Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A rare restaurant review: mik'sutras / MIK-6

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mik'sutras/MIK-6
#1 Songjiang Road (on the corner of Weishui Street)
Zhongshan District
Taipei, Taiwan

台灣台北市
中山區
松江路1-1號 (松江渭水路口)

I don't do a lot of restaurant reviews anymore, but one thing I do intend to keep doing is updating my big post on Indian food in Taipei, and reviewing Indian restaurants as I visit them.

So, I'm happy to write about my first visit to mik'sutras, the 6th business from the always fantastic Mayur Indian Kitchen. It's just to the east of Songjiang Road (松江路), actually on the corner of Weishui (渭水) street with the storefront on Weishui, very near the other Mayur (I think the 2nd one?) near the electronics market.

mik'sutras has more of a bar or club feel, but with restaurant seating. They have a full curry menu - and the curries are great as always - but not the South Indian dishes you can get elsewhere. Eventually, they'll focus more on regional snacks and chaats. They have two gorgeous ovens that are visible to the dining area, and a selection of shisha flavors served in beautiful hookahs (prices vary depending on what you order, with unusual or higher-quality flavors costing more). There is live music and occasional live dancing and performances.

Think of it as a cross between a restaurant and hookah lounge with more of a party atmosphere.

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We decided to go there for my birthday, on a Sunday night. It wasn't particularly smoky, but Sunday is a quiet night for any venue, and I would imagine on nights with many hookah smokers it would be more noticeable.

The food was fantastic as always, and they did a great job catering for a large group (we were about 16). We each ordered whatever we wanted and then shared it, with rice and bread for the table - really the only way to do an Indian meal with that large a group. I ordered pork vindaloo, one of my favorite dishes but which is almost impossible to get in Taipei (I often make my own) because the owners of many Indian restaurants are Muslim. Which is fine, I get it, but it means no authentic Goan pork vindaloo for me (the best and most typical vindaloo is generally made with pork - the way the flavor of that particular meat work with the vinegar and spices does matter). It was amazing - fiery but flavorful, not just overpowering heat. I won't lie, I got a little chili high eating it.

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Afterwards, those who wanted to smoke did, and we got one of the more expensive mint shishas, served in a gorgeous clear hookah filled with icy water. As people headed out, the last few of us sat around talking, smoking and drinking - it was just a great party, with a low-key end on Sunday night.

I'm not really a smoker, but shisha once a year or so I think is a perfectly acceptable indulgence. I wouldn't make a habit of it and I will never smoke cigarettes (ew!) but I've spent enough time in the Arab-influenced countries of the Mediterranean to enjoy one on occasion.

What a stark contrast to the last time I went to a hookah bar in Taiwan, where the hookah was fine, and the drinks were good and strong, but they charged me for 3 martinis when I'd only had 2 and I didn't notice until the next day (and which I think was deliberate but I can't prove it). They went out of business awhile ago and I say good riddance.

Overall I had a fantastic birthday party - Indian food, hookah, chocolate cake, passionfruit cream puffs, and some friends bought me a copy of Formosa Betrayed which couldn't be a more perfect gift for this particular bookworm!

There are other hookah bars in Taipei now - such as 1000 Nights - but frankly, if you want a good Indian meal and a hookah, mik'sutras is the place for you.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

On China's event horizon and screaming into the void

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

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

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

What I want to say is this:

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

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

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

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

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

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The question is, visibility to whom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did it to send a strong message to Taiwan. 

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Red Tide: Taiwan, education and Western liberals

I had lots of great pictures from this protest, and lost all of them. A shame. So I've stolen this from Wikicommons like a scrub and I'm not even sorry. 


On October 10th, 2006, I was sitting in a Starbucks across the street from Taipei Main Station watching an angry wave of red roll by.

I had arrived in Taiwan just one month before, knowing next to nothing about Taiwan but thinking, as young graduates often do, that I knew quite a bit. It went something like this: there were two main parties in the "Republic of China" - the KMT, which I knew about, and the other one, which I didn't. The KMT had been the republicans-in-the-lower-case-sense who had fled from China, establishing themselves in the last vestige of "Free China", which was Taiwan. I hadn't known what Taiwan had been before that, so I assumed it had been Chinese. That must have been accurate, my subconscious surmised, because nobody had corrected me. The KMT had helped to develop the island into an industrialized and prosperous nation, eventually granting the people democracy. About a third of Taiwanese supported "reunification", a third independence, and a third were undecided. The language of Taiwan was Mandarin Chinese, and the people were Chinese. Chiang Kai-shek had been "corrupt", which was unfortunate, but he was much better than Mao Zedong. Because they had fled China, the KMT obviously did not support "reunification", which even then I did not think was a good idea. I didn't know about the other party. The current president was Chen Shui-bian, who was that other party, and who was pretty bad because he'd stolen some money, so the protesters were probably right. I knew that cross-Strait relations was "a complex issue" but ultimately, as the people of Taiwan had no consensus despite having democratized and having no other impediment, the current status quo was in everyone's best interest.

Pretty clear, right? Wow, I sure did know a lot! Practically a PhD-level expert, that was me. Just hand me my diploma.

I considered myself a good liberal: educated, well-traveled, thoughtful, engaged - a reader, talker and thinker. I cared about egalitarianism, justice, freedom and democracy, and simply doing the right thing even if it is to your detriment. I considered myself open-minded. I was secure both in my liberalism and my opinions and knowledge on Taiwan.

After all, this is what I had been taught. This was the entirety of the history of Taiwan that I had learned in my high school Social Studies class, crammed in at the end of a long unit on China. This was the version of history I defended to my teenage students in China when the subject came up. Nobody mentioned Taiwan in college, even though I'd studied International Affairs with a concentration in Asia. My main focus was South Asia, but that was still no excuse. I hadn't thought anything of it at the time, because it hadn't occurred to me that it might be important.

