Showing posts with label taipei_times. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taipei_times. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

OK, Stephen Yates didn't really say a stupid thing

...but I still don't totally agree with him.

When I wrote my original reaction to this piece in the Taipei Times, I was - and I said this outright - taking the writer, Tom Lee, at his word that these were direct quotes of Yates's, and assuming he would not "make it up out of whole cloth".

It seems I was wrong: he didn't totally make it up, but the mistranslation is pretty damn bad and in many cases, Yates said nearly the opposite of what was quoted:

Watch for yourselves:

Stephen Yates and Tom Lee discuss Taiwan independence (mostly in Chinese - listen from about 13-19 minutes).

He did not say "Taiwanese do not deserve independence" - he said that Taiwanese, at least the leaders, need to be willing to trade "their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor". He didn't say all Taiwanese ought to be willing to trade their lives, he said there needs to be a "consensus" (and specifically mentioned leaders).

Mea culpa: I did actually attempt to fact-check the original article. I'm not so lackadaisical. However, my searching did not turn up this video. Perhaps it's because I didn't know Tom Lee's Chinese name (I know a lot of Taiwan advocates, but not too many in the older generation, to be honest.) I certainly didn't know Stephen Yates's Chinese name, and why would I? So, it seemed clear to me at the time that there was no video, that Tom and Stephen talked but it wasn't recorded. This turned out to be wrong.

But, the fault is mine here in that I know a fair number of people who would know these things, and I could have and should have asked around rather than relying on a few searches. As a matter of fact, I was sent the video recently to watch for myself.

I also will admit to having a strong anti-conservative bias, and nonsense like "you should be willing to die for your freedom and your country!" sounds to me like typical conservative talk. In this case, it was not fair, however, and I'll cop to that. However, I stand by my concerns that Taiwan having mostly conservative/GOP allies in the US is going to be a problem eventually, as most (not all, but most) Taiwan advocates in Taiwan tend toward the liberal/progressive/leftist end of the spectrum, and frankly, that is the future that I think Taiwan is headed towards, as it is not the "conservative" society you may have been led to believe. I am not, and will not be, comfortable with this group being our main bastion of US support and it is a key reason why I am not more involved. I just can't work with people whose party is also working to take away my rights to things like reproductive health care in the US. I do feel this way, and I make no apologies.

Side note: I was also pleased to see that my Chinese seems - just from this video - to be at about a similar level to Stephen Yates's, which is nice considering that I am almost entirely self-taught (I placed into intermediate classes at Shi-da years ago and quit in annoyance at the poor materials and teaching methods I encountered).

So, while my original comments stand vis-a-vis the idea that "Taiwan does not deserve independence/the Taiwanese should be willing to trade their lives for it", that is simply not what he said.

I actually agree with him vis-a-vis the need for a consensus on independence. I actually do think a majority support it (and this is borne out by a plenty of research), and if I were to only ask friends and even acquaintances I'd get a very pro-independence response, because those are the people I hang out with. But I am quite aware that there is a deep division among politicians. The KMT still has some supporters, somewhere, I guess, and the KMT leadership is not even remotely ready to join a consensus on the future of Taiwan. I have met people who, while not pro-unification per se, think it's inevitable and have accepted this fact, and don't seem terribly perturbed by it. I'm not sure if they fully understand what it would mean for them, but there you are. The current upswing of Taiwanese identity and pro-Taiwan sentiment needs to continue, and to win over the great, big, uncaring middle demographic as the old deep blue guard dies off. Then, maybe, we can get somewhere.

There are a few areas where I still don't fully agree with Yates, however. First, it's easy to talk about what one's forefathers did - but unless you yourself are willing to also trade your "life, fortune and sacred honor" for your freedom, you have no place telling others that this is a necessary attitude. Is he? I don't know, but considering some of the people he's worked for, I'm not so sure.

Secondly, I reserve a lot of skepticism for the idea that Taiwan's situation is similar to America's leading up to 1776. Taiwan is already independent. America's leaders at that time were fighting for a real change in how their nation, as they saw it, was governed. Taiwan is fighting simply to be recognized for what it already is. Is it fair to say people should be willing to sacrifice their "lives, fortunes and sacred honor" for what is effectively no change in their day-to-day lives beyond the international community recognizing what is already true? Seems a bit much, no?

The problem here is not with the Taiwanese - a need for consensus not withstanding - it's with the international community. In any case, I believe that all people deserve freedom, even those who are not willing to give up these things for it.

I also remain skeptical that this sort of change would really do much for Taiwan without precipitating a war. As I mentioned - and I stand by this - the international media jumps on Taiwan for every little thing, even when Taiwan has done nothing wrong (or, in fact, has made the right call). When China gets aggressive, "tensions" are spoken of in the passive voice, with no agent, as though they appeared out of thin air.

If Taiwan reaches this consensus on its future, and advertises as much, China will rattle its saber and the media will be quick to, once again, blame Taiwan (or blame some ghostly, apparently naturally-occurring 'tensions' - anyone but China). Governments will follow suit. It will help in that it will present a united front from Taiwan that the world can't ignore, making it harder to plausibly say "but it's a complicated issue, not all Taiwanese agree", but I'm not sure it will change much.

A friend of mine included - though I did not hear Yates say this - that the US, when it declared independence, did so because there was an internal consensus to do so among American leaders, and they did not ask the international community for help. As far as I'm aware that's not the case - they sent Benjamin Franklin to France to drum up support, and the war likely would not have been won without it. It is no different for Taiwan. They can't win this alone.

As for the independence advocates we already have among Taiwan's leaders, I can assure you that the older generation was willing to give up their reputations (many went to jail), their fortunes (many left their lives behind to flee to the US) and their lives (many died) for Taiwan, and the younger generation is just as passionate. There is no need to convince them.

But, while I'm not totally on board with everything he said here, it's certainly a lot more reasonable and nuanced than what Tom Lee wrote, and deserves to be heard on its own merits.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Neither marriage equality nor Taiwanese independence are strange or scary - stop making them seem that way for clicks

As we all know, and the reasonable among us have celebrated, marriage equality is finally set to come to Taiwan. I personally do not think any of the worst fears of retaliation by anti-equality groups will come to pass, because the ruling was clear. Inequality is unconstitutional, therefore, there must be equality. Unequal laws passed off as "marriage equality" will not suffice and it seems to me will be open to immediate challenge in court.

You wouldn't know that from reading Taiwanese English-language media though.

Have a read through these articles, or even just check their headlines:

Same-sex marriage age to be set at 18

Cabinet mulls introducing marriage age of 18 for same-sex couples

What's your first impression upon skimming the headlines? Was it that the marriage age for same-sex couples seems like it will be different (and older) than that currently set for opposite-sex ones?

Look again at the first paragraphs (or first few paragraphs) of each:

The Executive Yuan yesterday said that its proposal to legalize same-sex marriage would set the legal age for such unions at 18 and engagement at 17, while prohibiting those within the sixth degree of consanguinity from getting married.
The Cabinet held a second ad hoc meeting to establish the goals that it is to work toward in the legislative process to legalize same-sex unions.
After reviewing the chapter in the Civil Code governing marriage, the Executive Yuan said that homosexual couples would have to be at least 18 to get married and at least 17 to become engaged, Executive Yuan Secretary-General Chen Mei-ling (陳美伶) told a news conference in Taipei.
The Civil Code stipulates that heterosexual couples must be at least 18 to be legally united and at least 16 to be engaged.
* * * 
Taipei, June 14 (CNA) The Executive Yuan is considering making the minimum age at which same-sex couples can get engaged and marry 17 and 18 respectively, irrespective of gender, a Cabinet official said on Wednesday.

