Sunday, June 17, 2012

Yet Another Update: Indian Food in Taipei

From this post, which I keep updating.

First and foremost, Calcutta Indian Food in Ximen has moved. Go to the old place at #126 Kunming Street (follow Chengdu Rd. from MRT Ximen and turn right on Kunming),  then keep going to the first light. Turn right and across the street from Holiday KTV there is a building called "U2". The new location is in the basement food court, towards the back. The food is still the same great stuff. They have Kingfisher!

Secondly, we tried Mayur Indian and it's great, but dosa is no longer on the menu (not enough demand).

Finally, I found a new place -  south side of Ren'ai Road, beween Jianguo and Fuxing (near Howard Hotel). Haven't tried it yet - but will go soon and report back. I'm currently doing "research" by eating at every Mexican/Tex-Mex place I know of in Taipei to do a post on it, but I can sacrifice one evening out to get more Indian, ha ha.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What To Expect When You're China

Fuck you, China.

You all know I'm pretty staunchly pro-choice. This, however, isn't choice.

Seriously, fuck you, China.

It truly amazes me what the Chinese government claims the moral authority to do, when they're clearly a bunch of deranged, power-drunk psychopaths.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Link-tacular Wednesday (updated)

Here, enjoy a few links. I intend to write a few posts exploring some of these issues further, but have had a very busy work week - and, as I mentioned in my last post, haven't been feeling on top of things mentally.

But, if you are interested at all in women's issues - especially my current strongest areas of interest: pay inequality, reproductive rights, women in technology and motherhood vs. working, you will find these links all interesting reads.

Motherhood Still A Cause of Pay Inequality - from the New York Times

On Choosing Not To Have Children - from Slate (reader contribution)

Dogs Rain Supreme for Childless Japanese - on Japanese women and couples choosing not to have children (from Jezebel)

Mothers Running Tech Startups - also from Jezebel (based on this NYT article)

BoingBoing's Awesomepants Xeni Jardin Takes on the Idea That Men Invented The Internet - from BoingBoing

Women facing online misogyny - it's  not exceptional, it's frighteningly normal - from Slate (also with links to Jezebel and the original story here from Kotaku)

Female doctor-scientists being paid less than male counterparts (from Jezebel - this story contradicts the one above: it shows a pay disparity even when  accounting for children and time off for family)

A comprehensive list of ways in which fathers are treated - unfairly - differently from mothers and the assumptions behind it all. For instance -  try finding a changing table in a men's room.  

People keep saying that Roe v. Wade won't be overturned, so there's nothing to fear. Those people are wrong. Even if Roe v. Wade is kept in place, there's a lot to fear.            

A Chacun Son Paradis

 Je suis au septieme ciel
Ma tour est plus belle que celle de Babel
Je vais à l'école buissonnière.
Je gère. Et dans la ville j'erre

You didn't know I spoke French, did you? Hah. That's because I only sort of speak it. I used to be pretty good, though. This song brings me back to the late '90s and early naughts, when I was something more akin to fluent in French, and also has a few lines that add, I dunno, chiaroscuro to how I've been feeling these days.

So I was sitting on the MRT this morning, coming back from my morning class, and WHAM!

It occurred to me that, as much as I might seem alright, and as much as I might have convinced myself that I'm alright, that these days I'm really not. I don't mean I'm depressed - I'm not - or even unhappy. Just that, after five plus years of life in Taiwan, I've convinced myself that I'm totally fine, I basically get it (as much as any foreigner in any country can really "get it"), no problem, and pessimism is for the weak, unless it's something really worth critiquing.

Except I was wrong, and I've been wrong for awhile, stuck up in a tower somewhere.

The truth is, I've succumbed in the time since I've returned from Istanbul to an insidious form of culture shock, where you feel like you've assimilated fairly well and gotten things on track, without realizing that there's still a lot that shocks you, a lot that angers you, a lot that you don't understand and a lot that you're not sure you want to understand lest it upset you further.