I had taken one course focusing on China in college - Chinese Culture Through Film. The professor was a lovely woman who had studied in Taiwan, but "had actually wanted to go to the Mainland". At the time, China had been closed to visitors, but she "had a Mao suit" that she "wore all the time", and thought of her professors in Taiwan as "doughy, soft capitalists."

While there might have been a thread of bitter irony in there, a knowledge that her earlier belief in the greatness of Mao's socialism had been misguided - to put it kindly - I hadn't picked up on it. I hadn't been to China yet but I felt a wave of sympathy for this viewpoint, because I assumed, being the larger country, that China was "more interesting" and Taiwan a backwater - of course someone would prefer to go to China.

This was what I knew about Taiwan. Therefore, this was all there was to know about Taiwan.

I'd come primarily because, after a lackluster year in China, I thought I'd give the place a try. I figured I'd probably leave in 2-3 years.

So I sat there as an incoming tide of vermilion-shirted marchers engulfed the street, flooding in to the Starbucks, banging drums, shouting for the president to step down, and generally making much merrier than you'd expect at an American protest.

The person I'd planned to meet so we could check out the action together didn't show, so I talked to a few other people there: protesters and regular coffee-drinkers alike about the Red Shirts and Taiwan in general. I don't remember many of the details of that conversation, but I do remember thinking that nothing I was told fit with the paradigm of Taiwanese affairs I'd believed. So these guys were KMT? No, not all of them, but most. So they were the other party? Some of them. So, if Chen's the bad guy, his party is the problematic one, yes? Hmm - in some ways, but not others. If the KMT gave Taiwan democracy, why does he hate them so much? Well...

Why do they hate him?
Well...

Wait, so these protesters support "reunification"?
No. Not necessarily. Actually, probably not.

That's the other party?
DEFINITELY not.

It wasn't just a different perspective - it didn't have a place at all. It was like trying to run an iPhone app on an old HTC. It made as much sense as coffee with salt or English on a night market t-shirt when one speaks coherent English.

Later, as I picked my way through the vermilion detritus washed up on the sidewalks - little did I know that protesters diligently cleaning up after themselves would become a feature of future Taiwanese social movements, the leaders of which were still in high school or starting college in 2006 - I thought one thing:

I didn't know much about Taiwan at all, and it was time I started really learning.

My name is Jenna Cody. I am a Typical American Liberal, and that is my origin story.

* * *

It's 2017 now. I still read quite a bit on Taiwan. I differ from the typical American liberal in that I've lived abroad for most of my adult life, and in that I am deeply pro-Taiwan: almost everything I thought I knew when I first arrived I have either found to be wrong, partially wrong, or far more complicated than it at first seemed. What might have been correct is now hopelessly out-of-date.

While not anti-China, I see no good argument for trusting the Communists, nor any argument for "unification" when the Taiwanese clearly don't want it, and generally don't identify primarily as Chinese at all. I hang with cool people - real, bona fide experts, advocates and activists - who know things. I've learned a lot, though I wouldn't call myself an expert.

Most Taiwan supporters I know here are liberals by American standards, although our most visible influential allies in the US are conservatives, often right-wing ones at that. This bothers me for a few reasons, the first of which being that the future of Taiwan is a fundamentally progressive one. How could it be otherwise when Taiwan, to cite just one example, will be the first country in Asia to implement marriage equality? I am not sure that social conservatives are the best allies to a country which, on many (though not all) important issues, would be more likely to side with the American left. Beyond that, I worry that their support of Taiwan is more often than not related more to a fear or dislike of China than any real pro-Taiwan sentiment. And, of course, the very idea of preserving the sovereignty of a self-ruled free democracy is fundamentally liberal.

I am not the first to wonder why it is that the American right has taken up the Taiwan cause, whereas the average American liberal, if they take note of the issue at all, either doesn't think it is particularly important or is more actively pro-China than you'd expect.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that in the pro-Taiwan community, how to talk to American liberals about Taiwan is a core issue. Many of us are mystified as to why a pro-Taiwan stance is not immediately recognized as a liberal one: a sovereign nation, a vibrant and engaged democracy in which civil discourse is taken seriously, freedom of expression, national health insurance and recycling as much as possible are so normal that they're taken for granted, human rights are considered fundamental and both women's and LGBT rights have made great strides, the people are committed to peace and think of the US as an important ally rather than a hegemonic threat.

Taiwan is not perfect, but how is this not every liberal's dream?

Not only is Taiwan democratic and free, but it is standing up against everything liberals hate. Just over a hundred miles away, a brutal authoritarian regime regularly violates human rights, torturing and murdering its own people, restricting basic freedoms and acting increasingly expansionist - both in terms of territorial grabbiness, but also intellectually, trying to control the marketplace of ideas not only at home, but abroad.

Every single day - I cannot say this enough - the Taiwanese people wake up and go about their lives, building their country and making it better, refusing to give up or give in, despite a catastrophe-creating number of missiles pointed right at them. And not only do they refuse to surrender their land and their freedom, but they are committed to solving the problem peacefully. This is the very definition of not only liberalism, but also courage. This is probably the single most heart-rending reason why I stay: I could make more money elsewhere, but I believe in Taiwan.

And yet, for whatever reason, liberals who balk at Russia's expansionism and (now, at least) sympathize with the Palestinians couldn't care less about Taiwan. It makes no difference to them that the thickest, richest, freest democracy in Asia is in real danger of being swallowed up by one of the most horrific dictatorships of our lifetime.

I am not the first person to observe this: both Ketagalan Media and J. Michael Cole have covered this issue extensively.

However, nobody yet seems to have publicly asked the question that could lead to an answer:

Why?

Why don't liberals care about Taiwan - or worse, why are some actively anti-Taiwan? Why is the best writing on Taiwan often found in conservative news sources, and why do liberals start explaining away their apathy whenever Taiwan is brought up?

If we are going to solve the issue of how to talk to American liberals about Taiwan, first we need to know why they don't care to begin with.

I am not an expert, and I don't claim to have a final answer. I can, however, start the conversation. Once we know why, we can formulate solutions.

