Showing posts with label taiwanese_culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taiwanese_culture. Show all posts

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Taipei Pride 2019: Huge and Political

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This year's Taipei Pride, held earlier today - and the parties are surely still going on - merits so many "that's what she said" descriptors, I don't even know where to begin. It was massive. Huge. So very long. It just kept coming. By the end, my legs were practically falling off.

Basically, it was exactly what you'd expect for the first Pride after legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, the first Asian country to do so.


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I have no idea exactly how big the parade was other than that it was the biggest Taiwan, and therefore Asia, has ever seen (Taipei Pride is the biggest LGBT event in the continent). I found it hard to estimate in part because the usual starting point and route of the parade changed from the Jingfu Gate circle and general 228 Park area to City Hall square - that big esplanade where Ren'ai Road ends - for reasons I'm not sure of. The News Lens puts the total conservatively, I think, at 170,000. New Bloom is perhaps a tad overgenerous with 350,000. All I can say is that I stopped walking and took up a permanent spot thinking the whole parade would pass me in about 20 minutes. Two hours later, it was still going. 



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It was big enough to make the front page of the BBC (to be honest, though, Taipei Pride usually does. And, of course, BBC had to add the stupid language about China and Taiwan, as though China is at all relevant to Taipei Pride (it isn't.) I won't even bother to quote it here.




All the usual corporate sponsors were there - something I don't love, but in an Asian context, also don't hate. Not because it signals that they don't (or don't intend to) discriminate against LGBT workers, job applicants and clients - that should be a given - but because the older generation which is less open to LGBT equality and rights won't necessary listen to their kids and grandkids: the young, liberal participants. But hoo boy, if they learn that the Taiwan branch of some fancy company (and therefore that company's CEO or branch office's General Manager, who is likely to be older and more like them) supports those things, they may be more likely to reconsider.

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LGBT-friendly churches were in attendance as well, a reminder that  while most Christian organizations in Taiwan are anti-gay, we can't judge anyone before we get to know them.


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What really struck me, though, was how much more political this year's Pride was. I mean, Taipei Pride has always had that legacy, acting as it does to offer a beacon of hope to the region that, as President Tsai put it, "progressive ideals may take root in an East Asian society". It's quite typical that people from around Asia and the world come to Taiwan to celebrate Pride here because they simply cannot do so in their own countries, and this year was no exception. What's more, young supporters of political causes, including Taiwanese de jure independence, have typically also been supportive of LGBT causes (older Taiwan independence supporters...not so much).

But this year there was a very strong undercurrent of support for the Hong Kong protesters, mockery of repressive China, and more open support of Taiwanese identity. Other flags and signs supporting Tibet and Xinjiang could also be seen.




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If, by the way, you're pro-LGBT but were still thinking that you could support any candidate in the Taiwanese 2020 elections and it wouldn't matter, think again. It's quite clear not only from the candidates' own messaging but the overall attitude at Pride that if you're not heteronormative, Han Kuo-yu is not the guy for you. Tsai Ing-wen's administration on the other hand, while not perfect, is your best bet (yeah, I needed help to understand this, my Taiwanese sucks).

International organizations that have a presence in Asia such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace were also present - with some participants flying in from abroad to march with their organization's banner.

This was cast in stark relief by one sign in particular:





Homonationalism is an ideology that uses liberal, often pro-LGBT positions as a means to discriminate against immigrants from more "conservative" societies, saying that they bring their anti-LGBT (or illiberal) values with them, so we're in trouble if we let too many of them in. Or, more generally, it's just used as an excuse for prejudice and discrimination in societies where things like marriage equality are now taken as normal and may be supported even by members of the right wing, but xenophobia remains a problem.

And yes, perhaps you'll meet immigrants who live up to the "their values are not like ours" stereotype - nevermind that our values weren't much different just a few years or decades ago - but the fact that Taipei Pride is a massive welcome party for marginalized groups across Asia from these "conservative" societies - shows that one cannot assume liberalism or illiberalism simply by national origin. 




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Of course, the usual bevy of left-leaning political parties showed up, including the much reduced and humbled New Power Party (with a few flags), the Green Party, the State-building Party (with their own truck, spouting very serious political messages) and I assume others. I'm not sure at all if the NPP being on more equal footing representation-wise with these smaller parties is a good thing or not - none of them are currently strong contenders to take down the DPP/KMT two-party vortex, but then it never quite felt fair before that the NPP got all the thunder, y'know?