In fact, in the middle or at the bottom - not in the headline, not at the top - of both articles, it is clarified that the marriage age for heterosexual couples is proposed to change too, so that the age regulations will be the same no matter the sex(es) of the couple:

Chen said that the Cabinet would recommend that the legal age at which heterosexual couples can be engaged be changed to 17 so that the rules would be consistent.

* * *
Although Taiwan's Civil Code currently has a different minimum age requirement for men and women in heterosexual unions, the Executive Yuan's proposed legal amendment would make the minimum engagement and marriage age the same for homosexual and heterosexual unions, Cabinet secretary general Chen Mei-ling (陳美伶) said during a meeting.

I understand why Taipei Times and Focus Taiwan did this: marriage equality is a hot issue, and articles about it get clicks. Articles on changing the marriage age are less likely to be read - marriage age changes, especially fairly small ones, are just not that interesting. You can basically get what you need to know from the headline.

It's the same rationale behind why China seems to be horned into every single article (even headline) in the international media about Taiwan, even when it isn't in any way relevant. So we end up with stupid headlines like Tsai Ying-wen elected president of Taiwan, China angry or China likely to be upset about marriage equality in Taiwan? (I made those up, but they're pretty close to the truth). China gets clicks, Taiwan doesn't, so editors complicit in mutilating Taiwan's story in the international press shove China in there like an unlubed butt plug.

And I know this is why they do it because more than one journalist friend has told me so. They *shrug* and say "it's better that the article be published at all than it be spiked because nobody's going to read about just Taiwan." Quite literally if you want to be in the news at all you have to bend over and take it. 

So it is with marriage equality, except it doesn't even come with the excuse of "if you want this news out there at all you have to accept the butt plug" that the China-shoving does. It's just put in there to be sensationalistic and get clicks over what is a relatively minor news item, which deserves to be published but maybe wasn't going to get all that many clicks anyhow...and that's okay for something that, again, is just not that interesting. It's not serving any greater purpose.

It's just as damaging domestically, however, as the China butt-plugging is internationally, if it's also happening in the Chinese-language media (it probably is, but I'm traveling right now and don't have the time to properly check. Some back-up on this would be greatly appreciated).

What articles like these do is make marriage equality seem riskier, stranger, scarier, more sensational and more 'exotic' than it really is by highlighting what the rules are likely to be for same-sex unions while downplaying that the proposals would make these rules the same for opposite-sex couples. It damages the idea of marriage equality as a step forward in human rights, in a greater application of equality for all, and, frankly, as something normal, even mundane - which it more or less has become in much of the developed world. The ruling was a big deal. Marriage equality coming to Taiwan is a big deal. Setting the marriage age and proposing to change the heterosexual marriage age to be consistent is not. Continuing to treat marriage between people of the same sex as somehow different from marriage between people of the opposite sex encourages readers to think that way, and confirms the biases of those who already do. It's not neutral and it's barely accurate.

It's not that much different from the international (and sometimes domestic) press playing up every single tremor of disapproval from China, presenting their statements without context, making everything seem more terrifying or unprecedented than it really is, instead of accurately reporting the truth on the ground, which is rather mundane: Taiwan is independent, China doesn't like that, but China can fuck right off and so far not much has really changed. It is not neutral, barely accurate (or not accurate at all), creates sensationalism and otherness where none need exist, encourages a certain thought process, and plays to biases for those who already have them. It hurts Taiwan in the same way that writing about marriage equality this way is detrimental to a broader acceptance of equality.

Going back to marriage equality, what's worse is that there does seem to be at least one problematic proposal on the table that, from the reporting, would seem to affect opposite-sex couples but not same-sex ones. From the Taipei Times article:

Same-sex couples younger than 20 who want to get married must obtain the approval of their legal guardians, or the marriage could be voided should their legal representatives file an objection, she [Chen Mei-ling] said.

This is buried about halfway down one article and not mentioned in another, and yet to me it appears to be the real news item here - unless this proposal would cover all couples equally, it is a sign that the Executive Yuan is mulling a rule that would create unequal marriage laws, which, as I've said several times, will be open to all sorts of challenges as the ruling is unambiguous in calling for equality. 

But neither Focus Taiwan nor Taipei Times can seem to get their heads out of 'what'll get the most clicks' land and report actual news.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Officially Unofficial: A Review

I thought I was a little late to this party, but a quick look online shows that no, the only other person I can find who has actually reviewed Officially Unofficial (and not on Amazon) is my husband. Seems odd, I would have expected it to have been widely read and commented on in expat circles though not necessarily much outside Taiwan, but okay.

Brief recap - this is a memoir about moving to Taiwan, working one's way to national and international recognition as a journalist, coming to care deeply about Taiwan, and about Cole's time at the Taipei Times and his not-so-amicable split from them, as well as his own observations of the political and military goings-on from the perspective of a journalist with access to the key players.

First, what I liked about it. I can't find the specific reference but it seems that Cole arrived in Taiwan about one year before I did, and is older than me, but not by a huge amount. Which is to say, we experienced Taiwan at about the same time and at not terribly disparate ages, so it was fascinating to look back at the experiences someone else with a very different trajectory had during a time I was also in Taiwan and also learning how things worked. At many points, reading this filled in the gaps of news events and other important issues I was either too new to know much about or too busy with my own life trajectory to pay sufficient attention to (I wasn't that interested in Taiwanese politics until I had already been here several years - my interest bloomed just as I was starting to realize this could be a long-term home for me).  I appreciated this quite a bit.

A few examples: I had been in Taiwan one month when the Red Shirts marched. I went and observed but didn't participate and didn't know much about it (nevertheless, being more knowledgeable now, I am glad to have seen it with my own eyes), so reading about how businesses at times paid employees to participate or donate was of some interest - especially as I went from a green organization (a large chain of language schools) to a blue one (a singularly awful 'management consulting firm' with great clients and terrible management) back to an apolitical-but-greenish-leaning one. I did notice that the blue one was a far worse place to work than the green or greenish ones, though.

I was also a Taipei Times reader when the quality started to suffer and I have to say, that one line in the book about how "readers noticed"...yes, we did. I did. I was one of them. I used to contribute the occasional reader editorial, but don't now.

Huaguang, Losheng sanatorium, Dapu, Want Want's Next Media acquisition? I was there for all of that too although, again, too busy with my own career path to pay as much attention as I should have. Reading this book filled in a lot of very useful blanks.

My mother was a journalist, so it was equally fascinating to me to read about how other journalists got to where they were and how they worked, as well. Although I have a lot of respect for (most) (good) journalists, the kind who really live up to the industry's standards of professionalism, it cemented my choice way back in the day not to pursue that career path. That is not meant as a jab at Cole, the profession, or any other journalists - it's just not for me. The low pay, long hours, poor treatment and lack of freedom and free time to pursue other interests? As a young arrival to Taiwan I was only willing to put up with perhaps one of the above, and now that I'm older I'm not willing to put up with any for any appreciable amount of time. The idea of only having 7 days off per year indefinitely, for example? Not acceptable.

