA - Sarah Palin deserved to get made fun of for being a total freakin' idiot, but instead we all analyzed her clothes for some reason. And with Hillary it just won't stop. If she dresses too manly, she's 'not a real woman' and if she dresses too womanly, she's 'not serious'. Nevermind the problems inherent in assuming that 'womanly' = 'not serious' and that the default is 'manly' for anything anyone takes seriously or, ahem, pays a fair salary for.

In Taiwan, you can wear a pink jacket and frilly blouse, and while you may not get a lot of votes because you're a TSU candidate in two districts that are a perennial lock-up for the KMT, you won't lose those votes because you dared to wear pink, or ruffles.

In that way, I fear more for the future of the USA vis-a-vis women's rights than Taiwan. In Taiwan you can wear frilly pink clothes and win an election (it doesn't hurt to have a bobblehead cartoon of yourself giving a peace sign while you hold an adorable kitten, either). In the USA, I'm not convinced you could.

That said, in other news, this:



Jesus Christ.

I have nothing more to say about it.

And just when I was feeling pretty good about the gender gap in Taiwan...dammit.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Has anyone else seen the Musical China Douchemobile?

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For those who can't read Chinese, it says "Long Live China: We are all one family".

Seriously, who are these guys? Who do they work for? Why are they doing this? They drive around with pro-unification crap on their cars - which would be their right, I suppose, except they also blare traditional Chinese music. A genre I generally like, but not when it's screaming out of low-quality loudspeakers on Zhongxiao East Road.

I've seen this guy at Zhongxiao Dunhua, and I think the same guy in Ximen driving down Chengdu Road. Then one passed my apartment - a red car this time - downtown.

I know the authorities won't do anything - and I'm not even sure they should, as even douchebags have the right to their slimy douchewater opinions, I guess, although the arguments they put forward aren't enough to convince me that they've passed this 'entitled to one's opinion' test - although it would be nice if they told them to cut it out with the loudspeakers. Fat chance of that happening, when soon the streets will be taken over by annoying election trucks, also blaring crap from loudspeakers. (I admit I like the election drum lines pulled along by trucks - that's kind of cool. But not the loudspeakers).

And I am pretty happy to report that they seem to be having zero effect - in fact, their irritating noise pollution, if anything, is causing people to be less open to their crappy Beijing shill Chinese chauvinist cause. Mostly when they drove by I noticed locals rolling their eyes or cracking quiet jokes about the losers in cars.

These folks, who are trying so hard to force us all to fall in line with their fifty-cent "opinions" (likely bought and paid for, but possibly not, some people believe this stuff of their own volition) are just showing how badly they are losing, too: absolutely nobody on the street pays them any mind beyond those eyerolls.

When an idea causes outrage, it is probably a dangerous idea: that can be both good and bad. Dangerous in that there is actually a potential it will take root (again, that can be good or bad) and go somewhere, change something.

This is not a dangerous idea. It is not taking root.

They can drive around in cars all they want, huffily insisting that Taiwanese ought not to have an identity of their own - let alone a national identity - and that as good obedient little slaves they shoudl submit to Beijing's black hole-like gravitational pull. But that won't change the truth on the ground: there is a Taiwanese identity, and it's not going away. Taiwan is, as much as ever, not interested in being annexed, and even those who think of themselves as Chinese also think of themselves as Taiwanese - and in fact, as Taiwanese first.

That still leaves the initial questions unanswered, however. Who do they work for? Why are they doing this?

Anyone?

Or am I the only one who's seen the Douchemobile, and it's all a sick fever dream?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Confucius and the Department Store

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It just so happens that I wrote this while listening to this.

Two weeks ago, a confluence of things happened.

First, I planned and executed a Mid-Autumn Festival barbecue near my apartment, which doubled as my birthday party because I knew I wouldn't have the energy, what with Delta Module 3 going on, to hold two parties in one month.

We hadn't noticed the sign that had been posted in our building, as there are a lot of notices and things that are usually irrelevant. So on the day of the party, we were upset to find out that maybe we should have read that notice after all: no barbecuing would be allowed in the main courtyard areas around where we live (which are perfect for barbecuing). The reason was not clear but usually it has to do with "smell and noise".

Two years ago, you could barbecue anywhere in this area. We barbecued in the small courtyard just outside our apartment. Then the next year, that was prohibited and you could only barbecue in the large courtyard further out. This year, they prohibited that too and we were only allowed to barbecue in a small, dark little area down by the wet market, and policemen constantly rode by on bikes making sure we adhered to that rule (this was the first year there was a police presence).

I can't help but feel that it's a slow, systematic attempt to ban barbecuing on Moon Festival in all urban areas, but to do it slowly enough that people don't complain much.

Then, I had a discussion on Facebook with Alexander Synaptic about this fascinating blog post of his about old "entertainment centers" in towns and cities in Taiwan. It's a coincidence, but a telling one, that he entitled it "Dreams of Empire". There's one in Sanchong that functions mostly as a string of pool halls rife with gangsters, and a closed-down one in Zhanghua.

I noted that while until recently, street-level commercial activity and entertainment was mostly-happily tolerated by local residents, and a proliferation of night markets and other "re nao" (fun) spots were allowed to thrive, which has given Taipei, at least, a sort of vibrant street life and sidewalk scene that Beijing and other cities in China are lacking - and which is a part of what makes Taipei a great place to live - that there seems to have been a culture shift.