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This year also felt more sexually diverse than previous years - with huge bisexual, transgender and asexual flags in addition to the usual rainbow.


 
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My own visit to Pride was cut short in part because the route was just so slow, especially before it reached Zhongxiao Dunhua, where things sped up a little bit. I was stuck in a mass of people at City Hall well past the 1:30pm departure time, and by 3pm we hadn't even made it past Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall yet, with several very long waits. This was due at least in part to how little space the parade was allocated. I remember previous demonstrations in this part of Taipei taking up all of Zhongxiao Road or all of Ren-ai Road, or at least one full half of it, but Pride got just one or two lanes, with several close calls (including people trying to speed up a bit walking on the outer edge of the march, quite close to traffic). Some marchers got stuck trying to use the fenced-off walkway by the Taipei White Elephant Dome construction site, only to be forced back into the much-delayed and swollen crowd when that walkway ended.


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I could try to assign blame for this poor planning but we don't really know...oh whatever, let's go for it. Maybe it'll become clearer in a few weeks but right now, it sure looks like the authorities are just less willing to give space to Pride and that could be in part due to homophobia. After all, one aspect of homophobia is reducing the 'space' in which LGBT people may exist, and in today's case, that felt literally true.

But let's not assign blame to every member of law enforcement. Several traffic cops I saw today were wearing small but noticeable rainbow items in a show of support, and the police I saw here and there looked friendly and relaxed, not serious or unsupportive. 


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To end this on a fun note, I did enjoy the preponderance of music this year. 






In previous years each parade route might have had one or two trucks playing music for participants to dance to - otherwise you sort of walked and talked with your friends but there was nothing to keep your energy up. This year, everyone from the usual drag queens to the Korean truck (who were not the only Korean participants) blasting K-Pop to LesPark (which always has great music) and more kept the mood upbeat.


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And, of course, the costumes - with Taipei Pride being so close to Halloween, it'd make sense that it turns into something of a costume party (though I suppose most Pride parades do - I've only ever attended in Taipei though.) Not to get too gossip-rag about it but let me tell you: in 2019, dog daddies and Pikachu are super hot, and the Joker is super not (as a friend I ran into put it, the new Joker is kind of an Angry Straight White Guy thing so that makes sense). Disney princesses, ruling like a queen or goddess, video game and cartoon characters, BDSM, Hong Kong solidarity, Free Hugs and angel wings are in. Showing too much, however, seems to be out.











Plan your Halloween party attire accordingly. 



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Sunday, July 21, 2019

I Went To Animatronic Hell

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You know which Hell is more fun than Christian Hell (which, let's be honest, was interesting when Dante covered it but otherwise just ain't all that)?

Taoist Hell!

Last week we went to Tainan to get some much-needed relaxation. I'd heard about a temple in Madou (麻豆) out in Tainan County that features a regular temple, a giant dragon, a fun sculpture garden, and an animatronic Heaven and Hell, which I suppose can be called family-friendly because parents do take their kids. The animatronic sets, fake blood, recorded screams etc. aren't that scary (to me), but there are repeated references to rape, murder and trafficking (that said, most of that part is in writing, which little kids typically can't read yet).

I wasn't quite sure how to get out there - there are buses from Tainan City, but though it's a half-hour drive, most take an hour or longer. The express buses only depart a few times a day. Even then, they go a bus depot on the edge of town, and of course the temple with animatronic Hell - 麻豆代天府 - is not only on the other side of town, but somewhat outside its compact downtown area. There are buses that stop within a 15-minute walk, but waiting for one stretches the trip into a 3-hour ordeal each way. There's a taxi rank at the bus station, but no clear way to get back unless you can get that same driver to agree to pick you up at a later time.

In any case, Madou is an interesting enough town that it's worth spending a little more time (half a day is about right), which is hard to do without private transport.

Lucky for us, one of our closest and oldest friends in Taiwan also lives down south (though not in Tainan) and was so excited to hear we were coming to her part of the country that she took off what is usually a work day running the family business, borrowed her dad's car and was quite happy to plan for our time together to include a trip out to Madou, as she hadn't been to anything like animatronic Hell since childhood.

Madou has been settled for a very long time - originally called Matau, it was one of the largest indigenous Siraya settlements in that part of Taiwan during Dutch rule, and the most 'troublesome' to the Dutch (though I find it likely that the Dutch were just as troublesome to them, if not more so, seeing as the Siraya got there first...by a good few thousand years). It continued to exist through the Japanese era and as such has a small collection of interesting architecture from that time, including the old sugar refinery and a big old theater (電姬戲院), now in ruins. The main street still has a few pretty Art Deco buildings at various intersections - though a few are obscured by ugly commercial signs - and a couple of old shophouses that have not been restored.