In Cole's shoes I would have flamed out at the Times far earlier than he did simply because I'm not willing to do work towards an item for publication that will make someone else money on my day off, and not willing to put up with much bullshit. I also probably have a shorter temper. If that's what you have to do to break into journalism, then it's not for me and I'm quite happy I realized that early on (when I considered, and ultimately rejected, the idea of double majoring in journalism back in college).

It also helped me better articulate, oddly enough, how and why I chose teaching as an actual career and not something one does for a few years before moving on. It is a career - a profession. One would never call a math, science, history or literature teacher someone who "does it for a few years then moves on" (though some do) - they train to become professionals, and they are. So, when Cole subtly disparaged the teaching profession a few times in this book, as though it were somehow beneath him, it caused me to realize that no - I worked hard for my degree and my job is no less respectable than that of a journalist. It reminded me that I chose this and I trained for it in lieu of pursuing other careers (I used to work in finance, and have been offered non-teaching jobs which I have turned down) and no detractor can take that away. It is not 'beneath' anyone unless they don't know what being a professional educator actually means.

It reminded me, while reading about events that happened while I was busting my butt doing a Delta that, hey, it's okay that maybe I let my political observation slide a bit - I was busting my butt doing a Delta! It is absolutely fine that rather than go down and see the Huaguang protests for myself, that I was reading a book on discourse analysis. That rather than read every article on the Next Media acquisition that I was improving my knowledge of language systems. That it was perfectly logical for me to have been honing my knowledge of training practice and theory, language testing and assessment and various pedagogical approaches as well as doing data gathering on a group of real students rather than watching political events during the lead-up to the Sunflower occupation. I did it for my career, and now it's time to go back and fill in what I missed (you may have noticed that there were a few quiet years on this blog as well - now you know why.)

It was engaging, informative reading providing angles and backgrounds to things I either didn't know much about or missed due to my own studies.

In short, there was quite a lot to like.

Let's talk about the things I didn't like.

I noted there were a few inaccuracies in his portrayal of the ELT industry. Most importantly, that in his time drafting articles for an English teaching magazine, rather than realize that the reason it wasn't fulfilling was because he didn't know what he was doing, he just immediately reverted to the idea that it was "beneath him". Sure, it's easy to think that way if you have no background in second language acquisition, materials or curriculum development, scaffolding, early childhood education (for the articles aimed at kindergarteners), text-based language extraction pedagogy etc., it's easy to think any idiot could do a perfectly good job and smirk at such work. That's why so many such publications (and schools) in Taiwan are sub-par. For a real professional, such work would present a chance to grow and develop text-creation and other curriculum development and pedagogical skills. Simply put, he thought the job was beneath him because he was a hack at that particular job, and the crappy company he worked for doesn't do the profession any favors, either.

Moral of the story? Get your facts right before you write about a profession you know nothing about.

And finally, okay, look. This author didn't care for the book being in the third person, which creates not only wonky referencing but a sense of pomposity that just doesn't need to be there. It was a poor narrative choice that detracted - and distracted - from the otherwise very interesting story, she said. But, beyond does she say this?

When a fairly large section, and several passages interspersed later through the narrative, reference how much one has  read in such a way as to come off as bragging about how well-read one is rather than telling a good story about a journalist's life in Taiwan which is all I really want to read about, one comes off as...well...also a bit pompous if not outright sybaritic. I didn't think those paragraphs added much to the overall story. He's a good journalist and well-read, we get it. If he had interwoven observations and references based on his wide and diverse reading it may have come off a little better. As it was I was not terribly interested in paragraphs about all the stuff he's read. Great. I've read a lot of it too. Do you want a gold star?

That, and his disparaging of English teachers (discussed above) and bloggers (discussed below) were the book's greatest weaknesses. I would not go so far as to say it caused me to dislike Cole. I have respected and will continue to respect his excellent work, and having never met him, it is not fair for me to make any such judgments. But, you could say it put me off a bit. I can see why Ben Goren called him "alienating", although I have no such personal story to corroborate that. That said, we have a rather large number of mutual friends, people I respect immensely, so perhaps he is more likable than he at times comes across in this book.

As for the bloggers, because I seem determined to make this review as long and messy as possible, I find a lot to disagree with. There are plenty of idiots, but there are also plenty of excellent Taiwan bloggers. I won't go so far as to group myself in with them - at the end of the day I'm a loud woman with opinions and a platform and that's about all, and I write Lao Ren Cha for personal pleasure rather than to try and get readers - but it is quite unfair to imply that excellent personal blogs that comment on politics, such as The View from Taiwan, Letters from Taiwan and Frozen Garlic are amateurish or beneath Cole's own work (I do not imagine that my blog was in any way considered as an instigator of those comments, simply because I assume Cole doesn't read it, nor, given my proclivity for sailor-mouthed vulgarity, should he necessarily do so!) What really bothered me was his assertion that such people, who don't have the access he does, "shouldn't" have a voice. To quote my ever-oratorically-appropriate cousin, you can fuck right off with that.

Nobody gets to decide who "should" and "shouldn't" have a voice. That's for a bygone era. Now, everyone with a computer and rudimentary writing skills has a platform, but that does not necessarily mean they have a voice. You can get a free blog and write what you want, but if what you write is crap, nobody is going to read you (or at least not anyone in any great enough numbers to matter). The readers decide who has a voice or not with their clicks and eyeballs. The downside of that is not that unqualified people comment, but that qualified people feel reduced to creating clickbait headlines and going after angles that will hook readers rather than the story people actually need to know. That's why Taiwan is so often shoehorned into stories about China. In the end, though, good people do tend to stand out and get readers, and incompetent ones don't get read and don't get link-backs. The readership tends to sort the wheat from the chaff pretty accurately I'd say.

I'd also like to note that towards the end of the book he writes about how mainstream media is failing and alternative media is increasingly becoming the place to turn to. Wouldn't that also include personal blogs?

Such comments, again, only serve to put readers off Cole's larger narrative by dint of making him seem like a less likable, more priggish person than perhaps he is.

I'm also curious who these bloggers who "revile" him and other journalists are. Seems to me most decent bloggers are big fans of Cole's work, myself included. He seems to group them in with the "white wise men" he so often references, but I honestly don't have a clue, blogger-wise, who he is talking about unless there are a ton of blogs I haven't noticed. For now, though, I feel like he's describing a world at odds with my observations.

A few quibbles before I finish this.

I was happy to see in the Afterword that he changes his previous "the KMT is not so bad, they are a modernized political party functioning in a democracy" into something more realistic. I may strongly dislike the KMT as a whole, but I do realize that individuals within it are not all necessarily evil, corrupt, chauvinistic or incompetent. I also appreciate that not everything reported as done by the "evil underhanded KMT" went off exactly as it was reported by pan-green publications and that not all pan-green politicians are great people or good leaders.

However, the idea that the past is the past and now they're a perfectly normal political party? No, again, you can fuck right off with that. A normal political party doesn't withhold transitional justice or try to ignore-away its past the way the KMT has. They don't keep records from the Martial Law era sealed to a large degree and hold the line that victims and their families - many of whom still don't know what happened to their ancestors - should just forget it and move on. As the descendant of genocide survivors who are also being told to "just forget it" by the Turkish government, in my gut I feel that that is simply not acceptable and is proof that the KMT is not, and likely never will be, a normal and modernized political party.