I tried to write this in a longer post and got bogged down in how much there was to say, so I've decided to split it up into several posts, and I honestly have no idea when it will be finished.

For now, I want to talk about one of the roots of the problem: education.

It isn't surprising that the average Westerner either doesn't care or has inaccurate knowledge about Taiwan when what they are taught is essentially a condensed version of tired KMT talking points. Although my own teacher was careful to note that Chiang Kai-shek was no saint, the KMT as a whole comes out looking rather spiffy in this whole narrative.

It's also not shocking that people assume that China is speaking the truth when they say that annexing China is "reunification" if one's education only covers Taiwan post-1949, heavily implying that before that date, Taiwan and China had always been united. It borders on a lie of omission, and I'd make a solid bet that the average high school Social Studies teacher (and perhaps a few professors who didn't study the region) actually believes that this was the case, or simply hasn't considered the issue long enough to know that it is an issue at all.

It's easy to think that the two sides both see themselves as "China" when that's how it is taught. To be fair, it was the official view of the two governments for some time - the issue is that the few sentences it would take to point out that the official position of the Republic of China does not reflect the view of the people aren't added to this. It's not a big leap to make the argument that nothing can change because both countries use "China" in their official name, and to therefore think that "reunification" either wouldn't be so bad, or that accomplishing it peacefully is possible.

All sorts of nebulous beliefs might form from the mind of a well-meaning liberal with this kind of education: that there was a meaningful "split" in 1949, and that that split was between "Taiwan and China" rather than "the PRC and the ROC". That the KMT is doing the right thing by pursuing closer ties, because after all they brought about successful democratization in Taiwan. That the DPP, considering this history, are the real "troublemakers" by being so "anti-China" (if one even knows who they are). That "one country two systems" is a strong and workable solution.

And most insidiously, that the Taiwanese, being "from China", speaking Chinese, having "the same history" as China and considering themselves "Chinese" would happily "reunite" with China if only China would liberalize and democratize. The very idea that this will never happen and no amount of liberalization on the part of China will change Taiwan's desire for de jure sovereignty, that there was never and will never be a "One China"  that includes Taiwan, is nearly heresy after a curriculum that hits these points.

If you believe that, then it's easy to jump to believing that the US not only has no moral obligation to stand by Taiwan, but that in fact should actively stand down. That it's better for everyone involved - including the Taiwanese if they are considered at all - if "reunification" happens.

So, perhaps as an adult with such an education, you read about the Tsai-Trump phone call. You are predisposed to thinking the party that "advocates independence" is a troublemaker, and as a good liberal you hate Trump, so of course you are upset. Of course Taiwan is the problem.

You might read about Tsai refusing to acknowledge the "1992 Consensus", which the reporter treats as a real consensus that was made and is valid. Being a good, educated liberal, you Google it to find out what it is. As you've always believed that the two sides considered themselves "China", it's not hard to believe that of course they'd agree on "One China", perhaps "with different interpretations." Through that lens, Tsai's refusal to acknowledge this looks like troublemaking rather than an attempt to correct the narrative.

You certainly don't question what you read in the media, because the media hits all of the points that match up with what you've been taught. This confirmation strikes you as plausible and persuasive. As a good liberal, you tend to believe what people say if it lines up with your education. Insisting that the world is different from what teachers teach and textbooks say - and the media you trust confirms - makes you sound like...my god, a right-winger or worse, a Trump supporter. Heavens no!

Let's take this further - not only is the average liberal reader the beneficiary of this kind of education, if they even got that much, but the reporters who wrote the story were too. They can't write better articles, because they genuinely don't know better. They check their facts perhaps with a think tank or simply looking it up, and come across other references to things like "the 1992 Consensus", again from people who don't necessarily know the whole story themselves. The information validates itself in a feedback loop of inaccuracy that nevertheless comforts everyone in it, from teacher to reporter to reader.

Of course, mileage varies. I have friends who have no connection to Taiwan beyond me who know a fair amount about the issue - they're perhaps aware of the web of assurances and communiques that the decaying shanty that is today's US foreign policy on Taiwan is glued together with. Even they tend not to see why the status quo is a long-term problem for Taiwan, or why "economic cooperation" with China is never only economic cooperation.  On the other end, I've met well-meaning educated liberals who genuinely did not think Taiwan was democratic, or even believed that it was already part of China, in a similar position as Hong Kong.

I realize that I'm speaking from experiences I had in school in the 1990s and early 2000s, but honestly, to hear young Westerners today, I'm not sure much has changed.

I know that Taiwan is not likely to get more time in Western educational curricula, but perhaps it doesn't need it, especially in high school. In my school, we spent about as much time on it as we did Australia, and perhaps more than we did on New Zealand. Australia and Taiwan have a similar population, so that's all that can be expected.

However, the time it is given really must be better used. Unwittingly treating Taiwan like nothing more an extension of the KMT regime, before which nothing that happened there mattered, heavily implying that it has always been Chinese is simply not good enough, and is a huge part of why we struggle to gain liberal support now.

It seems simple to say that teachers simply need to teach the truth - a mention of aboriginal settlement, the truth of Qing colonialism, Japanese colonialism (that in my education this was skipped over completely astounds me even today), a bit more time exploring KMT brutality in Taiwan, and a bit less on China's views of Taiwan which can honestly be summed up in one sentence. A few minutes explaining that the current status of Taiwan under international law is undetermined, and what the US's actual Taiwan policy is. A treatment of the views of the people of Taiwan that...well, that take into account their views at all to begin with, and is also accurate. Not using the term "reunification". Making it clear that the Taiwanese are so against unification not because they're just garrulous or quarrelsome, but because their history really is unique. Less time comparing Chiang to Mao, and more on these other issues. You could do it in the same timeframe.