Instead of acknowledging that consciously, I've been clinging to the things I think are right, and snarking too much on the things I think are wrong, without stopping to think that maybe, sometimes, what I think is wrong.

It's come out in a weird two-barrels-blazing shoot-em-up where half the time I'm Suzy Sunshine, Queen of Optimism About Expat Life, and the other half I'm totally judgmental and close-minded, when really I should know better. At points it's been situational: when you talk to a bunch of sketchy foreign guys in one week, those skankbags make it all to easy to get a little too judgey about foreign guys in Taiwan generally. When Computex is going on and you're teaching classes of mostly male tech guys (who are great guys, mind you) and reading articles about booth babes (I call them Computer Xiaojies), it can make you uneasy about the entire tech industry and sexism in the country where you live - - which isn't going away soon. But then it's not going away in my own country, either.

At other points it's a generalized, simmering anxiety. For example - watching my students work themselves to death and having very little other than my own opinion when asked for - and sometimes when not - to fight back against this systematized and seemingly intrinsic exploitation. While working yourself to the point of exhaustion is a personal choice on the surface, it stops becoming a choice when almost every office job in Asia requires you to do so. In the USA plenty of people give themselves over to work and suffer the consequences of their own volition - but you have the choice not to. Here, you don't. Or rather you do, but it's much, much harder to come by and not possible for everyone. I don't know what to do about that, and have my own work frustrations (love what I do, hate the office), and it does set me on edge more than it should.

I've realized that, half the time, I have no idea what a lot of my local friends think. (I wrote out a bunch of examples here and then deleted them - I have local friends who read this blog and I don't want to be too specific). The only one whose mood and thoughts I feel I can confidently intuit is the very outspoken one who will always tell you what's on her mind.

Add to that a feeling like no opinion I express can be truly "right", and a feeling that, as disgusted as I am with the USA right now, at least it's my culture and country of citizenship so there are more ways for me to get involved. In Taiwan I have opinions, but not always the full story, and very few ways to get involved (and surprisingly little standing to do so). I don't feel detached totally - I feel a strong connection to my friends, my neighborhood, my students and my familiarity with the city - but it does create a feeling of hanging about like some old bit of cloth that has no real use but still hangs around the house anyway because nobody thinks to throw it away.

I don't know where it came from, when exactly it started and definitely not why. My first thought was that Istanbul, in a way that no other city I've visited recently has managed to accomplish, won my heart in a way. I'm not planning to up and move to Turkey, but it's created a weird duality where I'm happy in Taipei and want to stay, but also, oh, to go back to Istanbul. Can't I live in both? In Istanbul I dreamed of riding my bike down the riverside trail and eating wontons in fiery red chili oil. In Taipei, I'd give my left foot for some Turkish fig pudding and good baklava. Also, yoghurt, olives, Turkish coffee and pekmez that don't cost a fortune.

That said, I felt similarly about Cairo - though I like Istanbul more because it's somewhat less polluted, among other reasons -  and got over it more quickly.

So, while that could be it, I also wondered if maybe it's not my mother's health that's causing this. Her diagnosis is the first incident since moving to Taipei that caused me to seriously consider moving home, and mapping out how that would feel and what it might accomplish. It's the first incident that has really shaken me, reminding me that I will eventually have to move home, even though my life is here (or, if not here, then somewhere outside the USA). It's caused me to re-evaluate my life in Taiwan in a different light: as in, Taipei compared to home, not simply Taipei for Taipei's sake.

I don't know how to get over it - all I can say is that I'm going to try. It'll probably be OK in the end. I love Taiwan enough (perhaps my glasses are too rose-colored?), despite its faults (which perhaps I judge overly harshly or incorrectly?) that I am applying for permanent residency. I've figured it out before - how to be happy in Washington, DC when DC had a vibe that absolutely does not work for me - and getting over far more core-shaking culture shock in India. I can do this too.