This happened around the time that Brendan and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. We had wanted to go to Opa! Greek Taverna, which has hands-down the best Mediterranean food in Taipei (Sababa is good for falafel, but I make better hummus). Turns out their old street-level restaurant near Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall was closed, and they'll be re-opening in ATT 4 Fun at the end of the month.

Those old entertainment halls are now closed, but they're being replaced by glass monstrosities like ATT 4 Fun. Night markets (like Shi-da or Shilin) are being shut down (except for a few boring "fashion" and cell phone cover stores) or the food stalls relocated to indoor areas, which drastically reduces their appeal. Streetscapes are ruined as giant granite obelisks of luxury housing go up, leaving no room for shops or comfortable passage for pedestrians. Trees are torn down as a huge event arena is built - nothing wrong with Taipei Dome but those trees were a part of the street scape and we loved them. Restaurants are relocating to department stores. Street-level storefront rent is skyrocketing and only chain businesses can afford them, so interesting local spots are being crowded out. As ornery residents start complaining - which they didn't seem to do before - everything that was fun in some neighborhoods is either being shut down, or moving and often they end up in ATT 4 Fun or the equivalent.

Rather than go to Chun Shui Tang (which I know has been implicated in the recent gutter oil scandal) in one of their well-decorated branches which create street-level visual interest, I basically have to go to Chun Shui Tang inside Shinkong Mitsukoshi. One of my favorite Indian restaurants, Calcutta Indian Food, moved from a street-level shop on an interesting stretch of Kunming Street to a basement-level restaurant in a somewhat grody building called "U2". All the good places are slowly moving indoors, but the indoor spaces are expanding: walk underground from City Hall MRT through the basement of Hankyu Department Store to Eslite Xinyi, and it's a veritable food festival of eating options. All indoors. In the basement, even. Outdoors, you'd have to walk for awhile to find something decent to eat.

I don't care for this at all - and as a Taipei resident, I do believe that counts for something.

If I wanted to live in a city with dead streets, where you walked between huge edifices, some new and marbled, some old and marbled in a different way, and cars whizzed by on the road, and I had to walk inside some concrete magnate's wet dream just to eat dinner at a restaurant I like, which is no longer within walking distance because they couldn't afford the rent, I would live in Beijing.

I don't live in Beijing, because Beijing sucks. I do not fancy walking a mile along a sidewalk flanked by a wall and a six-lane highway, with one overhead crosswalk every mile, and big empty spaces dotted with steel monoliths that spear the pollution floating overhead, where people hustle in and out of sliding doors into slightly less polluted air conditioned buildings to eat, drink and shop. Beijing is one of the worst models possible for urban planning.

And I don't want Taipei to become just like it.

I feel like all of this is related. There seems to have been a spike in old-school, stick-up-the-butt Confucian values, more influence from China (which has a distinctly different culture from Taiwan, and to Taiwanese or those used to Taiwanese culture can seem a bit stick-up-the-butt although I realize it's not always), and increasingly authoritarian leaders telling the public to basically go screw themselves. To the point where I wonder, as Letters from Taiwan implies, if the recent deaths - I believe that's a plural deaths too - of various high-profile Sunflower activists were, ahem, accidents. It would not surprise me at all if the government, taking its cues from China as it tries to force the Taiwanese to accept the idea of eventual Chinese rule, decided to off them. People complain about noise and smell on the streets, and the city slowly morphs into Beijing's stepsister (I'd say ugly stepsister, but it's hard to get uglier than Beijing).

I feel it's related to the increase in gang activity - White Wolf not only allowed to return to Taiwan but to rub shoulders with Ma Ying-jiu's sisters. A gang fight resulting in the death of an off-duty policeman which raises many questions about what exactly he was involved in (it's fairly well-known that the police let the gangs run the clubs in exchange for kickbacks). The subsequent inevitable closing down of Taipei nightlife (so it can reopen later, under the protection of newly-strong gangs who give the police better kickbacks). I won't even get into what happens if you cross a gangster in a KTV.

Some other gangsters, deeply entwined in real estate development, convince local politicians to ignore laws about having to provide "green space" for every building they erect in exchange for letting those politicians buy units in the buildings before they go on sale. The politicians can later sell those units at substantial markups. This is all perfectly legal. And we allow it, because they are Our Leaders.

We like to think that the heyday of gang violence in Taiwan was the '80s and '90s, but it wasn't. It's as bad now as it was then, only now we have "democratic" leaders acting like dictators telling us they'll do something about it, when clearly they won't. They'll shut down a few nightclubs, but nobody really important will face punishment.

Increasingly authoritarian "leaders" leaning both on the Confucian ideas regarding the masses doing what they say, inextricably intertwined with gang activity, huge corporations and development companies tearing down the city (and quite possibly encouraging "citizen complaints" about noise and smell from restaurants, night markets and even barbecuing, which is a Mid-Autumn festival activity associated mostly with Taiwan) in order to rebuild it in China's image.