Of course, it's not that simple. Schoolteachers are not omniscient in their subjects. History or Social Studies teachers won't necessarily know these details themselves, and we honestly can't expect that they will. I would probably make an excellent history or Social Studies teacher, and I don't pretend to be an expert in every territorial conflict around the world. I'm not nearly an expert in Abkhazia or South Ossetia - though I can tell you some - and I have been to Georgia. Recently. 
In universities, however, we really do have to do better. We have to stop assuming that someone studying China is equally qualified to teach or talk about Taiwan. Professors who teach Taiwan-related topics should know what they're talking about. We absolutely must fight Chinese influence in non-Chinese institutions of higher education. This is absolutely not too much to ask. Universities can and must do better.

This must go hand-in-hand with looking squarely in the face of what the Chinese government is and how it operates, and teaching that truth. No more tiptoeing around out of fear of being called "racist" (racism, while a real problem, is not the problem here), no more downplaying Chinese human rights abuses and propaganda and other United Front efforts abroad, making the place seem like a liberal's wet dream of socialism, "ethnic food" and adorable pandas. We can't tell the truth about Taiwan until we tell the truth about China.

With China actively trying to peddle its version of history in Western institutions of higher education, this problem is especially intractable. They're pushing their own red tide on the world, and the problem is, people are swallowing it. How are we to target CPD or the textbooks and other materials when the major textbook manufacturers probably aren't that interested (and themselves may have received just this education), and there is a lobby of pro-China activists who will fight us at every turn and - because those listening to our debate also received this education - are just as likely to think we're the zealots and nutjobs with a weak grasp of the facts, not them.

There are other things we can do, however. Right now, a typical liberal belief is that unity is always better, and that 'nationalism' is generally undesirable. Even too much patriotism is viewed with a bit of suspicion - frankly, rightly so. Nationalism is often assumed to be ethnic nationalism - always a bad thing (and yes, I happen to agree with this) and complexity in the debate of unity vs. separation is often ignored. The idea that one might desire sovereignty for one's nation without it being about ethnicity - which, in Taiwan's case, it isn't - doesn't get much play in educational institutions, and the idea that more unity is not always in everyone's best interest (especially when one of the actors in the scenario has insidious intentions or is blatantly expansionist, as China does and is) is given none at all. Even the idea that the United Nations might be failing in some regards doesn't seem to be a point of discussion in the average classroom.

If we can flip on its head the liberal assumptions that unity is always the best decision for all involved, and that nationalism is inherently ethnic and therefore bad, we might just get enough people thinking about Taiwan in a different way, which could lead to a bigger change.

Maybe I'm hopelessly optimistic, but I have to think something will work.

Looking back on the journey I took from thinking I knew everything to actually knowing some things and knowing that there is so much more I have to learn, I realize that it didn't just come. I had to dig. If all I'd done was read media I trusted and compare that against Wikipedia and the education I'd received, I'd still be here defending, say, the KMT's development policy as the real force behind the Taiwan Miracle (hey, some poorly-informed people still do. Even when they're in graduate school). I might still think the 1992 Consensus was a real thing that had been agreed upon. I might accept without question that Taiwan was fully a part of China for the entirety of the Qing dynasty's possession of it, which I might still assume entailed controlling the entire island.

Occasionally, someone will assume that I was 'indoctrinated' into being so staunchly pro-independence through having 'the wrong kind' of friends. In fact, I came to this on my own after a fair amount of reading and simply living here, seeing for myself what Taiwan was about. I keep the company I do because of the way my beliefs have evolved, not the other way around.

Once or twice, it has been insinuated that I feel this way because "anti-China", "China-hating" or "sinophobe" forces in the West use Western educational curricula to inculcate a fear of China into students like me (I can't think of anything more ridiculous - if anything, Western education is too lenient on modern China and mostly wrong about Taiwan).

In fact, I'd say that if someone had the experience I did, sitting in that Starbucks watching a scarlet tsunami of something they could not at all fit into their pre-set notion of what the world was like, and they'd set out to do something about that, they'd probably end up in more or less the same place I have. Especially if they stuck around.

Really learning about this topic is difficult, not only because Taiwan isn't on the radar of most Westerners, but because both China and the KMT are actively trying to muddy the waters, making clear truths more controversial than they ever needed to be, so that even a reader like me can be accused of having been "brainwashed".

I got out of this miasma of inaccurate learning by living here and really digging. The average Western liberal will never live here, or even visit. While they have the critical tools to dig, they probably won't, not because they refuse to think but because they never even realized there was something to dig for - and, frankly, nobody has the time to be well-read in everything. I can't expect of others what I cannot accomplish myself regarding other parts of the world.

Even if someone does dig, there is so much inaccurate information out there that, after awhile, even the most well-meaning person might start to believe it. That's where fighting inaccuracy in media reporting comes in, which will be the subject of my next post on this topic - whenever that is.

Friday, September 15, 2017

China is unforgivably two-faced when it comes to Lee Ming-che, Taiwan and the world

Earlier this year, I was on my way to Exeter via London, staying with friends who live in the area. We were hanging out around the dining table, with their 1-year-old son sitting at the narrow end.

He was doing what 1-year-olds often do, that is to day, whimpering and unhappily yapping at his parents, throwing his food around and making a bit of a mess. You couldn't even get mad - he's one. That's what they do - they lack the self-control to do better.

But then he turned his head to look at me, put on his most charming smile and giggled at me with sparkling eyes, like the sweetest boy who ever was.

He either didn't realize or didn't care that I had been sitting there the whole time and had seen exactly how he'd been acting toward his parents.

This story is relevant to Taiwan-China relations and the Lee Ming-che case in particular. Why?

Well, I've written it up here, in my first article for Ketagalan Media. Have a look!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

I am rather happy with this low-hanging fruit



Here are some of the really great (and necessary) things included in a bill being currently reviewed by the Legislative Yuan that will expand rights and opportunities for foreign professionals:

- Internship opportunities from recent graduates of "Top 500" universities
- A one-year job-seeking visa for foreign professionals
- A one-to-five year (depending on field) renewable visa/work permit bundle for foreign professionals that, after 5 years, confers APRC eligibility
- Tax breaks for people who are already high earners (meh)
- Foreign professional participation in pension programs
- APRC eligibility for the children and spouses of APRC holders
- Work rights for adult children of APRC holders with over 10 years of residency in Taiwan
- One-year visitation rights for parents of foreign white-collar workers

You won't find me spewing much invective for once - this is actually pretty good.