Anyway, j'ai plein de tours de magie
Pour faire de l'enfer un paradis.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


This isn't really Taiwan-related, but it is women and feminism related, so I figure I'll post it anyway.

I absolutely love this article, for it's super fun BS as well as how uncannily accurate that BS is. It sounds like something my Stoner Friend(tm) would come up with. And seem like she might be right about.

I'm going to go ahead and add to the BS - please don't take anything I write in this post too seriously.

Basically, the idea is that we're all derived from muppet archetypes - some of us are Chaos Muppets (think Animal, Grover, The Cookie Monster) and some are Order Muppets (think Kermit, Bert). Some of us go around sowing disorder, and some keep the show running smoothly. Some dole out cookies, others organize for greatest efficiency. In any workplace, you need just the right ratio of Chaos Muppets and Order Muppets in the organization - and in relationships, two of the same kind shouldn't be together: Chaos ought to marry Order, and Order, Chaos.

I think it's pretty clear that I'm a Chaos Muppet. In fact, those of you who have met me might be a bit freaked out by how accurately this parodies not only my cooking style, but also my entire life. I'm pretty much a living, breathing Swedish Chef - I'd probably try this if firearms were legal in Taiwan. I once had a friend remark that she loved my chocolate truffle cake, but how on Earth did I get chocolate on the ceiling?

Also, I am growing some of this, just because. If you run your hands through the leaves and touch the peppers a bit, and then touch your face, it'll make your skin tingle. Cool, huh? Soon I'm going to try to cook with it.

I also go around humming things like "doo-dee-doo-dee-doo bork bork bork" on a fairly regular basis. That's not a joke.

Brendan is, without a doubt, a Order Muppet. Not Ernie, but Bert. He's not a compulsive organizer, but he freaks out if he's going to be anything less than 15 minutes early to anything, catches the earlier bus or train rather than the one that will get him there just in time, and actually plans classes the day before he teaches them (I only do that if I absolutely must). He's great at spontaneous travel - it's when there's a plan in place that this comes out.

Bert and The Swedish Chef. Someday, our love will be legal in every state in America!

I note this because I've noticed a social trend - not just in Taiwan but around the world - where, despite generations of people expecting that men should run the world while women stay home - where wives are expected to be the Order Muppets and husbands, Chaos Muppets. You know, like this. From "men can't be expected to remember to write thank-you notes" to "if I don't do it, it never gets done *sigh*" to "he just doesn't notice the mess, so he doesn't think to clean it", a lot of women end up stuck maintaining order while men are seen, at least at home, of creating chaos (and considering what the global economy and international politics is looking like, there's a lot of chaos out in the world, too).

Which makes things difficult if you are a woman and an unabashed Chaos Muppet. Your best bet is to hook up with a Order Muppet - bonus points if he's super sweet and handsome like my Order Muppet - who is open to and accepting of a very different household paradigm from the one society expects. Also he'll remember to vacuum and pay the bills. But it's not all bad for the Order Muppet: he gets chocolate truffle cake and Chaos Muppets tend to be more creative decorators and fun travel planners. Be good to your Order Muppet: if you see him vacuuming because he thought to do so (and you, uh, didn't, or you waited until you had 5 minutes before you had to go...not that I'd know anything about that *ahem*), grab a dustcloth or start putting things away, too.

I know, there's another, parallel trope to this one: the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (think various media starring Jennifer Aniston and Zooey Deschanel), but I get the distinct impression that this trope is meant to be fantasy, whereas Doofy Husbands and women as Order Muppets, the expected reality. I do feel as a staunch "bring down the old order" feminist, that women with that chaotic streak in them are chastised by others, and society as whole, more than men, who, well, "that's how men are". Unless you're cute - then you're a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Otherwise, you're just immature.

Most societies seem to praise Order Muppetry as the ideal set of traits and values in a good citizen: the USA does (at least that's the distinct impression I got from my schooling), every country in Asia that I have had experience in does (although India is an interesting case: a culture that birthed a Sanskrit grammar manual so detailed and prescriptive that it filled 8 volumes, but also a country rife with chaos and people who joke about it in a way that betrays the idea that it's not all bad), Europe does (although you could make a case that southern Europe is different).