I do not think this is deliberate. Nobody is sitting behind a desk going "mwahahahaha, let's make Taipei look more like a Chinese city, so the Taiwanese will accept annexation by China! Bwahahaha! My evil plan!" I know to imply that these events are deliberately connected is only a few steps shy of donning a tinfoil hat. My point is that the mood in Taipei has changed, and not for the better. And that these issues are all effects of that - the slow migration of street life to department stores, the budding New Confucianism in which we are all told to follow the rules, the increase in gang activity, the increasingly authoritarian government that is quietly trying to push Taiwan towards China and a future the majority of people do not want but many feel powerless to stop.

There has been a culture shift, and it's starting to really be felt.

So, to me, they are related even if not intentionally so. The same overly conservative, regulation-loving Neo-Confucian "follow the rules, do as we say" ideas that brought us the tragedy that is the KMT and President Ma have also brought us the steady department store-ification of Taipei. It's a whole culture shift, even if it is not deliberate.

I still think Taipei has gotten a lot right in terms of urban planning, and I hope that this is a temporary phase.

Sadly, I fear it's not.

Everybody shut up, everybody shop here, don't protest or your motorcycle will suddenly go off the highway outside Pinglin. You just don't understand because you don't know 'correct values' and you need it explained to you like you're four years old. Listen to your leaders! Confucius said so! Buy these items produced by our good friends at Uni-President who swear they didn't know about the gutter oil, in a building they built, so they can profit more. They need profit. They need to make sure the politicians and police get their cut, you know, so they need it. Stop shopping near your home in stores that line your sidewalks. We have air-conditioning, and your favorite shop is here! We're not in bed with both gangs and politicians, and real estate developers hell bent on driving out every bit of soul this city has! You don't like those street-level shops anyway, you would rather it be like this. Come on, lay down, calm down, it'll hurt less that way. You know you want it. Listen to us. We are your leaders. Confucius says that the emperor is above the people. We are above you. And we are Chinese. Therefore, so are you. You must identify as Chinese. This poll said that you do.

There's no reason to muddy the waters like this. We are all Chinese. We don't like noise on the street. We do like strong leaders and air conditioning. We want our residential areas quiet and our entertainment to be safely contained, in a building built by someone rich and powerful, in another part of the city. We like it to be clear. Don't you hate these blurred lines?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

I have some questions for Sean "神豬" Lien

From here

Sean Lien may as well have propped up a few of these in the corners of his 
"chat with foreigners", for all the talking the women present did. 
This is what he was going for, anyway.


















This ridiculous campaign stunt video of Taipei City mayoral candidate Sean "God Pig" Lien talking to "foreigners in Taipei" about foreign resident concerns has made the rounds an ample number of times, and I don't have much of a need to comment on the video beyond what's been said.

But, since when have I ever written something because I needed to?

First, I admit I could not watch the whole video - that weird Weather Channel background music was so jarring and distracting that I gave up halfway through and read summaries of it online to see what I missed (not much, it seems).

Second, why did he have a room full of, oh, about 10-15 foreigners, when only a very few asked questions?

Third, note the inherent sexism in how the only questions taken and shown in the video were questions from men. The women looked more like background props - they could have been cardboard cutouts for all it mattered in this video. And let's not even get into the "token black" racism or the complete lack of Southeast Asian domestic or factory workers present (because other people already have).

Fourth, how is it that the only questions that made it into the video are either KMT Big Business propaganda bullshit points, or superficial "fluff" matters that it's easy to talk fluff about? I won't even bother complaining that the campaign stunt (I can't really call it a "talk with foreigners" in any sincere sense) was scripted, and seemed to be filled mostly with good-looking white men (and a few good-looking women) who may not even be residents of Taipei.

So, all of that aside, I have two things to say.

First, HEY FOREIGNERS. If you are really residents of Taipei - and I sincerely doubt that you are, although you could surprise me - what the fuck are you doing providing a whitewashed backdrop to Prince Sean the Lame here? Really? Did they pay you? How much was in the hong bao? Was it worth it, selling your dignity for whatever bit of cash they threw your way and a free lunch (although knowing the KMT you probably had to pay for the lunch if you're poor - only to have your lunch expropriated by a wealthy lunch magnate with gang and political connections - and got it for free if you're rich).

I mean, I suppose there's a chance that you actually support Sean Lien and...

...oh nevermind. That's too ridiculous to contemplate.

So, really? You're willing to be dancing foreign monkeys for this guy? You're willing to make us all look bad by being a prop for some sad little princeling's political dreams? You're willing to push forward tired stereotypes about foreigners in Taiwan, and make us all look bad (and stupid - because your questions were stupid - YES THEY WERE - although I can forgive that, as they were obviously handed to you by the Lien campaign)? You're okay with being reduced to this? Why don't you go dance around in a ridiculous stock video in the background of some American song from the '80s played illegally in a KTV? That would be slightly less humiliating than what you've done here.

Seriously, have some goddamn self-respect.

And second, I have some questions of my own for Seanie boy. I know I'd never get invited to one of these lunches, nor would I go if invited, because I'm not interested in being some KMT teat-sucker's campaign prop. And if I were, my real questions would be edited out.

So, I'll go ahead and write them here.

I'll try to stay away from the snarky ones.

Dear Sean Lien,

What is wrong with you? Sorry, I said I'd try not to be snarky. Let's start again. Ahem. Okay.