Furthermore, this idea that these "white wise men" Cole references parroted the DPP party line for years, which was both self-serving and self-defeating, and that they called the youth and their critics "brainwashed" by the KMT. Certainly a few did do that, but what I saw during the Ma years was those "white wise men" (who all seem to think they're freakin' Confucius) towing the KMT, not the DPP, party line! It was all about how ECFA was good (it wasn't), the economy was bad under Chen but good under Ma (not true), that closer ties with China was invariably and in every situation a good thing (wrong again), the DPP were "troublemakers" (nope) and pro-independence "agitators" were the "brainwashed" ones, and the students impetuous and naive. All that nonsense. Maybe it was because I stopped reading the Taipei Times soon after its quality dropped, but unless I'm living on a different planet, the commentary he heard and the commentary I heard was quite different indeed. Any given Economist article on Taiwan from that time period will show you what I mean.

I have a few things to say about noting that a journalist was "female" without that adjective being necessary, the ridiculous Taiwan/Israel comparison (don't get me started on that) and the unnamed-but-we-know-who-it-is reference to Ralph Jennings (the short of it is that my reasons for disliking Jennings have nothing to do with his wife, whom I hadn't known and don't care is Chinese). I'll save all that for another time, maybe.

I'll end with this: despite its flaws, it was an engaging book and quite fascinating to read about someone else's experiences in Taiwan just as I was having my own, very different, experiences. I enjoyed some but not all of the autobiographical elements, overall wanting to know more about Taiwan. So, in the end, I have to say it has whet my appetite for Cole's next book, Black Island, which I have the feeling I will enjoy even more.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chicken in Bok & Beer and The Shi-da Controversy

Chicken in Bok & Beer

With the controversy still roiling regarding overcrowding in Shi-da night market and the nearby "Exotic Cuisine Street" (Pucheng Street Lane 31), I figured I'd go ahead and review one of the restaurants on that street.

This place serves exactly what you think - fried stuff and beer. Mostly chicken, but you can also get fries, onion rings and fried tteokbokki as well as soft drinks and beer. It claims to be original Korean fried chicken.

The verdict?

Well, I didn't get to try to garlic chicken but the consensus regarding what we did get was that the sauce-less original flavor (above) was good enough but not fantastic - I found it a smidgen dry and lacking sufficient salt - but the ones in sauce (also above), both the "sweet" and "spicy" varieties, were awesome. I would totally go back for the spicy sauce crispy chicken. It's got a real kick of spice, it's not just sweet-and-sour sauce (although yes, I realize that that's what it looks like) and yet does retain some level of crispiness.

The fries are good by Taiwan standards, but they won't blow your mind.  The draft beer appears to be Tsingtao, which is unexpected. I've developed a taste for Taiwan Draft Beer (台灣生啤酒) but I'll take Tsingtao. As long as they don't give me Coors or Hite I'm generally OK. Draft beer is NT$100 a glass, and the glasses are fairly large.
A half chicken - which is one large serving - is NT $230-$260 or so. A full chicken is roughly double that.

Each order comes with a free "salad" - I ate it more out of pity for its continued existence, than anything. I considered it humane euthanasia to put that sad, limping salad out of its misery. It's basically shredded iceberg lettuce, a few corn kernels and thousand island dressing. Don't let it put you off, get it out of the way before the actual food comes. It's sad but it is not an omen as to the quality of the chicken.

Final verdict: pretty good, didn't tilt the world on its axis, would go back but only for the spicy sauce chicken.

If you want some really good Korean fried chicken, by the way, try the guy near the far end (far from Keelung Rd) of Tonghua Night Market who shares space with the Taiwanese meatball people. Portions are small but cheap, and his Korean fried chicken is great. He's actually Korean, by the way.

About that Shi-da dust-up. 

I don't have an opinion about the controversy itself - both the residents and the restaurants have good points - but I do agree that the government has handled it very poorly. Can't expect much better from Muppet-in-Chief Hao Lung-bin. (No, seriously, the guy looks like a muppet, and is about as smart as one). 

If I had to come down on one side, I'd side with the restaurants, even the ones I don't like (more on that below). They've been allowed to be there for ages, been officially inspected, have operated openly and have been given no reason to believe that what they were doing was illegal (even if it technically was). Sending a form letter does not equate to "communication" on the government end and I don't believe the government is trying even remotely hard enough to solve the issue.

While I do feel for the residents - I know how noise can impact quality of life - the apartments in that neighborhood can go for quite a lot of money. If I lived there, I'd rent mine out to students (who don't care as much, in my experience, and will love living so centrally) and use the rent money to rent myself a nearby apartment in a quieter lane. Or, I'd move. My issue would be roaches from all the food and crowds, though.

I know, I know, nobody should feel they have to move, but then that also goes for the stores and restaurants which have been operating with government blessings for years, and have even been promoted.

I also feel that while I still enjoy Shi-da, I don't like it as much as I used to. On Exotic Cuisine Street, Exotic Masala House has gone way downhill, I stopped eating at Out of India when they once served me garlic naan swathed not in fresh butter and mincedgarlic, but that nasty margarine-based "garlic butter" you get on toast in middling cafes. Seriously, as though I wouldn't notice. They must not think much of their clients that, if they'd run out of butter and garlic they couldnt've sent someone to the nearby Wellcome. That was years ago, maybe they've reverted back to real garlic and butter, but I'm scarred for life. I've never been a fan of the Tibetan restaurant, and I didn't think the famous Korean one was all that authentic (Korean Village closer to Roosevelt in a lane on the other side of Shi-da Road is worlds better).

I'd hate to see My Sweetie Pie go out of business, though, and while there is better Western food on offer in Taipei than Grandma Nitti's, I *heart* their caring for animals and their American Diner-style coffee.

I guess what I'd like to see are some genuinely good restaurants open up in this lane or nearby - I don't eat here often because I'm genuinely not that enthused by what's on offer.


The main part of the market, the one that's so crowded you can barely walk, isn't much better. I used to enjoy it, now the crowds make it not worth it. Most of my favorite places (like the store with cats that sold interesting Chinese-style "vintage" looking gifts, jewelry, clothes, home decor items and postcards) are gone, I don't think the food is as good as Raohe, Ningxia or Tonghua Night Markets, and I'm not interested in the new stores popping up selling low-quality size-negative-two teenybopper clothes and gold tone jewelry.

I still stop by the guy who sells enamel Chinese-style earrings though. I'm buying him out before he disappears forever. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Pressure On My Uterus Is Astounding

I hope you enjoy the title!

Sorry for not posting much - at all? - this week. I did an incredible amount of work and pulled off the move to the new apartment, and have had exactly zero free time to do much of anything other than work, pack and then unpack.  Things should start getting back to normal around Christmas, when I hope to get back to my normal blogging volume.

I had wanted to do a post on a hike we did in Zhonghe (中和) of all places, up to Yuantong Temple (圓桶寺 - not sure I got the wrong "tong" there), but my camera's acting up and I can't seem to upload the photos. I don't have Internet at the new place yet so I can't do it whenever, so if they don't upload now, I can't just do it from home. I'll get that up soon, though.