The USA has gotten better at valuing its Chaos Muppets - there was that guy on The Daily Show yesterday who said that "Steve Jobs wouldn't have been able to do what he did in Europe or Japan" - I don't necessarily agree with him - I think a lot of our best innovation has come because Chaos Muppets from other countries have come to the USA and helped us lead innovation, and anyway, I see a lot of cool things coming out of design, science and technology in Asia and a lot of places where the US is stodgy, saggy and getting left behind like the regular trains that the Shinkansen sweeps past. I do, think, however, that he's right in that we're doing a better job creating an environment in which our weirdos can be weird and do great things (as long as they can afford health insurance - argh).

The original article mentions that the Supreme Court is all screwed up because it's been overrun with Order Muppets - I'd say that America's biggest problem right now is that the Order Muppets and Chaos Muppets can't see the value in the other's worldview, and can't figure out how to make the two synthesize into an efficient whole. Also, the Order Muppets seem to be obsessed with legislating my hoo-hah and telling us all what religion we should be, and they really ought to knock it out. At least in Taiwan, as divisive as politics can be, the majority of people I've met can respect the views of the other side (KMT are the Order Muppets and DPP the Chaos Muppets, in case that wasn't clear) even if they don't agree.

I see Taiwan heading this way, as well - from a similarly growing value placed on creativity, handmade items, cool design and innovative R&D (I spend more time around R&D types than I do around designers, and feel they deserve a mention) all the way down to the two girls I have English Fun Time with on Saturday afternoons, whose parents encourage them to talk, play, create and build, even if they build things out of cardboard that are total failures (ie the ferris wheel we attempted that fell apart). Sometimes, they build something pretty cool:

I see this model of encouraging a bit of Chaos gaining currency against the old Confucian style model of Listen to Your Elders and Teachers and DO WHAT YOU'RE TOLD, and that just delights me. We need a little more Lao Tzu, and a little less Confucius (although he has his role, too).

I'd like to see more of this - and less regimented, buxiban-propped-up schooling - in Taiwan, and I take heart that I am seeing it grow.

Aight, I'm gonna get back to my hot peppers. Too bad my Stoner Friend(tm) is in another country. Have a good weekend, and remember to sow some Chaos.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Big Pharma

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
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Back in the USA I hated Big Pharma.

Now I work (in part) for them.

My reasons back home were due to, well, events like those discussed in this article - affording drugs is a problem around the world, and a two-pronged issue. On one side you've got areas so poor that even low-priced drugs cost too much, and on the other you've got the USA, where people generally have more money, yet drugs are so astronomically expensive that many still can't afford them despite their exponentially better overall standard of living.

From people I know in Big Pharma back home, I can say that the argument does ring true: drugs are sold in the USA at exorbitant prices, and at far lower prices elsewhere, because companies both want to recoup clinical testing costs and make a tidy profit (a little too tidy if you ask me), and feel that the USA is the market to milk, because we can apparently "afford it". Except we can't.

It also bothers me that they throw so much money behind lobbying the government in their own interests, which mostly counter the interests of the American people, but pretty much all industries do that.

Working at a lot of pharmaceutical companies in Taiwan, though, makes me dislike the whole industry a lot less. I wouldn't go so far as to say "like" or "trust", so I'll stick with "dislike less".

I think it has a lot to do with regulation. I know the health system in Taiwan is imperfect, but it's about ten kachillion times better than the travesty of a "system" in the USA. Don't even bother arguing with me on this, I have a mother who is facing cancer that is not going to go away, and the possibility of losing her company-backed health insurance and very few options after that, so seriously, do not even start. I will tear you to shreds.