Urban renewal is not necessarily a bad policy for a city with degrading or unattractive architecture (although I would disagree that it is entirely unattractive). So how is it that the KMT leadership in Taipei has screwed it up so much by making it a gold rush for developers, rather than an actual boon to the city? Why isn't it a boon to the city, benefiting not citizens but rather companies like Farglory? How will you make urban renewal work for the people and not vested corporate interests? How closely tied is your family, and how closely tied is the KMT, to these development companies?

How is it that with all of this urban renewal, actual systemic problems in Taipei's infrastructure have not been addressed, such as the sewage system that regularly causes noxious odors to waft up from sewer grates and makes it impossible to flush toilet paper (which leads to some very disgusting trash bins next to public toilets)?

Or uneven, difficult-to-walk sidewalks that are an ankle-breaking hazard for the able-bodied among us and totally unnavigable for the disabled?

When are you going to wean yourself off your father's teat and Sorry.

What's up with the continued difficulties that residents of Taipei who hail from other cities have in registering to vote in Taipei? I know that technically they can do so, but if they rent, landlords often make it difficult or outright refuse (they fear being charged higher taxes for having a tenant that they had previously not reported) and the government has done nothing about this.

Mayor Hau, despite also still suckling his own father's milk, did one good thing in Taipei by making it possible for any impoverished person to get a free lunch box at any convenience store, so long as they had a special card (the stores get reimbursed by the government). However, one must apply for the card in order to be eligible, and it seems clear that this policy has not been widely publicized or made easily available to Taipei's poor and homeless. What do you intend to do about that?

We all love UBikes, but what's up with the half-assed "bike lanes" that no sane person would actually bike in? We all bike on the sidewalks because we have to.  How will you fix that and create real bike lanes, and enforce their safety from encroachment by cars, buses and parked vehicles, and educate the public about proper bike lane use and safety?

More frequent trains on the Xiangshan line please. After 8 years in Taipei it is no longer in my blood to regularly wait 7 minutes for a train. And can we improve train etiquette (line-cutting, entering a train and then stopping, entering a train before passengers have had a chance to exit, not leaving space for people walking in the other direction) while we're at it? A small issue but one close to my heart.

Domestic violence crisis center workers are horribly underpaid and caring, competent people often leave the job due to the high stress and low compensation. As a result, domestic abuse survivors have diminished access to competent social workers. I know at least one such worker who quit and decided to learn to cut hair instead, as she'd make more money that way. How will you increase resources to help with this and other women's issues so we can offer a full range of necessary services and adequately compensate these workers in Taipei City?

Four major issues impacting Taipei real estate are:

- Rising prices overall
- Taipei County residents buying tiny properties in Taipei (which are often cut out of units meant to be larger and sold for this purpose, which make un-ideal living quarters and diminish the housing available, as well as its quality, to people who actually intend to live in Taipei) in order to be able to register their children to study at a good school in Taipei
- The influx of agents in the rental market who charge high rates to renters they place and even more to foreigners that they take for rubes (a local may be charge half a month's rent or less, a foreigner is often told they must pay a full month), for providing very little in the way of services and making it impossible to contact landlords directly about rentals
- A speculative market in which most buyers don't intend to live in their units (see above)

...how do you plan to fix this mess?

So, how do you intend to get anything done for the people when politicians, gangsters and businessmen are either good friends, or the same people?

Why should the people believe that the KMT is working for them when they have demonstrated time and time again that they mostly have big business interests, and Chinese interests, at heart? Why should we have faith in a word you say?

What do you plan to do about wage stagnation in the face of rising living costs in Taipei, which is arguably more severe than elsewhere in Taiwan due to the effects of the real estate market?

What do you plan to do about routine overwork, companies cheating on overtime pay, companies pushing women not to take their full allotment of maternity leave and general worker abuse in Taipei?

Why can't foreigners unionize? As a mayor, not a national official you may not be able to do much, but...why not?

A lot of worker abuse against foreigners affects us in two ways:

1.) Domestic helper abuse - there is little a badly-treated or abused foreign domestic worker can do to remedy her situation under current law. What do you plan to do about that?

2.) Contract worker abuse - most Western foreigners are English teachers, and we are routinely subject to illegal policies at work. For instance:

- did you know that we are legally entitled to lao bao (labor insurance)? Many schools openly refuse to provide it.
- did you know that we are legally entitled to paid leave, including on national holidays? Just TRY to get that as an English teacher on an hourly salary!
- did you know we are entitled to paid sick leave? Really! Including maternity leave! How many of us get that?
- did you know that many English teachers are made to work public holidays and even typhoon days?
- did you know that many employers still charge deposits that they keep if you want to quit before your contract is up (no compensation for you if they are the ones terminating the contract, though) or illegally withhold salary if you wish to terminate a contract (again, you get no such consideration if the termination is from them)?
- did you know that many employers use ARC/visa status as a method of control, blackmailing teachers (often insisting on unpaid work) who know they can't afford to have to deal with a canceled visa?
- did you know that many teacher complaints never make it to a Council of Labor Affairs hearing because most bosses have "someone on the inside"?

...what do you plan to do about all of that?

Do you have any idea how many buildings in Taiwan are not earthquake or typhoon safe? Forget that they are ugly, what do you plan to do about that?

Did you know that foreigners in Taipei who want the simplest things, like:
- a local credit card
- a Chunghwa Telecom cell phone contract
- a mortgage

...are often denied, although they are legally entitled to all three? Just because they are foreigners? What do you intend to do about that? While this is a nationwide problem, certainly something can be done to remedy the situation in Taipei city specifically.