To be clear, at least one of these new perks is unnecessary: I see no reason to give major tax breaks to high earners who would presumably already enjoy a high standard of living in Taiwan. I am also not sure if "attracting more foreigners" is the best way to combat brain drain. Maybe try paying your own citizens competitively and providing them with enticing working conditions? Hmm?

Let's start with the good stuff first for once, however, before diving into the problems.

This is exactly the right way to go for the children of APRC holders. I dream someday of a Taiwan where they would have a path to citizenship (if not birthright citizenship, but even a pathway is something). I have a friend who was born here, whose home country and home culture are Taiwan, and yet who is not considered 'Taiwanese' because he doesn't have the ancestry. Of course he is Taiwanese, and the laws are unjust. He had to return to Canada for years before coming back here, on the same visa I held for years as someone with no prior connection to Taiwan. That's not right.

I have more than one friend who has had children in Taiwan. The older ones often leave, and those with young children worry about what their offspring will do when they come of age, if their native country is still saying "you are not from here and are not welcome here".

They need this. This is important. Every foreign worker thinking of staying long enough to have kids and raise them here absolutely needs this, and as a long-term expat myself, I know quite a few of them (as a married woman, although we intend to remain child-free, it would still be good to know our hypothetical children may fare better).

It is unclear of the adult offspring of APRC holders with over 10 years' residency must have lived here within a certain time frame - that is, whether or not my friend would quality, however. This ought to be clarified.

The work-seeking visa is also a big deal - I can't tell you how many people have taken jobs they don't want simply because they were worried about their visa. I can't tell you how many people had a few weeks or months of technically working illegally because the only way to get work here is to come on a tourist visa and then transition to a work visa, which takes time (this is technically illegal but the current regulations left most of us with little choice). This is truly an important step in ensuring that foreign professionals are able to come here without resorting to legal gray areas just to make it work.

The working rights are also a big deal, not only for children of APRC holders who would, one assumes, also be likely to have APRCs if they're old enough to work yet still dependents, but for spouses. A lot of - probably the majority of - spouses of foreign workers are wives whose husbands work - not allowing them to work essentially promotes gender role segregation that is entirely unjust in the 21st century.

And, finally, the one that might affect me: the pension scheme participation. I've said that the two main things keeping me from staying in Taiwan for the rest of my life on an APRC rather than as a citizen are, first, the inability to buy an apartment. I intend to work until I physically/mentally can't anymore - I actually like my job, after all - but where am I supposed to live when I'm too old to earn money and have no income? In my generation retirement savings that will last for the entirety of one's golden years is a pipe dream, although we do have savings. Paying rent is not really an option. What's more, it isn't particularly easy for the elderly to rent apartments in Taiwan. So how does an elderly non-homeowner without Taiwanese children stay here?

The second is pensions. Eventually I'll want to transition from the freelance work I currently enjoy to a more academic position. In, say, Canada (where my husband was born and therefore where we can live) that would generally come with a pension scheme. In Taiwan it does too...for locals or those married to locals. I am neither. I don't see, however, how I can stay when I might never be eligible for something I could get almost anywhere else I can legally live. So this really matters to me.

But, of course, the bill's provisions are not perfect. This wouldn't be Lao Ren Cha if I didn't complain.

I am not going to complain about money. Taiwan's wage stagnation is well-known. We all know that everyone, Taiwanese included, needs to be earning more. There's no reason to go into it further. Of course it's a problem.

Regarding things I do want to explore, it is unclear if the "foreign professionals" eligible for an employment card need the requisite "two years of experience in a related field or a Master's degree" to apply. A lot of people I know came to Taiwan before they had these things, and yet became valuable and contributing members of society here. Or, they had two years' work experience, but in a field they were hoping to get out of, not stay in (this was the case with me and my 2 years' experience in finance - a field I was desperate to leave). People often move abroad hoping to change careers, not necessarily continue them. That doesn't mean they aren't worth having in Taiwan.

I am also wary of the "Top 500 universities" rule. I understand why they are trying to implement it - they want some measure of 'prestige' for the people coming in - but leaving aside the impossibility of truly deciding which universities are in the "Top 500", what you are essentially doing is discriminating against those who weren't born into relative wealth.

On a First World scale, that means, had I not taken out heaps of loans (along with a scholarship and some family help) to go to my rather good private university in the US, my 'affordable' choice was State University of New York - and the one nearest my hometown is not one of the SUNY schools that is on this measure of world rankings. That would have meant that sound financial decisions - hey, I'm still paying off that student loan - as someone from a middle-class family that sometimes struggled would have rendered me potentially ineligible, for having gone to a perfectly okay and affordable school.

On a Third World scale, it discriminates, well, pretty indiscriminately. If you are from India, you would have had to have gone to an IIT - to be the best of the best - whereas in the US you could have gone to a better-than-SUNY-New Paltz state school and you'd be basically okay. For those from Southeast Asia, I couldn't find any universities outside of Singapore that would meet the requirements (Chulalongkorn University, for example, is ranked in the 600s).

It essentially says "Westerners welcome, the rest of the world not so much." Not quite "we don't want brown people" (plenty of Westerners are people of color) but pretty damn close.

A lot of my liberal Taiwanese friends say that while they have reservations about foreign blue-collar labor, they welcome foreign white-collar labor from around the world. This bill still discriminates against exactly those people. And how, if Taiwan's goal is greater links with Southeast Asia, is this going to further it, when most educated Southeast Asians would be essentially barred from the program?