Here, we have our imperfect-but-wonderful national health insurance, and a heavy hand in regulating drug prices. I don't agree with some of the laws: the idea that doctors are forced to give certain medications first and others can only be tried later, and that some can't be tried until certain symptoms or issues occur or criteria are met, ties doctors' hands unfairly: it takes away from them what should be their expert judgment regarding what would be best for the patient and puts it in the hands of people who can't necessarily make that call: either because they're bureaucrats, not doctors, or because even if they are doctors, they're not there with that individual patient assessing that patient's needs.

The price regulations, however, I support completely. A dearth of price regulation in the USA has brought unconscionable drug prices for things people need - seriously, it's not like you have a choice sometimes, so supply and demand doesn't apply - prices people can't afford and insurance companies don't want to pay. Regulations in Taiwan have kept most prices for the same drugs at reasonable levels.

You can argue this hurts the company, and many who work in pharmaceuticals in Taiwan would agree, but the fact is that those companies are still in Taiwan, still making a profit and still see being in the Taiwanese market as something worth doing. The price controls haven't scared them away. If it were truly unbearable, companies would pull their products and shutter their offices and Taiwan would be SOL. That hasn't happened.

Those same people in the industry, while they might tell you that the price controls are an issue, would generally not argue that there shouldn't be any regulation or any cost control. In my experience (and I have a lot of experience talking to people in many different firms), while they'd like more freedom, they'd agree that keeping drugs affordable is important, and that wouldn't be lip service: they mean it. They wouldn't say it the way a PR schlub for Big Pharma back home would rattle it off a press release and then look the other way as "reasonable prices" became "$1000+ for what should be a $30 compound".

Even if they would - business is business & all - the regulations are there, and it keeps things reasonable. Not perfect, but reasonable. People get their medicine, companies make a profit, and it becomes an industry that does not inspire so much hatred and animosity. Everybody wins.

So what is all this anti-regulation hullaballoo back home? Phooey.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Computer Xiaojie CTRL+ALT+DELETE

Worth reading not just for general interest, but for the super classy tweet from ASUS at Computex 2012.

As Jezebel says...stay classy, ASUS.

So for every Cher Wang (HTC's chairperson, although it's not like she built an empire from nothing) we have some of these wankers.

The link to the original tweet no longer works - the tweet, as best I can determine, was removed. Still, the underlying thought process that led someone to believe it was an acceptable thing to say publicly makes me sad, and proves how sexist the industry really is. Most industries, in fact.

I mean, I do have the occasional uncomfortable laugh at the whole "Computer Xiaojie" thing that goes on at Computex and similar expos, but deep down I do wish it would stop. Not that I think it's going to - it's widely gossiped that Computex's revenues are pushed up a fair amount by all the attendees who come to gawk at the Computer Xiaojies and might only incidentally actually buy something, and it's notoriously hard to get rid of this kind of objectification. If you even say you'd like it to end, you get labeled a screaming sexless harridan when really, you'd like to see a world where women were worth more than their bodies, and women were seen as potential engineers, not potential sex objects that can push the goods (their own or whatever they're modeling for). Oh, perish the thought!

I'd like to see a world where it's more attractive to a woman to sign up for programming class than a stunt as a Computer Xiaojie (because, yes, these women do sign up for the gig and nobody's forcing them), because she values her brain more than her sexuality - because she lives in a society that does the same. Even if she is gorgeous.

There's an interesting comment-and-response about this on the article linked to above:

I know this is a woman's blog, but are you really complaining about booth babes? It's not like they were forced to do it. Haven't we always sexualized the opposite gender to sell things? It's not like the entertainment and clothing industry never does that with men.
promoted by ad infinitum

And the response:

A) Men's bodies are not, nor have they ever been, commodified anywhere the same degree women's are. That's a ridiculous assertion that doesn't pass the sniff test.