I also wanted to pass along this link on Taiwan's gender ratio worsening, which I'll write a post about when I have more regular Internet access and time: hopefully in the coming week.

For now, I wanted to  comment a bit on what it's like to be childfree by choice, and how people react to that,  as an expat woman living in Taiwan. It's something I got to thinking about after reading this article on women on American prime time TV and how few of them are child-free (basically one sitcom - How I Met Your Mother) has a child-free by choice woman and deals with the topic with some degree of sensitivity. I agree with the article's redux of that plot line).

Because, you know, back home there was pressure to find a nice boy, get married, buy a house and pop out a few sprogs. It was clearly something my family wanted for me - which is fine, I mean it's something most people do, and happily do by choice, and it is at least true that my marriage has been a fantastic, vital thing in my life. It's something people just kind of figure you'll do, and look askance at you if you verbalize that you don't want to.  For the record, I may be child-free by choice but I have never said that I did not want to marry or did not intend to marry.  I'm actually pretty pro-marriage as long as it's a modern, feminism-friendly marriage of equals rather than being a patriarchal tool of stifling gender roles.

When I say there was "some" pressure, though, I really mean it as "some", not "a lot".  Sure, the media is wedding and baby crazy - something that apparently tends to happen in tough economic times (a friend was telling me about a sociological study to that effect - people are less likely to go it alone and more likely to pair up, less likely to have kids or just have fewer kids, but are more attentive to the idea of procreation as a society - possibly because having a baby when times are tough is subconsciously seen as a status symbol: "Look, we can afford to have a baby even when the economy's in the crapper!"). And yes, one still gets comments that are based in assumptions - that you both want to get married and will do so, that you want kids and will have them. If you openly acknowledge wanting such things, it's fine. If you are faced with such a comment and are honest about not wanting one or both of them, though, it creates a frission of social awkwardness, to the point if you wonder if it's a faux pas to admit you don't want children or don't intend to marry. People are generally too polite to say anything about it, but you just know you're being judged. A tiny bit, maybe, but judged nonetheless.

This isn't true among my friends - all of whom know that I'm not into having kids - but when I lived in DC it was certainly true among colleagues and acquaintances. That's why my friends are my friends. I'm not going to waste time with anyone who'd judge me and find me lacking for personal choices.

It's a different story in Taiwan, though.

For a country with such a low birthrate, I have to wonder why everyone assumes that everyone else wants and will have babies. Clearly, with so few babies being born, plenty of women and couples are choosing not to do so - how can it be assumed that they will, or that they want to? (I realize the answer is "cultural norms and tradition", at least in part, but even those who are affected that much by cultural expectations of bygone days must realize that having the lowest birthrate in the world is clearly a sign that those days are over).      

I'm regularly asked if I'm married and, when I respond in the positive, if I have kids (sometimes I'm asked how many kids I have, as though I must have gotten my babymaking on already!). I don't mind that these are socially acceptable topics in Taiwan: I'm not inhibited about talking about such things. I'm at peace with our decision on kids - in fact, I'd say it's brought me that peace, I didn't have to make peace with it - and not afraid to talk about it confidently.

The reactions I get range from wonderment to polite questioning to outright criticism, although the latter is usually delivered in a friendly "motherly advice" sort of way rather than stone-cold mean-spirited criticism. Occasionally someone has the social acuity to realize that we crazy Westerners generally don't question or openly wonder at others' life choices and will leave it at that or express support.  Occasionally someone genuinely agrees.

Sometimes I get advice: not only am I wrong, apparently, and should definitely have kids, but I'll be told that at least one should be a boy, or the first one should be, and given other specifics like how many I should have and how I should raise them (the consensus seems to be that I should have two, at least one should be a boy, you know because I can control that of course, they should be schooled in a Western style but made to study as hard as Taiwanese kids - ugh! - and be raised bilingually. It's OK if I work and we get a nanny, though, or I could make my mother move here to help raise them. Ha...).

Mostly, though, I get the open wonderment of the "why on Earth wouldn't you want to have kids?" variety - and not just from old folks. From people my age, even! Talk about social pressure - for a society that procreates so little, Taiwan is certainly big on expectations to procreate.

It really is an assumption - I remember one group of students, for men, all engineers, who took me out for dinner at the end of our course. We went around and gave toasts (I'd taught them to do that) and one of them toasted me, knowing I would get married soon, saying he "wished for me to have a happy marriage and have many sons". I am often asked, after saying I don't have kids, when I will have them (not "if"). I am asked how old I am, next: sometimes the reply to my age is along the lines of "it's OK, you still have time, 31 is young" to "oh my god GET ON IT GIRLFRIIIIIIEEEEND those eggs aren't gonna stay good forever!".

I do feel very much in the minority, and I do feel that more women (or Taiwanese people in general) would come out and openly concur with the choice to be child-free if there were less overall expectations that probably keep their mouths firmly shut. I have a blog post coming up on this, but it does seem to be the case that when people make a life choice back home they're fairly open about it, whereas in Taiwan I've gotten the impression that a lot of people, realizing that their life choices go against expectations - even if they don't go against the "norm", such as not having kids  - decide to say nothing for the sake of social harmony.

Again, for a society with such a low birthrate, it seems to be really short on people, especially women, who are out of the child-free closet and willing to openly embrace their decision not to have kids.

A few other notes on this topic:

First, Taiwan is a rare gem in Asia and, frankly, the world in that there are high-profile Taiwanese women who have eschewed marriage and children (although it is unclear to what extent that was a choice):  the two that come to mind are Chen Chu and Tsai Ying-wen. It has not been said openly that Tsai and Chen can and should be role models for young Taiwanese women (especially Chen among women in southern Taiwan), but it deserves some thought. If anything, Taiwan could use some more female role models who have achieved both great success and have happy marriages and children: the one high profile woman I can think of who is also married is Cher Wang - I don't know if she has kids. I say this because I believe that successful role models should be balanced - to show women that you can marry and have kids and be phenomenally successful, or you can not marry and not have kids and still be successful.

Second, that I know this pressure in Taiwan is not directed at me just because I'm foreign or just because I'm a woman, although I am sure I do get more pressure because I'm female. My Taiwanese female friends, and even some of my Taiwanese male friends, have felt the same pressure. I can confirm this firsthand: I've seen Facebook status updates from friends who I know don't want children, because they've told me so, with replies along the lines of "that'll change when you have babies!" or "oh, such good practice for when you're a  parent". The friend whose feed items got these replies is Taiwanese and male.

Third, rather like back home, it seems to be assumed that because I don't want kids, that I don't like kids. Actually, I do. They can be great fun and I tend to be good with them. They generally like me. I love playing with my little cousins or friends' kids. I teach two girls in a private class once a week and I like them a lot. I just don't want to devote my life to raising them. It's assumed both in Taiwan and back home that I must have massive professional ambitions and that's why I don't want kids. I have some, but I'd say that my main ambition is to have a successful, satisfying and fulfilling life with enough money to be comfortable. I don't need to be a professional phenom even though my career is important to me - I aim for success, but I won't work myself  into an early grave. My main work ambitions are to be phenomenal at what I do and be in high demand, to enjoy it, but not to let it consume me. It's assumed that I am not "feminine" - which is kind of true, but not entirely. It's true that I lack a lot of characteristics typically associated with "femininity", but that doesn't mean I lack all of them (people have wondered how I can be so good at crafty things and DIY and yet not be sufficiently feminine to want babies). Before I married, it was sometimes assumed that choosing to be childfree meant that I was anti-marriage: nothing could be further from the truth. It's assumed that I have that quality so often described as "selfish": it's true that I don't want to make the sacrifices  that would be necessary if I were to have children, such as giving up free time and traveling less, if at all. I wouldn't call that "selfish", though. Feeling that way and having kids anyway, now that you could make a case for. I feel the weight of these assumptions more in Taiwan back home, but they exist in both countries.