I strongly oppose the recent curriculum changes to school textbooks that seek to "Sinicize" Taiwanese history (for example, by calling the Japanese period the Japanese Occupation, implying that they were not a legitimate colonial power). How do you intend to keep such changes from affecting textbooks in Taipei?

Many schools in Taipei operate throughout the summer, but the public schools often either lack air conditioning or won't turn it on unless the students all pay. This is a dangerous situation that can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke. What do you plan to do about it?

(I have more questions and issues regarding public schools, but they are better addressed at a national level.)

How would electric taxis and buses really help? Why aren't we pushing for electric scooter subsidies to reduce pollution?

What can we do to improve traffic safety, especially concerning pedestrians and scooter accidents?

Many local residents have been complaining that the large number of Chinese tour groups have ruined many previously pleasant attractions in Taipei, such as the National Palace Museum and Taipei 101. I would like to note that this isn't about being anti Chinese people but rather the behavior and overly large number of tour groups. For example, the museum is basically controlled by tour groups now: they come in and out and see the most famous artifacts, but there are so many that those not in a tour group often have to wait 15, 20, even 30 minutes to see one item. What do you plan to do about this?

Wage discrimination is a major issue in Taiwan, with women often earning notably less or having less desirable contracts than men for the same work. Surely this is something that can also be tackled at the city level. What do you plan to do about it?

Women are sorely underrepresented in the Taipei City Government, and women's interests are often not represented at all (let's not even get into LGBT or minority interests). How do you plan to remedy this?

How is it that technically-illegal-but-desirable urban issues are often the subject of sting operations (such as illegal night market vendors - which people actually want), whereas illegal and undesirable issues - such as loudspeaker trucks, unsafe plumbing and wiring, often with wires hanging dangerously from staples on the side of buildings and blatant tax evasion - are not?

Why did the KMT powers-that-be allow Shi-da to be ruined? What cronies do you folks have that made it possible to destroy a vibrant neighborhood that way? How can you assure other vibrant neighborhoods that it is okay to do business there and they won't suddenly be forced to shut down, even if they've been promoted by the city government in the past?

What's up with making it difficult for religious festivals to do their thing, but routinely allowing political campaigns to wreak havoc across the city in the most annoying ways?

What are your plans for Taipei's historic architecture, including Dihua Street? How do you plan to develop it in such a way that it is not another Ningxia-Chongqing-Nanjing traffic circle disaster, and not another kitschy old street? I like kitschy old streets, but I want Dihua Street to be something better.

Sincerely,

Jenna Cody
(not your biggest fan)

PS!

If you all have any questions you'd like to ask Prince Sean, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Something Beautiful

 photo DSC09960.jpg

Two high school students take the open mic at the front gate of Taiwan's Legislative Yuan on Friday.

I couldn't make it to the protests today, because after two days of spending all my free time down there, I'd developed something of a migraine and gotten really beaten down health-wise (and I didn't even overnight it as many people did!). I needed a break - nothing is worse than a protest when you have a migraine.

I do hope to return tomorrow. Which, it being after midnight here, is technically today.

Anyway, two things in this post. First, something beautiful was happening inside the front gate of the Legislative Yuan last night. And second, this whole "Jenna gave a speech in Chinese at a protest in Taiwan" thing seems to be...a thing. I mentioned it personally on a few forums, and it's hit my comment thread, and I am sure at least a few people are wondering about it. So in this post I'll include a transcript, as well as I remembered what I said, anyway.

Anyway, this beautiful thing is just what is pictured in the photo above: organized by I-don't-know-who - I don't think it was the DPP although all the usual green-and-white tents were out, I think it might have been the Christian priest who was in attendance, who I think might be a pretty famous guy in Taiwan - the main entrance to the Legislative Yuan became, basically, an open mic podium for people wanting to express their thoughts, tell stories or relate their ideas to a crowd last night. The mic sat atop a black box (labeled "黑" for "black" and everything) intended to symbolize the "black box" of Fu Mao (the cross-strait trade services pact in question) - how very little is known about it, and how it was rammed through the legislature without being fully reviewed, like a "Surprise!" box that could contain a million dollars (but probably doesn't) or could contain a hungry velociraptor (maybe). This Black Box, or 黑箱, has become something of a symbol of those protesting the way Fu Mao was "passed".

There were a few hundred to a thousand people there, and more outside who could hear the speeches. Inside, a wide parabola of open space allowed the speakers to be seen as well as feel comfortable, without being hemmed in be a crowd. They were encouraging, friendly, giving out "you can do it! You go!" (加油!) cheers to those who expressed nervousness, quiet when someone was talking and cheers when appropriate. The cameraderie, support, and common cause of these people was really something.

The only time I felt it broke down was early in the evening, when someone referred to Chiang Kai-shek as "Jiang Zhong-zheng" (蔣中正) - his "honorary" name, and was told to "get off the stage" for calling him by an honorary that he, in their view (and mine) doesn't deserve (but I won't stop someone for using it, I just won't use it personally). But even then, the audience got upset and told the person keeping things running that she should get to speak, and she did. As far as I could see - and I spent several hours there - such an interruption of someone who wanted to take the microphone didn't happen again.