B) The use of booth babes is sexist and othering to women in tech (emphasis mine), which is the kind of thing Jezebel talks about. I realize that since that has no effect on you, it's very hard for you to see how it could matter to anyone, but that's actually why blogs like Jezebel are important--there aren't a lot of places, online or off, where problems that primarily or purely affect women are taken seriously. In most places, they're just mocked and discounted exactly as you did here. If you'd prefer to see women's issues mocked and discounted, you have almost the entire internet for that. Bitching because you choose to hang out at one of the few sites where that doesn't automatically happen is some seriously childish bullshit.
One of my students as at Computex right now, staffing his company's exhibition booth. I wanted to Facebook back "haha, hope you're enjoying the xiaojies" before thinking "wait, no, it seems innocent and all in good fun but actually that's totally buying into the patriarchy, oh noes". So I said nothing.

And that's just it - I'm not anti-enjoyment of looks. I'm not against men admiring beautiful women. Heck, I admire attractive men. It's more that this sort of commodification of cute sends a message to the men in the industry: that women are objects, that their main asset is looks, and therefore that they aren't to be taken seriously as colleagues and innovators. Then, less women get hired because women aren't encouraged to be the innovators, and the men spend less time around successful women (while still spending time around the Computer Xiaojies), and that's the view of women that they get, and the cycle repeats.

I have the same issue with entertaining for business by going out to special service KTV, hostess bars or places where women wear skimpy clothes (or no clothes) or are "for hire" - it creates an environment where that's how the men there see all women, and therefore it's harder to take female colleagues seriously - and harder for female colleagues to get ahead because they can't entertain clients in the same way.

That's what I have a problem with - not with the admiration of good looks or women using them to some degree. If I had good looks I'd use 'em too. I don't - I have brains, so I use those - but even if I were gorgeous I wouldn't be a Computer Xiaojie.

Working in the science park as often as I do, I can attest to the huge gender imbalance in the tech industry here - there are women who work in the park, but they tend to be office girls and HR, not techies (although those do exist). In the many classes I've taught at major companies there and in the Hukou Industrial Park, as well as Wugu, Huaya, Tainan (don't recall the official name of that one) and Tucheng parks, I can say that most of them are 100% male, and the few that have women have one woman out of 4, 6, 10, 12 or 16 students. In just one class do I notably have two women. That's remarkable enough that I took notice.

The upside is that the women I've taught, as few as they are, have all been engineers of some stripe. The downside is not only that there are so few of them, but that when I do take on these classes, the HR reps and office workers I deal with in the initial stages are usually women, working long hours for less pay (with far less technical expertise, though). Those women aren't 'worth' the salaries that the engineers earn, which one could argue is fair (what's not fair is pushing women into these lower-value careers - and by "lower value" I mean "not as valued by society"). They don't generally get to take English classes; it's not seen as a priority (or they're expected to already speak English well, but it's clearly not seen as important enough a skill to pay them better for it).

So, what would I like to see? A world that values women in tech as more than HR support and Computer Xiaojies, and women who value themselves enough to both shoot for the moon and demand credit, and a world where my classes full of engineers have a roughly equal ratio of men and women, because the women don't feel "othered" by the whole industry. Both in the USA and here in Taiwan.

Or maybe this issue is just really close to my heart right now because I have a meeting later to day about how I'm not getting as many of the "best" seminars (the 16-hour presentation ones) as I really should, as a senior instructor and - not to brag, but it's true - one of the best instructors. I have noticed that I helped train some of the men who do get these seminars, and that there are no women doing them. I intend to say that I can't help but wonder why this is happening when they know perfectly well I am capable - and in some respects better - than the men who are getting these gigs (not going straight for the "it's sexism" jugular, heavily implying is enough), that women who take these seminars are being shortchanged by never seeing female role models in presenting, and that with permanent residency coming up soon, they can do what they want and stay on course if they like, but I have noticed, I'm not stupid, and this will be one of the major factors that will influence my decision on where my best opportunities lie. Again, I don't need to say "stop the bullshit or your most senior instructor who consistently gets the best feedback and the highest renewal volume is going to quit". It merely needs to be implied.

So, anyway, that's my dirty lens. Down with the patriarchy.