Finally, I plan to write an entire other blog post about this - probably the next one I put up - but the main difference between me and a lot of Taiwanese people, especially women when it comes to pressure to procreate is that in many cases they feel the need to actually consider or even give into some of that social pressure. It is not uncommon for a woman to agree to have kids she doesn't really want, or isn't sure she wants, because her mother-in-law or her own family expects it. I've written before about a student in this situation who is preparing to have a kid she has admitted she isn't sure she wants - but her mother-in-law is adamant so she just finds it easier to go ahead and do it. To be fair, she isn't certain she doesn't want kids, either.

I listen to my two families, but I feel no need to actually do what they would prefer. Note: neither side is giving me a problem or anything like that! When I talk about Western in-laws vs. what I observe in Taiwan, I am speaking more generally. I haven't had any problems personally but I do have American friends who have faced such issues.

I know both sets of parents would be delighted if we had kids, but I feel no obligation to pop 'em out. In fact, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of "we're trying for a baby because my parents/in-laws want a grandchild"...yet it does happen.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Stressed Out Women

Interesting article in the Taipei Times today, and it's regarding women's issues so I thought I'd give it a nod:

Study finds that women are more stressed than men

I'm not sure what commentary to add, but here's a bit of what I think. From the article:

Women experience more stress than men in the workplace and in life in general, and the sources of stress — such as concerns over sexual harassment at work — are the major difference between female and male employees, a study by the Council of Labor Affairs shows.


The survey found that regardless of gender, when it comes to work-related stress, employees are most stressed about “company insolvency,” which received an average of 5.86 points. This was followed by “company’s future prospects unclear” (5.83 points), “lay-offs or mandatory retirement” (5.67 points), “unpaid leave” (5.53 points) and “liability involved in company accidents” (5.00 points).

As to sources of stress at home, employees were overwhelmingly concerned with “decreased income,” which garnered an average of 6.35 points, the survey showed.

This was followed by “injury or illness in the family” (6.12 points), “sudden loss of a large amount of wealth or a large increase in living costs” (5.91 points) and “death of spouse, children or siblings” (5.77 points).

The survey also found that women in general were more stressed both at the workplace and at home.

I have to wonder where this is coming from. Could it be that women just worry more in general than men, or Taiwanese women worry more than their male counterparts? I have a hard time believing this, although I do believe that there are some general differences between the genders that are observable in large trends and groups (but absolutely not on an individual level, and part of the world's problem is taking observed trends in groups and applying them to individuals, a la "you're a woman so you must be like this").

I'd say instead that in terms of work and company culture and modern family life, that while the system has evolved to be more egalitarian regarding opportunities and lifestyle choices for women, that some attitudes have not changed and that while women have opportunities in the workplace and home life, that they're not always fully welcome on a more psychological level - where the attitudes people express and the prejudices and notions they more quietly hold and act on create some cognitive dissonance (I don't think I'm quite using the term correctly, but I hope you know what I mean). As in, "yeah, you can become a manager and work your way up the ladder and expect a household of more equal work-sharing, but culturally we're still going to undermine you in ways that are going to create stress for you, and you won't even be able to pinpoint why."

This can take the shape of longer hours that don't allow families to properly care for their children - something that stresses women out more seeing as women still bear the brunt of household duties (which I also don't like, but one topic at a time). It can take the form of a lack of flex-time and work-life balance, of employers and managers who quietly treat women differently or even hold discriminatory views, but whose actions are so subtle as to be hard to pick out and identify. It could be a lack of help with household duties at home, despite a modern culture that accepts that men should take on a more equal share of housework and child-rearing. It can take the form of employers that discourage taking full maternity leave.

Whatever the factors are, I don't think "women just stress out more than men" is one of them.

The source of work-related stress with the largest disparity between the two genders was “sexual harassment,” which ranked No. 28 on the list of most common sources of stress in the workplace.

Yeah, because women experience more sexual harassment by an exponential amount than men - something which is, of course, totally unacceptable but does, of course, still happen.

The study also showed a positive correlation between an employee’s education and work-related stress. The more educated an employee was, the more stress he or she felt at the workplace. Also, those with longer working hours felt more stressed at work.

The study also found a relationship between the type of employment and the level of work-related stress, with employees under contract or under temporary work experiencing more stress than regular employees or those with long-term employment.

This is all pretty obvious: if you have more education, you're probably working at a higher-level white collar type job and while they might not actually be more subject to the changing winds of the economy, it sure feels like they are. Of course longer hours create more stress, as you tire yourself out, you lack work-life balance and you devote an ever-larger chunk of yourself to work, which can stress you out quite a bit when the work you've devoted yourself to is problematic. As someone who has done contract work (and sort of still does), I can tell you that while it suits my personality beautifully, I can see why it would be very stressful for some, and during slow times of year it can cause small amounts of paycheck stress in me, as well.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Blogger in Taichung jailed over critical restaurant review

Really? For serious? If you write on your blog that you didn't like the food at an establishment, can they really file charges? Do you think this would have happened with a foreign blogger (I ask because so often, locals tell me "you think Taiwanese are friendly because they are nice to foreigners, but they are often terrible to each other")? Why is the ruling "final"? Why did she apologize (I wouldn't, even if I had to pay the fine)?

Why did people keep calling the restaurant to ask if the review was true? Did they think the restaurant would say "yes"? Wouldn't you just not eat there?

So, just because I think this is a giant pile of fucktacular crap (sorry, moms, but it has to be said), here goes:

- Cafe Bastille has great beer and terrible food. Never eat there.
- Song Chu (宋廚) has great duck, mediocre everything else, and horrible service. I will never eat there again.
- Sai Baba is pretty good, as it goes, and has a great atmosphere, but my hummus is better than theirs by far. Go ahead and eat there, though. It's still pretty good.
- The food in Shi-da and Shilin Night Markets is actually not that good, as local food goes. Try Raohe, Ningxia or Jingmei instead.
- Dingtaifung is overpriced. Go to 金雞圓 instead.
- Hindoostan has the worst Indian food I've ever tried.
- Exotic Masala House used to be good but their quality really went downhill.
- All Korean restaurants but two in Taipei are inauthentic (and only one of those two is notably spectacular).
- Kiki is not really Sichuanese food at its finest. 天府is better.
- Ice Monster was never all that great. Sugar House in Nanshijiao beats it by a long shot.

I'd write more about smaller, local food stalls and joints, but honestly most of those places where I've eaten have been really good!

So, uh, fuck the police.

Update: Catherine at Shu Flies has worked hard to write a well-grounded post on this issue. While the issue of whether the blogger in the original article was the one who wrote the view in part over a parking dispute (at least it's settled for me), I don't think that really changes anything I've said here - it's still a sign of troublingly harsh defamation laws and excessive punishment, and it's still likely that the beef noodle place did have cockroaches, not because it was particularly unsanitary but because every building in Taiwan has cockroaches!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Some thoughts on women and justice in Taiwan

A thought.