Madou is also famous for savory rice pudding (wan-gui or 碗粿 - I don't know the exact tones in Taiwanese), so that was our first stop. We went to the famous 碗粿王, but there are a million options and all of them are probably great. 


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You add sauce and garlic paste to your liking than cut the whole thing up with your spoon to eat it. The gloopy rice is reminiscent of Cream of Wheat, and a good bowl will always contain at minimum a mushroom and half a boiled egg. 


Then, straight to Hell - all 18 layers of it.

Daitian temple is interesting enough as a temple, though the main complex, built in the 1950s, is quite typical for Taiwan. The domed building off to the side is dedicated to Guanyin and is similarly nice, though not particularly unique.

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If you're wondering whether you get to go up inside that dragon - worry not. You do! That comes later, though.

The entrance to Hell is to the right of the temple proper, past a man-made creek decorated with plants and sculptures. It costs NT40 to enter and is presided over by a bluish demon with red LED eyes. Though there isn't much of a descent, it feels like you're heading down to a basement as the interior quickly grows dark.


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Once inside, you start your animatronic journey with the first court, where the recently deceased are judged for how they lived and sentenced to the appropriate level accordingly. After that, you twist and turn through the next 17 layers, each in its own LED-colored alcove which lights up at regular intervals (so if you arrive in the middle of a display, just hang around for a few minutes after it ends. It'll start up again.) Scary music - which isn't that scary - plays over the loudspeaker as the sets light up, and each one begins with the god who presides over that layer of Hell reading out the crimes of the person sent there, and what will happen to them, all in Taiwanese. I don't actually understand Taiwanese and the recordings are not particularly clear, but it's not hard to guess what's going on. What, did you expect that it would be in Mandarin, in this part of Taiwan? Haha, fool. Anyway, there are also placards above each set that explain in Mandarin and English what's going on.

Some of these are videos - what kind of blogger would I be if I didn't offer up videos of Animatronic Hell?

If they won't play, let me know. 



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For example, don't swindle the womenfolk. I don't know why that's a specific sin apart
from swindling menfolk, but ok


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Some of the layers made sense - murderers, rapists, con-artists etc. - whereas there was at least one which punished those who sought profit for themselves, or to enrich themselves. Which to me sounds like...almost everybody? Maybe that's the point - almost nobody goes straight to Heaven because we're all fundamentally selfish. That's not so different from Christianity, after all - harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to Heaven and all that.

A few others were specific to the Asian cultural sphere: levels of Hell for not being filial (or filial enough), for women who didn't listen to their husbands' parents directives and more. 



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I have to admit, I had a fantastic time. I turned to my friend and the other friend she'd brought along and asked why on Earth nobody had told me about this place before. It's great, I said. You know I'd love something like this!

"Because this kind of place was really scary to us when we were kids," my friend replied.

"Do you still think it's scary?"

"Not really," she said. "But...now I think I'd better listen to my parents more!" 



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Partway through our tour, we were walking alongside a family with an older and younger daughter, perhaps around ages 9 and 4, respectively. When my friend convinced this would have scared her as a child, I asked the older girl if she was afraid.

"Not really," she said.

"Kids these days are really different. This was definitely terrifying when I was young."

Then I asked the younger sister. She just looked at me and then quickly away. I joked that she was more afraid of a foreigner than all this Hell stuff (which seemed pretty true). Her parents laughed but said, in fact, the little one was scared, but probably wouldn't tell me, because she was in fact afraid of me too.

Later on we passed some teenage boys going through. They were laughing, joking and imitating the animatronic figures. In other words, acting like teenagers anywhere. Ever seen teens in a haunted house around Halloween in the US? Though they'd be more likely to bring their girlfriends and make out. Come to think of it, I'm sure that happens here, too. Plus, open containers are legal, the drinking age is 18 but nobody really cares, and beer is common at temple festivals. I can't imagine some teens have not passed through with Taiwan Beers in hand having a grand ol' time.

The main difference being, the people working at Madou Daitianfu probably didn't care much how teens acted in their animatronic Hell meant to scare kids into behaving, and while we didn't bring beer I got the general impression that it would have been fine if we had. Whereas you can bet some church lady or Aunt Doris in a religious theme park in the US would get all pearl-clutchy about it. Also, no beer. 