So many people took that mic - students from junior high (really!) to graduate school, teachers ("my students apologized to me for skipping class to come here. I told them 'don't be sorry, if you want to speak out but don't know what to say I'll help you'"), farmers, office workers, grandmas, retired soldiers (truly!), entrepreneurs, new graduates, those doing military service, family business owners, doctors and lawyers. No politicians as far as I could tell.

They all said their piece - stories from their lives, the ways they've felt the current administration has failed them, or democracy in Taiwan has failed them, the wages they earn vs. the cost of living compared to how those two matched up a decade or two ago, how "better" ties with China have in fact made their lives worse, or made their lives better economically but worse in terms of quality. Nobody cut anybody off (except for that one time, which I don't think happened again because the crowd disapproved), and everybody was encouraged to speak their mind. I can't tell if anyone said anything others disagreed with, but if so, there were no jeers.

These weren't silly "kids", which a lot of people are characterizing the students as being. They were knowledgeable and eloquent. They were of all ages and backgrounds. They understood what was at stake. One thing that really angers me is how many people characterize these protesters as "not understanding what's at stake". That is not correct. I also think it's kind of racist, or elitist: either 'these crazy Asians can't get their act together and they don't understand what's really at stake", or "these silly students and working class people don't really understand how the economy works" - either way, it's offensive. "These people don't know what's good for them" - yeah, call me at 1-800-GO-FUCK-YOURSELF.

(hee hee)

Also stop being condescending/racist.

They understand quite well, both in terms of the future of Taiwan's democracy and its economy. Just listening to these speakers you could tell that.

And it's not like they were rebelling because they wanted to, or they just wanted to avoid playing by the rules (if anyone wanted to avoid playing by the rules, it was the legislators who forced this pact through without proper scrutiny).


 photo DSC09945.jpg

Here's the sign my friend made - "forced to rebel". Does that sound like a slogan decided upon by someone who wants to ignore the rules?

All in all, it was beautiful. The legislature is a representative body of the people, and the chance to stand inside its gates, take a microphone and speak out is a gorgeous thing. It's fundamental democracy, even if it's only symbolic. That legislature belongs to the people, but is now full of "representatives" who have grown deaf to the people. But if only for a short time, the people took it back.

And those people! Or rather, what they said! Some of the themes that the various speakers came back to:

"This isn't about green (DPP) or blue (KMT), this is about the Taiwanese people united."

"My issue isn't with Fu Mao (the trade/services pact in question), it's the undemocratic way we Taiwanese people are being told we must accept a black box without knowing what's inside."

"I don't want to be here, occupying my own government, but I feel I must speak out."

"I don't want to argue about politics. I just want a democratic process that works."

"I want to thank the police" (standing at the gate - see the picture) "for protecting our students / their trouble in working 24/7 to be here / for protecting the Taiwanese people - you are just like us" (way to guilt trip the police into not doing anything to hurt the students inside).

I love that so much, I would kiss it if it weren't an abstract concept.

The police, for their part, seemed to be listening. Some were smiling. I don't think they want to hurt anyone. People may be forced out, or arrested (the latter is unlikely - it would look bad for the government in the face of a public that seems, broadly, to support the students in the face of a media out to smear them) but I doubt anybody will be hurt. That would look so bad for the Ma administration that I doubt they'd allow it to happen if at all preventable (notice how I don't say "the Ma administration doesn't want to hurt the students - I don't actually think they care that much beyond how it'll harm their own image).

Every protest should be like that. Not angry slogans or empty rhetoric, but just a microphone sitting on a box on a stage, and people - any people, every person, if they wish - allowed to go up there and take it. Inside the gates of the representative democratic body that claims to govern the country as per the people's will.

Symbolic, but powerful. This is the people's will.

After some time, people began to encourage me to go up there. I have no idea why (OK, maybe it was because I was the only noticeable foreigner there, being in the very front at the edge of the open space and all). I did have that little sign, which translates as "You go! The expatriate community in Taiwan supports you" which people liked quite a lot. I was chatting with others in Chinese.

And so I was encouraged to go on stage. Egged on, really. Kind of pulled on. I said I was willing to, perhaps, but that I felt nervous and hesitant because I may live here, but I'm not a citizen and never will be. I also felt acutely that maybe, after all my deriding of "educated white guys" monopolizing international public discourse on Taiwanese issues, that maybe another white person commandeering the spotlight wouldn't be a good idea. That microphone was doing its job by being available for Taiwanese people to talk about the issues facing their own country. People that didn't already have an international voice.

But in the end someone told the priest/organizer that I should speak (huh?) and the organizer himself kept encouraging me to go for it. I was all "But I'm a guest here...this is your country" and he was all "there are no guests here, we're all brothers and sisters together" which I admit was very Christian of him, in terms of how that's something Jesus would have definitely said. I may not be Christian but that's the kind of clergyman I can respect.

So suddenly I was onstage.

I hadn't really prepared anything to say, and Chinese is not my native language. But I'm not one to refuse to speak just because I'm being asked to speak, off the cuff, to a thousand people in a language that is neither my mother tongue nor something I've studied much formally. And who, when at a protest like that in a country they're not a citizen of, would even think they'd be pulled onstage and asked to say something to so many people?