And, of course, these goodies are only for white-collar workers. Our blue-collar foreign worker brothers and sisters are, as usual, left out and given the worst possible living and working opportunities in the country. They are basically being told "you can work here in a factory or as a maid, but while those wealthy Westerners can bring family here and even get them APRCs, you should leave your family in Vietnam/Indonesia/Thailand/the Philippines. They can have their parents visit for up to a year, but not you. You are lesser."

How is that fair?

And, of course, there are a few big things missing. I don't know what to do about mortgage discrimination as that's not a legal issue but rather an issue of banks being, well, unfairly discriminatory. However, it must be dealt with if we are to stay.

Another is that a one-year parent visa is perhaps insufficient. I don't intend to bring my father here to live - and in any case he's not elderly yet - but I know foreigners who are considering bringing their elderly parents here to care for them rather than moving back to the country of their birth. There is currently no visa for a stay of such indeterminate length.

There also seems to be a lack of a retirement visa. If a pathway to citizenship (or some other solution to everything keeping me from permanently committing to Taiwan as I would like to do) doesn't open up for us, we will likely leave simply out of necessity. However, I do want to live out my days in Taiwan - perhaps selling whatever property I may have bought abroad to buy a small apartment for us outright here. By then, however, we will have lost our APRCs. How are we to come back if there is no way to do so as retirees?

And, of course, we need a path to dual nationality - but we've been over that.

However, all of these issues aside, I am happy with this progress. I am especially excited for my friends with children in Taiwan who really deserve better for their Taiwan-born offspring than seeing them kicked out in their 20s. I'm happy for friends who may finally be free to search for a job without jumping through all sorts of sketchy legal loopholes.

A lot of these gimmes are low-hanging fruit, of course. I don't know any Taiwanese who would oppose allowing foreign professionals to have parents visit long-term, for example, or who would prefer that they come here and transition to work quasi-legally. I don't know any who think that children born in Taiwan should be forced to leave at age 20-26, and in fact, very few are aware this is even a problem.

So these are easy gifts - everything it takes very little effort to pluck off the legislative tree.

But you know what? I'll take it.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Taiwanese premier Lin Chuan resigns amid Earth orbiting Sun


TAIPEI, THE FULLY INDEPENDENT DEMOCRATIC NATION OF TAIWAN, MOFOS — Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen appointed a new premier seen as willing to live within the rules of the physical universe amid planets moving in their correct and predicted orbit and everything being normal in the universe. 

"This was a planned transfer of power between Premier Lin, whose position had always been temporary, as was known by everyone involved, including Lin himself," noted President Tsai. "Seriously, if you pay any attention to Taiwan at all you would know that. Come on guys."

President Tsai Ing-wen named Tainan mayor Lai Ching-te as the new premier. As everyone who pays attention has always known would happen, Lin had asked  to leave the post before local elections next year due to a professed and well-known desire to avoid electoral politics.

Amid this entirely predicted, and in fact planned, change, gravity continues to work as it always has. Things that can be known simply by being engaged in Taiwanese current affairs were, as usual, known.

Since taking office in 2016, Taiwan's behemoth neighbor, China, has been aggressive and demanding vis-a-vis cross-Strait relations, used the well-worn rules of checkbook diplomacy to take two of Taiwan's largely symbolic diplomatic allies and largely acted petulant and childish.

In other words, the sky is blue, the sun shines, the rivers flow and the spheres are in alignment. 

Although President Tsai faces challenges both domestically and internationally, including her democratic island nation being situated next to a large, problem-causing nation intent on annexing Taiwan abroad, as well as issues regarding labor, the opposition KMT and other issues at home, none of these are reflected in the transfer of power from Lin to Lai. 

"While it is newsworthy that Lin has stepped down and Lai will take his place, and Lai's future in Taiwanese politics merits substantive discussion," said noted Taiwan expert ANYONE WHO PAYS GODDAMN ATTENTION, "the truth is that relations with China have always been tense. Appointing a new premier - especially when a change in premiership had been expected from the beginning, has nothing to do with it. The premiership is a typically rocky position with many replacements - few premiers last through a president's entire term," she added.

"The only real question," Ms. PAYS GODDAMN ATTENTION added, "is why on Earth so many journalists who cover Taiwan don't pay any goddamn attention. Do major news outlets purposely hire and accept submissions from the least-informed sources? Why is almost nobody in the international media ever simply accurate, and why don't they hire someone who knows what they're talking about to write these articles?"

Taiwan analyst Fichael Furton agreed with ANYONE WHO PAYS GODDAMN ATTENTION and added, "does Tsai give Taiwan the sadz? Not really: a poll just released shows wide public support for the policies of the DPP, whatever her approval ratings. Given the unreliability of local polls, your mileage may vary... and lets not forget, the last reliable poll, from TISR, had her at 34.6% in October of 2016, perfectly normal for a Taiwan president. That means that she's been stable for almost the last year in the high twenties to mid thirties, again normal."

Questions of China's reaction to a fundamentally and openly pro-independence premier - whom it makes little sense to choose if the real issue is China - as well as Taiwan's status following some sort of split in 1949 that isn't relevant and was never about Taiwan, along with Beijing's regarding of Taiwan as a "renegade province" still hang heavy among media workers, hangers-on, China-based reporters who think they know Taiwan but don't, people who hate Taiwan but still report on it for some reason, news organizations afraid of angering Beijing, the Gell-Mann Effect and Dr. Some White Guy Who Is An Expert on China. 

"They can think that if they want," concluded Ms. PAYS GODDAMN ATTENTION. "Although it's worrisome vis-a-vis Taiwan's international image, when it comes to Taiwan itself, nobody who actually knows anything about this country cares what they think. All they are doing is making themselves look bad."
That is to say, living things follow the natural order of being born and then dying, clouds are in the sky and dirt is on the ground, plants continue to use photosynthesis to create energy, we are all going to die someday, and in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The color line is the power line: the new pro-Taiwan generation and attitudes toward foreign blue-collar labor

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From a foreign labor rights protest I attended before the Tsai administration took power


I want to start this post with a little story. Every Saturday morning I tutor one of two intelligent, thoughtful young women - sisters. Which one I teach changes periodically. They used to have a domestic worker from Indonesia, whom the whole family liked (she eventually returned). She would cook Indonesian dishes for them to try, bring them gifts from her visits home, and was generally a part of the family. I liked her a lot, too. The girls called her Auntie. They call me Jenna.