The news-storm brewing for months that surrounds the reopened case of Jiang Guoqing (also spelled Chiang Kuo-ching), who (for those not in Taiwan who haven't heard this already) was tortured to confess to, convicted of and quickly executed for rape in 1996, a conviction/execution now believed to have been wrongfully carried out does not just raise questions about the justice system, methods used to extract confessions or wrongful conviction for sex offenders. It also raises questions about women's rights.

As does this disturbing tale, published on The View from Taiwan, which sort of gelled it all together in my brain (mmm, gelled brain) last night.

If Taiwan, or any nation's justice system for that matter, lacks the basic competence to apprehend, try and convict the right person in a rape or sex offense case, that's bad for not just the families of those wrongfully convicted or for the victims of wrongful execution (although of course it is also tragic for them), but also bad for women and girls. Anyone who is the victim of a sex offense, or the family member of someone killed during one, deserves the assurance that the system will do everything possible to bring the right person to justice. If someone can commit a rape and then watch another person executed for it, and this can go un-investigated for over a decade, how can any woman know that justice is on her side if she is the victim of a sex crime? How can she or her family know that, rather than bowing to pressure to solve a case quickly and thus extracting a forced confession, the investigators will do everything in their power to apprehend not just anyone but the actual person who committed the crime?

It leaves the tragedy of the crime against the woman unaddressed as well as allows the actual rapists, murderers and sex offenders to go free (and if the case gets enough publicity, allows future criminals to feel as though the gamble that they won't get caught is worth it).

Michael's story is equally disturbing - other than picking the girl up in the science park and bringing her home, there is nothing in his story to suggest that the police will actually apprehend Mr. Wang Yo (although there is also no evidence that they are not trying). There's the fact that after committing such a heinous crime, he still felt he could call her family to "apologize" (in all likelihood a subtle threat to them know that he knows how to find them) without repercussions - clearly a man with no fear of the justice system.

The treatment of the girl at school after the incident is even worse - this is not how one handles such cases. All this does is marginalize females even more. This is exactly the sort of behavior that creates a demented anti-woman society. The teacher that publicly humiliated the girl deserves to be fired, thrown in jail and forced to pay compensation, as well...and (s)he probably won't be made to suffer any of that.

This is not to say that fearing getting caught is necessarily a deterrent to rapists and other sex offenders. If it were, we'd probably have fewer sex crimes around the world. Clearly there will be people who will commit the crime regardless of the possible consequences. I can't help but think, though, that more of this occurs in places where being caught and made to suffer the consequences is not as likely.

It also says a lot regarding the state of sex education and real-world discussions among Taiwanese mothers and their daughters. The girl in this incident quite likely was not educated in the very real dangers of this sort of activity (although it is possible that she was, and chose to ignore her mother's words).

Despite the fact that sex education seems to be more open in Taiwan than in many parts of the USA - I have seen sexual safety advertisements on the TVs in the MRT here! - I hear stories in Taiwan that terrify me regarding the state of girls' sex education. Everything from "your mother doesn't mind that your older sister lives with her boyfriend? So she won't mind if your sister gets pregnant?" to "But if I use a tampon, I can't pee because the hole will be blocked" to the alarming state of naivete of a fourteen year old girl. That said, she had her friends are only fourteen and will have some degree of naivete and immaturity. I do feel, though, that their education in these matters could have been better.

Finally, a comment on Michael's post disturbs me almost as much as the story itself - one commenter said the man was blameless - "if someone wants to jump off a bridge, who can blame the bridge?" - while probably an expat, the fact that this kind of mindset, that a sick pervert is just an inert pawn in some naive little girl's plot to be molested, is really, truly horrifying. This is an attitude that can't be wiped off the face of the Earth fast enough, for the good of not just women, but for everyone.

I do still believe that Taiwan is a safe place for women and our daughters. I do believe that I am far safer here than I ever was living in Washington, DC (or even my small hometown). I do believe that Taiwan's generally low crime rate and generally greater respect for women's rights compared to the rest of Asia is not to be taken lightly. I would not fear raising a daughter in Taiwan.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Second Editorial

Had a letter published in the Taipei Times today...enjoy!

(Copied below - title is not mine)

Philosophical glove fits all

Albert Shihyi Chiu (邱師儀) gave an impassioned opinion on the spiritual and philosophical immaturity of the Taiwanese, citing qigong masters, temple rituals, doomsday prophets and other eclectic hustlers of heaven, hell and every ghost in between (“Breaking through Taiwan’s babble,” May 19, page 8).

I respectfully disagree with his opinion, not because it implicitly supports secularism — as an agnostic, I am also inclined toward secular philosophy — but because my impression from talking to Taiwanese has been that they are practical about their beliefs. While a few people still surround themselves with superstition, the vast majority are able to separate the possible from the ridiculous. Every opinion I have heard of Wang Chao-hung (王超弘), who “predicted” the nonexistent May 11 earthquake, has been wryly dismissive or humorous (“Are you sure I have to practice my presentation? Don’t you know the world is going to end tomorrow?”)

Furthermore, dealing in the ephemera of folk belief and spirituality is hardly unique to Taiwan. Why single out Taiwanese as philosophically immature when around the world, people are doing the same things with different names and aesthetic trappings? Why criticize Taiwanese when a good portion of the US believed that the world was going to end on Saturday, or when Westerners make, sell and buy “spell rings” and “magic crystals” on the Internet, pay for tarot readings and ascribe supernatural causes to everyday occurrences?

Taiwanese are also hardly alone in other spiritual beliefs: spirit mediums, firewalking and processionals also exist in India, and you’ll see similarities in saint’s day parades in Mexico. You can find an Evil Eye charm in any Mediterranean country for every ba gua mirror and amulet in Taiwan, and if you whittle yoga and taichi down to their spiritual core, you’ll find similarities there, too. For everyone in Taiwan who prays to Confucius or Wenchang (文昌帝君) for a good test score, there’s a kid in some other country begging their own chosen god for some literati luck.

I cannot say that people who believe in these things are intellectually inferior or use religion as an opiate. I believe they have a way of looking at the world that, while I might not agree with it, works for them. To criticize Taiwanese for this is to criticize most of the world. If Taiwanese are not philosophically mature, then nobody is.

In fact, I’d say that Taiwanese spirituality is a part of what I love about this country. I see these beliefs as a window into one culture’s traditions and world view and as artistic expression. Would Mr Chiu prefer that Taiwan become more like China, turning out the “old religion” in favor of ... what? Nothing at all? “Nothing at all” might be my philosophy, but I find learning about the myriad beliefs and traditions in Taiwan to be deeply enriching. Whether or not you burn ghost money or throw fortune blocks, these things do provide the open-minded with a chance to see life and philosophy from a fascinating perspective.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Oh, yeah, that? Oops. Uh...sorry. I guess.

US Clarifies Statements on 'One China'

From the article:

At a Washington press conference on Wednesday, Chen [Bingde] said: “During my office call on Secretary Clinton this morning, she told me — she reiterated the US policy; that is, there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is part of China.”


“The United States welcomes the recent improvement in cross-strait relations, opposes any unilateral actions by either side to alter the status quo, and believes that cross-strait issues should be resolved peacefully in a manner acceptable to the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait,” the official added.