So I tried to keep it brief - after all, I do still believe that that microphone does its job when it's relaying the stories of people talking about their own country's issues, who don't otherwise have a voice, and that doesn't really include me. I was trying to be there in a supporting role.

And I said:

「大家好」(在台語),「我二零零六搬到台灣,外表是啊斗仔,可是心裡係代灣郎!我七八年前來的時候就覺得台灣真的是有民主的國家,有自由的國家,生活水平也不錯。可是,這些八年後,馬英九上台後,現在看到政府把你們民主抓下來,把你們自由抓下來,薪水變底,生活費變高。我受不了,如果我受不了的話你們一定更受不了!所以我希望台灣人會爭取妳們民主,爭取妳們的自由,強迫政府管老百姓的問題。我們住在台灣的外國人支持你們,斗謝!」

It translates roughly into:

Hello everyone. [which I said in Taiwanese, not Chinese] I moved here in 2006 - although on the outside I look foreign, but in my heart I'm Taiwanese*. 7 or 8 years ago when I came here I thought Taiwan was such a free country with a great democracy, and the standard of living was pretty good. But these 8 years later after Ma Ying-jiu took office, now I'm seeing that the government is taking away your democracy, the government is taking away your freedom, and your salaries are getting lower while the cost of living is rising. I really can't stand it, and if I can't stand it, you guys definitely can't! So I hope that the Taiwanese will fight for their democracy, fight for their freedom, and force the government to care about the problems of everyday people. We foreigners who live in Taiwan support you**. Thank you!

*if I'd had time to prepare something to say I probably would have worded that as "my heart is in Taiwan". I did not at all mean it to be all cultural appropriation-y but I could see how someone would take it that way.

**I realize not every foreigner in Taiwan supports them, but enough do (seems to be an obvious majority) that I feel OK in saying this. However, given time to prepare I probably would have said "many" or "most foreigners in Taiwan support you". That said, as a generalization I think it is true enough that I'm not sorry that that's how it came out (considering what my little sign translates into, I can hardly backtrack on this, so I won't bother).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Some thoughts on why people oppose the storming of the legislature, and why such opposition is wrong

I've heard a lot of talk on both sides about the protests currently going on - which, if you hadn't noticed, I wholeheartedly support to the point of going down there 2 days in a row, with a sign, and even giving a speech.

If people are going to oppose these protests, I do hope they'll do so on their own merits and not on grounds that are simply not true.

With that, here are the main reasons why those opposed to the protests feel as they do, and why they're wrong.

1.) "these protests are anti-free trade, which shows that they don't know what they're talking about"

The protests are not anti-free trade or even anti Fu Mao (although it is true that most of the protesters have serious reservations about Fu Mao). The protests are about the way it was forced through the legislature. At this stage it doesn't actually matter what's in Fu Mao, because the people don't know (the KMT has not seen fit to tell us - hmmm....I wonder why. Perhaps because they know it'll be good for them and their cronies but bad for Taiwan?) - what matters is that it was passed in a despicable, underhanded, dictatorial, autocratic way that is simply not acceptable in a democracy.

The fact that the protesters don't know the details of Fu Mao is precisely the point - the KMT hasn't told the public. The public need to know. It is their right. How can they be expected to support this black box?

That is what's being protested - the way Fu Mao was rammed through. Nothing more, nothing less. What's in Fu Mao can be discussed and protested or supported later.

If you're going to oppose the protests, oppose it based on what is actually being protested, not some "they hate free trade" bogeyman.

2.) "the students are silly, they don't know"

Well, again, **that's the whole point**. They don't know because the KMT has purposely kept the Taiwanese in the dark about what's in the pact.

And if you go talk to those students and their supporters, you'll find that they aren't silly at all. They're knowledgeable, politically astute, and they want to discuss issues in calm, rational ways. Spontaneous discussion groups have formed on the street during these peaceful protests - I've been in some of them - and what's being said is quite knowledgeable and fluent in the issues facing Taiwan. The speakers at the open mic in front of the Legislative Yuan - which is just beautiful, an open mic for the public to speak in front of the office of a governing body that is meant to follow through on their voices, not quash them - were eloquent and knowledgeable as well.

If you're going to oppose these protests, don't pretend it's because the protesters are idiots. They are not. It's not just insulting and rude to say so, it's also ignorant.

3.) "they're egged on by the DPP"

NOT TRUE. They're alienated by both parties and keeping the DPP at arm's length. The DPP supports them, but did not instigate these protests and they're self-sustaining, not being egged on by outside political forces. (In fact the protesters are not really happy with the way the DPP seems to be taking over some of the protesting - this isn't a green or blue thing - this is a citizens' concern thing).

How insulting, to suggest that anyone with the will to protest must be the pawn of some political party. As though intelligent, concerned citizens - including students - can't have minds and voices of their own to speak out. In this case it is simply not true, and that's one of the most important and significant things about this protest. In fact, the speakers who took the open mic in front of the Legislative Yuan (it must take a lot of anger, or at least a lot of concern, to get people to come up and speak as they have - it's not like Taiwanese culture is known for speaking out when you are upset!) many said openly that "this isn't about green or blue, and I'm not loyal to any political party."

If you're going to oppose these protests, don't pretend it's because they were "organized" by the political party you don't like.

They weren't.