She seemed older. Her face was lightly lined, a few silver wires in her hair. I guessed that she was in her forties, both by her appearance and attitude.

One day, while the helper was in the next room, one of the girls let slip that she thought I was in my twenties. I laughed and encouraged them to guess my real age. We were sitting in the living room, and they guessed and guessed but just would not make it up to my actual age. It's not their fault: I really didn't look it. No wrinkles, no visible gray hairs, a youthful personality.

I finally spilled: I was 33.

They were both silent.

"33?" one of them finally said. "But that's Auntie's age!"

"It is?"

They called her over in Chinese and asked her age.

"33," she answered simply.

"Oh," I replied in Chinese.

"...I'm 33, too."

But the truth thumped gracelessly in the pause.

She smiled sadly. I don't know what my face did. The girls were merely surprised, and I can only think that someday in the future they will reflect on that moment.


* * *


I often hear that a sense of Hoklo nationalism (think "Taiwan for the Taiwanese") and anti-foreigner sentiment once marred past pro-Taiwan movements. And I've seen it: more than once, I've watched Southeast Asian laborers march in demonstrations demanding better worker protections, only to be ignored by the government and the Taiwanese population. I've watched demonstration, mostly by older people, holding signs saying things like "foreign workers (外勞) go home." I was worried they meant me, but was told (by way of "reassurance") that I was welcome, it was foreign blue collar (mostly Southeast Asian) labor they didn't want.

In one notorious case, the Liberty Times - that bastion of the older pan-green "left" - reported on the horrific traumas one foreign domestic worker had suffered as a rape victim who was repeatedly ignored by authorities, making it all about Taiwan's "loss of face" rather than the woman in question (link in Chinese).

I have had more than one conversation with older pro-Taiwan people who still say things like "Taiwan isn't racist, we treat you well" and "I don't think we should bar employers from holding foreign workers' passports, because those foreign workers can commit crimes in Taiwan and then just leave the country!"

In short, the Hoklo chauvinism that also deterred many non-Hoklo Taiwanese from supporting the DPP in the past, while writhing in what I can only hope are the throes of death, was a problematic attitude held by many which caused them to either view immigrants with suspicion, or only want 'certain kinds' of immigrants (i.e. Westerners).

While it's not fair to tarnish every pro-Taiwan supporter of past generations, or even most of them, the lack of regard for foreign labor was a real problem. This doesn't mean that Taiwanese activists shunned making international connections: they have worked hard to build networks around the world, lobby for support and garner high-profile allies. Rather, this attitude ran parallel to that sort of activism.

I'm here to tell you it is unfortunately still something of a problem.

Let's get a few things out of the way first: this is also a big issue in the pan-blue camp, too: the KMT not only doesn't care about foreigners, their chauvinism is Han chauvinism - just another type of prejudice. They are just as likely to welcome white Westerners but turn their noses up at Southeast Asians, and they are not off the hook.

What's more, the worst of the old-school chauvinism is on its way out. You will generally not hear young people trashing foreign workers in the same overtly racist ways that their predecessors may have: they'll speak out against communities that want them to leave simply because they are foreign, and they'll argue that they deserve fair treatment and a non-exploitative work environment in Taiwan. They won't take to the streets holding signs admonishing anyone to "go home". Certainly most would recoil at expressions of Hoklo chauvinism.

Many, if not most, support better pathways to dual nationality, with some of our staunchest allies in this regard being people like Freddy Lim and Hsiao Bhi-khim. Note, again, though, that the dual nationality they support is aimed at foreign white-collar workers, not labor.

And, with the DPP in power, we are seeing more movement on foreign workers' rights, although this is still a hotly-contested issue when, frankly, it shouldn't be. Unless I missed something, I don't recall ever seeing so much talk from the government end about foreign labor in Taiwan under the KMT. For example, it wasn't until 2016 that exit rules requiring foreign labor to leave every three years (often at great expense, often funneled through corrupt brokerage agencies) were changed to lift this requirement. There are DPP legislators working to protect foreign worker rights.

There is plenty of evidence showing that working conditions in Taiwan for foreign labor are poor, and you will find plenty of support in the pro-Taiwan camp for changing this.

So, I want to make it clear that this is not a hit piece. I don't want to make anyone look bad, nor do I want to take a swipe at the new generation of pro-Taiwan advocates. I don't even want to imply they all share these views.

However, we still have a problem when it comes to how people, even in this otherwise progressive camp, view foreign blue-collar and mostly Southeast Asian labor.

It is still strikingly common for someone agreeing one minute that working conditions for foreign labor in Taiwan should be better, and then the next express opposition to giving such workers a path even to permanent residency. Foreign professionals such as myself can obtain permanent residency fairly easily, although some of the rules seem a bit arbitrary. Foreign blue collar workers, however, cannot. Even if the visa allowed for it - and I am fairly sure it doesn't - they wouldn't meet the income requirements. It's fine to let them come here to work, apparently, but giving them the same opportunities as white-collar workers is apparently too much.

There are new laws, but some of these don't strengthen worker protections enough, and none of them expand worker rights to include the same opportunities I enjoy in Taiwan. It's a line drawn between types of foreigners, as though one type is better than the other. For example, it is simply not acceptable that being convicted of sexually abusing a foreign worker would bar you from employing another one after just 2-5 years, rather than being barred for life. Nor are the protections to stop employers from holding workers' essential documents, including passports, strong enough. "Strong dissuasion from doing so without a good reason" is too weak.

So, essentially, the narrative seems to be that foreign labor deserves better working conditions, but not more rights.