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I had thought when I came out here that there are so many religious crazies in the US, that there must be a Christian Hell-themed exhibit somewhere in the US meant to scare children into behaving, and that it wouldn't be that different in tenor or content (though quite different aesthetics) than this Hell. But the closest thing I can find is the Biblical experience park in Florida which includes a bloody crucifixion. Cool, but not the same as Hell. 


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Just great for kids. I read this and I think, definitely a place to bring your toddler. 


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So, you're probably wondering - which level of Hell was my favorite?

(Well, you're probably not wondering, but I'm going to tell you anyway.)

Definitely the 14th level, where "those who look for vulnerable women and take advantage of them" get their "faces skinned by metal blades and disfigured". You see, during this whole Hellacious journey, I was asking myself - sure, but where do the Chads go? You know, the scrubs? The fuckboys? What happens to those guys, because no way they're going to Heaven?
And I suppose this is it. So, gentlefolk, I present to you...fuckboy Hell: 



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Awesome.

At the end of Hell, you reach a final level which is described as more of a purgatory. If you have not sinned enough to go to Hell, or have atoned for your sins, you may be sent by the gods to Heaven instead. At that point, you head upstairs and have the option of exiting, or checking out Animatronic Taoist Heaven.

While less interesting than Hell (because duh), Heaven is worth a visit because the stairs you climb - no heaven for the disabled I guess - take you right up into that kick-ass dragon you saw coming in. Heaven snakes all through its neck and spits you out in his mouth. (Which isn't a great way to word that, but you know what I mean.)



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Here's the thing, though. The first animatronic sets you see in Heaven show either men drinking and talking at a fine carved table while the womenfolk sit at a lower, rougher, less fancy table...

...or they are playing various Chinese games and drinking while the women serve them.

Which, dude. Ew. So, in Hell your typical scrub gets his face skinned off, but in Heaven men are waited on by submissive women who always accept a smaller lot? Yuck. I'll take Hell, thanks. 



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Another family ascended to Heaven with us, the young boy visibly shaken by Hell. I pointed out how sexist Heaven was to them and the parents agreed. Traditional Taoist Heaven seems great for the guys but perhaps not so great for the ladies, and the part where they all sit around playing instruments and laughing is fine, but not nearly as interesting as Hell.

But at the top, you get a fine view through the dragon's jaws to the rest of the temple complex, and there's a picnic area where you can sit before descending. 




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After returning to Earth, we noticed that the temple festival that had just been getting started when we arrived was in full swing. At one point, the Eight Generals (八家將), a group of female dancers in skimpy costume cheongsam dancing a choreographed number with a 'matchmaker' auntie, a troupe of teenage cheerleader-gymnast-dance performers, some dancing princes (三太子), and several spirit mediums including a number of women (rare in northern Taiwan) were all going at once in what felt almost like a three-ring circus of things to see. I put much of this on Facebook as a livestream, so didn't get many photos, but here are a few:


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It was frankly a bit overwheming - temple festivals in Taipei are nothing like this, with one group coming in at a time. To have three, four or five different things going on at once was a very...southern experience.

We left the temple and hit up the sugar refinery, which has a lovely park but was too hot to really enjoy (the small art exhibit on a local artist was nice, and also air conditioned).

It's worth noting that Madou is also famous for pomelos, and if you want to try the local product without buying and eating an actual pomelo, there's a small, unassuming cafe at the sugar refinery where you can get a Madou pomelo slushie (麻豆柚子冰沙), which is perfect for the summer heat. 



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One more stop - the old theater - and it was time to say goodbye to Madou. The theater is worth a quick look but despite advice from a friend, I was not able to get inside. There are alleys around it and I took a walk down the one on the left, which lets out at some privately-owned traditional farmhouse, right in town. It's lovely, with a bright and flowering garden...and an unfriendly dog (the human who was there didn't seem to mind my presence but I didn't really want to hang out on his property like a weirdo, even though as a foreigner one can kind of get away with that. I don't like using my privilege that way.) Also, a big old wall between his house and the abandoned theater, with no clear way in.

Anyway, the weather was hot and bright, at least in the 90s and possibly topping 100. So here we are, a little sweaty and tired, and about to head out for famous gelato in Yujing, about a 20-minute drive away:



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If you put our shirts together, it comes out as something like "I support Taiwan independence, motherfucker!" in Taiwanese.