4.) Sure, protest if you want but don't take over the Legislative Yuan! That's selfish/crazy/embarrassing/whatever.

Nope.

The legislature serves the people, not the other way around. A democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people (to borrow an American cliche). That building belongs to the people, and those who work in it serve the people. The people have every right to it.

Under normal circumstances it would have been better to go through more directly democratic means to make your voice heard, but come on. This was a bill that was shoved through the legislature in a despicable way. It's easy to ignore street protests - which I think is precisely why opponents say "you can protest in the street, but don't take over the Legislature". Yeah, you can protest in the street, but nobody in power is going to pay one whit of attention. And those who support this view know that. They don't actually want anyone to pay attention to the concerns of the people, because they want this bill to pass so that they and all their rich friends can start making ca$h money as soon as possible.

Protesting in the street would never have forced Fu Mao out of passage and back into a clause-by-clause review. The students did what they did because they had to - there was no other way to insist that democratic process be followed in this particular case.

5.) These protests are undemocratic.

Wrong.

Protesting is a democratic right. Civil disobedience is what forces reform on a government that has ceased to hear the will of the people. It's what turns dictatorships into democracies and brings about civil rights reforms for minorities and the oppressed. There is a place for it in any healthy democracy.

Or would you prefer dictatorships never be overthrown, civil rights never be passed, and have apartheid still in existence?

If you want to point your finger at something undemocratic, point it straight at the legislators who pushed this bill through.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Look at these violent protesters being violent

Wow, such violent protesters, talking about how revolution is their duty. So violent. photo 1900401_10152342228691202_1665541672_o.jpg

Wow, such violent protesters, talking about how revolution is their duty. So violent.


Not my style of sign but I appreciate telling Ma Ying-jiu to call 1-800-GO-FUCK-YOURSELF...hee hee photo 10012014_10152342228736202_2119223566_o.jpg

Not my style of sign but I appreciate telling Ma Ying-jiu to call 1-800-GO-FUCK-YOURSELF...hee hee

THE VIOLENCE! Such violent dangerous agitators...sitting! And talking! VIOLENCE! photo 1978420_10152342228751202_2008571705_o.jpg

THE VIOLENCE! Such violent dangerous agitators...sitting! And talking! VIOLENCE!

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I know I look a bit drunk...but this is the best photo of my little sign that there is.

Violent protesters being violent by wearing stickers photo 1780040_10152342228941202_780236220_o.jpg

Violent protesters being violent by wearing stickers

it's so violent for student activists to create and maintain walkways so people can go back and forth while supporting their cause. photo 1781602_10152342229021202_1287319058_o.jpg

It's so violent for student activists to create and maintain walkways so people can go back and forth while supporting their cause.

Violent, agitating elements doing aggressive anti-government anarchist things like talking and discussing the issues of the day. This must be stopped. photo 1655360_10152342229121202_1757580835_o.jpg

Violent, agitating elements doing aggressive anti-government anarchist things like talking and discussing the issues of the day. This must be stopped.

THOSE VIOLENT PROTESTERS GAVE ME VIOLENT CHOCOLATE photo 1495961_10152342229116202_1807626861_o.jpg

THOSE VIOLENT PROTESTERS GAVE ME VIOLENT CHOCOLATE


So dangerous. Really I just feared for my life what with all the sitting and laughing and sticker-wearing. photo 1606209_10152342229321202_1199974452_o.jpg

So dangerous. Really I just feared for my life what with all the sitting and laughing and sticker-wearing.

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Ma Ying-jiu's last name means "horse" in Chinese, and he recently said something dumb about deer antlers being the hair inside a deer's ear...I don't really get this at all but this is a way to make fun of what an idiot he is. photo 1504346_10152342229491202_1743135531_o.jpg

Ma Ying-jiu's last name means "horse" in Chinese, and he recently said something dumb about deer antlers being the hair inside a deer's ear...I don't really get this at all but this is a way to make fun of what an idiot he is.

VIOLENT protesters telling people to please keep walking ahead...VIOLENTLY photo 10001071_10152342229561202_366299874_o.jpg

VIOLENT protesters telling people to please keep walking ahead...VIOLENTLY. Remember, violent protesters always say "please".

OH THE VIOLENCE FROM THESE DANGEROUS ELEMENTS photo 1980150_10152342229671202_1962861388_o.jpg

OH THE VIOLENCE FROM THESE DANGEROUS ELEMENTS

Watch protesters on the news violently sitting, violently holding signs and violently letting newscasters report on the protest. photo 1795940_10152342229751202_1056298106_o.jpg

Watch protesters on the news violently sitting, violently holding signs and violently letting newscasters report on the protest.

 photo 1622389_10152342229776202_582623211_o.jpg

Protesters buying snacks at 7-11, many of which are meant to be passed out and shared with the crowd...VIOLENTLY photo 1890334_10152342229861202_2000784965_o.jpg

Protesters buying snacks at 7-11, many of which are meant to be passed out and shared with the crowd...VIOLENTLY

VIOLENTLY WAITING TO AGITATE IN THE BATHROOM! Watch these anarchists STAND IN LINE like the dangerous elements they are! photo 1911000_10152342229986202_1782043806_o.jpg

VIOLENTLY WAITING TO AGITATE IN THE BATHROOM! Watch these anarchists STAND IN LINE like the dangerous elements they are!