While the “clarification” seemed to go out of its way not to upset Chen, it also made clear — without directly saying it — that Clinton did not tell him that there was only “one China” in the world and that Taiwan was part of China.


Does anyone else think that Chen was 100% clear on what Clinton said, and he made the first statement regardless? Does anyone else think that this is a not-so-subtle ploy by the PRC to start twisting around the language of what is said in meetings to more quickly get people to accept the idea that Taiwan is a part of China? Does anyone else believe that Chen knew exactly what he was doing and will get praise for it back home? I don't believe for a second that this was a misunderstanding or miscommunication - I honestly believe that Chen deliberately skewed Clinton's words to his and the PRC's advantage, betting on the "you can't unhear something" principle? Just as a witness whose testimony is stricken by a judge has still said what she said, and the jury can pretend to disregard it but really, they can't unhear what they've heard? Like that.

In related news:

"Air China" tourism pamphlets criticized

Saying that this was some sort of backdoor deal, and that Air China knew exactly what it was doing by creating confusion about what is a domestic and what is an international airline, sounds more conspiracy theorist, and I don't deal in conspiracy theories.

But still.

For as much criticism as this has garnered, you can't undo a first impression, and impressions like the are what drive many people abroad who are not cognizant of the Taiwan-China political situation to believe that they are one and the same. It creates an impression in the mind. It makes implications that can't be un-implied. While I don't deal in conspiracy theories, I have to ask - was this done on purpose?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Go back to playing music, we'll run the country for you.

I have to just say: I really do not understand why, on a gut level, aboriginal groups in Taiwan continue to vote for the KMT. I mean, I get it from a historical perspective: the deep racial and cultural divide, history of mistreatment on the part of Taiwan's earlier Fujianese settlers (and later the Japanese) and and resulting mistrust runs far deeper between the Hoklo people and the aborigines than it does between those who came over in the 1940s and the political party generally identified with them (although you can't interchange the terms "KMT" and "waishengren" as so many people do.

As badly as the KMT treated aborigines (and almost everybody else, for that matter, including many who came over with them), those resentments don't seem to run nearly as deep as three hundred years of being forced off the best land in the country.

And yet, I have trouble understanding why the aborigines' preference for the KMT continues, as it's clear that the KMT has no interest in or empathy toward them and still views them through the lens of some mysterious 'other' (at best) or a cartoonish caricature (at worst).

Take this little gem, in which President Ma says that aborigines should be valued for their abilities in music and sports. My husband, possessed of a cutting wit, said of that: "Oh, like black people?"

(He was being facetious, of course, and said that with the utmost sarcasm).

It really is an offensive thing to say - just as the establishment back home does its best to negate the political power of minorities (a lot of it really sounds like "you have great music and you sure can chuck a basketball, but we know how to run the country. Let us take care of things. You can go back to you hip-hopping music now") this sounds like a blatant caricature, an admission that neither Ma nor the KMT really understand aboriginal affairs or culture, and don't really care to make an attempt to do so. It's like saying "you go back to your villages and tribes and make your music and play your sports - we'll run the country, don't worry".

And now this: KMT official suggests that aborigines should marry their own. Errr...yes, it's important to preserve cultural roots and traditions, but implying that people should only marry within their groups is not the way to do that. It's true that you can't force cultural preservation, but there are better policies with which to encourage it than implying that there should be no interracial/intercultural marriages. To quote the article:

Commenting on the issue, Sediq KMT Legislator Kung Wen-chi (孔文吉) said he was surprised anyone would still make such a suggestion, as marriage between Aborigines and non-Aborigines helped keep the different ethnicities at peace, adding that trying to stop inter-communal marriages hinted at repression, not progress. [Emphasis mine].

So...why? I can understand that many aborigines feel that the DPP or any of the other parties aren't any better and don't understand much better. I'd argue, however, that the DPP is slowly but surely trying to give up its old schtick in which it only stood for the views of the Hoklo people and attempting to be more inclusive (it's slow going, though, and many people I've talked to still feel they've not made enough of an attempt), and as such deserves more of a chance in aboriginal constituencies...

...because they certainly have not been well-served but certainly have been misunderstood by the KMT.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Willful Ignorance

Was reading this today:

And my first reaction?


Yes, that was my very first reaction. Imagine a curvaceous white lady with a half-eaten slice of Ginger Superman pizza in her hand at So Free leaning over a copy of the Taipei Times and shouting that, thereby startling the two high school girls sharing the rough-hewn bench with us.

But seriously.

Barry Watts, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told a US congressional commission this week: “Why use military force if economic entanglement leading to economic capture is succeeding?”


Except for the Art of War reference, which was a bit precious if you ask me. Precious as in it sounds like some Hollywood crap from a Gordon Gekko meets Jackie Chan flick.

I studied this stuff in college - which makes me about as qualified as some dork who read a few books and thinks she's an expert - basically meaning that I'm no expert - and I could have told you this.

In fact, I'm fairly sure I did tell you this. Maybe not you specifically, but someone, and possibly after I'd had a glass of wine or two.

And what's sad is that it's not hard to see how true it is, so Washington and the world's seeming naivete over what's going on can't possibly be true ignorance or failure to understand, because it's really not that complicated (but then neither is the concept that deep water drilling is a bad idea and alternative energy needs more investment, but they don't seem to get that either).

It's willful ignorance. It's pretending you don't understand. It's quite possibly strategic incompetence. It's turning away because recognizing the issue means you might have to do something about it, if only for show...and the US clearly doesn't want to do that.

Which means the US clearly doesn't care that much about Taiwan, or at least not enough to stop pretending they don't know what China's up to.

And that's sad, because it basically means were ****ed.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Women and Children, and Human Rights in Taiwan

Taiwan's apparently doing really well on human rights issues (not surprising to me) - among the best in Asia, in fact.

I'd say that the amount of time Taiwanese office staff are expected to stay at work is a human rights violation (OK, I'm using hyperbole, but come on), but otherwise...great.


As usual, women and children are the ones still suffering. Domestic abuse (including child abuse), rape and spousal rape, including discrimination against women, are all still significant problems in Taiwan. This I also believe: random acts of violence against women are not common - women can walk outside, alone and safely, at literally any time of day or night and not have to fear being attacked. I am sure it does happen, but it's so rare that I feel quite safe in Taipei, even in the darkest hours of the early morning.

It's violence against women by people they know and are possibly married to that remains a problem - for several reasons. It's still a social anathema to report spousal rape, there are still people who believe - even if they wouldn't admit it openly - that spousal abuse is acceptable/explainable (ie "she deserved it, if she kept him happier..."), that rape within marriage is not really rape, and that it's OK to hit your child. In many cases, saving the face and protecting the family status of the relative is considered more important than getting help for the wife or child, and so cases go unreported. Many foreign brides have nowhere to turn when they suffer abuse, and that goes unreported too.

And, as usual, despite a generally clean human rights record (human trafficking is still an issue, but at nowhere near the levels of other Asian countries), those still suffering are women and children. We can clean up most of the problems in a place, and yet there will still be people who think it's OK to treat those two groups as subhuman.

One is half the population, adult females who are still grouped in with people who are not yet adults - in many ways, around the world, women are treated more or less as children, workhorses or both - and the other is most defenseless segment of the population.