I don't agree with the reasoning behind this. The first reason given seems to be that they will "swamp" Taiwan. I'm not sure about that. Of foreign workers already in Taiwan, it's like that only a fraction would be eligible for whatever sort of permanent residency requirements the government sets. Of those who are eligible, only a small fraction would ever obtain it. Perhaps they will do so at higher rates than professionals as there are more of them, but it wouldn't likely be a majority.

Most intend to only stay a few years, and the option is not on their radar. Although there are far more foreign laborers than professionals in Taiwan, it is safe to assume most do consider their native countries home and intend to make money for awhile, but eventually return.

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You can see from the photos of politicians at the back how old these pictures are, and yet the same issues remain


Remember, for many, they work here to earn money to send home. Home. They will stay as long as they need to earn that money, but they don't intend to live out their lives here. Just like us, they have family, friends and connections where they come from.

What's more, I'm not sure what "swamped" is supposed to mean here. Taiwan has a labor shortage, not a surplus (the fact that this has not translated into increased wages is all about fiddling at the top). The birthrate is going down, not up. The average age is going up, not down. The population is set to decline, not rise.

We talk about foreign talent being part of the solution to all of these problems, although I think the bigger solution is to stop the top-level cronyism that leads to artificially depressed wages for locals, and to improve working conditions (and pay) across the board so the brain drain gets plugged. But people seem to assume that including immigration as a solution to Taiwan's economic and labor woes means professional foreign labor - frankly, we also need foreign blue-collar labor. They are consumers too. They sometimes marry locally. Many have children locally. One in five marriages is to a foreigner.

This is good for an aging population, not bad. It's not swamping, it's replenishing. That is, unless you are worried about the racial makeup of your country changing. And why would you be worried about that if this wasn't about race?

In any case, the people who would be eligible are the people who are already here. Nothing would change, really.

I've heard the 'culture' argument too: as more Southeast Asians want to come here than people from other parts of the world, allowing that many (although I disagree it would be so many) of them in would change the cultural makeup of Taiwan. Would it, though? Let's take one cultural marker for example - Islam. Right now the Muslim population of Taiwan is about .03% of the population (Christians are about 4.5%, and I've also heard 5% as a figure). Even if that number grew exponentially, it's still a long way to even 1%. I honestly just don't think it would change that much, even taking into account the fact Taiwan is quite a bit smaller than the US.

Even if that were a legitimate fear, it strikes me as another form of discrimination based on national origin - ethnocentrism, perhaps. We learned in the 20th century that nation states based primarily on ethnicity were a bad idea (I'd double underscore that if I could), so I'm generally wary of this line of thinking.

Another reason seems to be that "more foreign labor hurts Taiwanese labor". I didn't believe this when Bernie Sanders said it about immigration in America (he eventually modulated his message to be anti-corporate exploitation, but his original platform was anti-foreign-labor as a defense of American workers) - and I don't believe it now.

Foreign labor has been coming to the US ever since we've had work for them, and it has never significantly slowed down the US economy. If anything, accepting scores of low-skill workers who eventually assimilate and move up so their children can do better and the whole country can grow more prosperous is what made us what we are.

What's more, we do need people to do that work. Anti-immigration Americans insist that Americans will do it, but I'm not so sure about that. I'm not so sure about it in Taiwan, either: there seems to be a real prejudice against 'black handed' work (that is, work that gets you dirty). As it stands now, in the US, foreign labor pretty much ensures that our agricultural and service sectors run. In Taiwan the industries are different (elder care and factory and fishing work) but the story is essentially the same.

I'm not happy with the exploitation I see in any of those industries, in either country, but the solution isn't to tell foreign labor to stay home, it's to improve the industries to be less exploitative. They want to come, and they do work we need done - don't punish them. Punish the people who victimize them.

Bernie still doesn't seem to have figured this out, and unfortunately Taiwanese who think similarly don't seem to, either.

The most persuasive argument is that foreign labor is so cheap that it undercuts Taiwanese wages.

As for domestic workers, however, I'm not sure this is persuasive enough. Salaries in Taiwan are stagnant, and the population is getting older. People can't afford to pay more to hire someone to care for their elderly family members, but it is difficult-to-impossible to hire a Taiwanese person to do this work at the same rate you would pay a foreign caretaker. If we had a shortage of domestic workers, the work would most likely fall to the women of the household: yet another family obligation that pushes women to scale back on their other goals and ambitions. I can't condone that.

Regarding factory and agriculture/fishing workers, research seems to indicate that the impact is small and short-term if it happens at all, but foreign blue-collar labor is overall a benefit. Remember, without them prices would go up, storefronts that now house shops and restaurants aimed at Southeast Asian immigrants would be empty, the population would drop, certain work would not get done and lower production, even in the short term, would harm the economy. It's not so simple as saying "they can just hire Taiwanese (and pay them more)".

And, frankly, wages in all of these sectors (and all other ones too) need to go up whether the workers are foreign or not. I don't want to see Taiwanese wages drop because of foreign labor. I want to see foreign labor wages increase to rival that of Taiwanese workers, so that industries hire the workers they need, not just the ones they can get at a cut-rate price.

I have tried to talk to friends about this issue, reminding them that I too am a foreign worker. The only thing that differentiates me from them is my skin color and, well, white Western privilege (and the education that comes with it). I remind them that by supporting expanded rights for me, but not for a class that is almost entirely Southeast Asian, that they are essentially rewarding born privilege. Rewarding me for being born Western, with means. At the same time, they are punishing other people for the less fortunate circumstances they were born into.

I know my friends and other pro-Taiwan advocates well enough to know that they aren't intending to be racist. They are just as happy to welcome foreign professionals of any race, including Southeast Asians, and are horrified to hear stories of racism in professional labor (which do exist - ask...well, any given one of my non-white foreign professional friends in Taiwan).

However, it can't help but be about race. The race divide is too clear: most foreign labor in Taiwan is Southeast Asian, most professionals are Western, and most (but not all) of those are white. Although the intention is not to discriminate based on race or skin color, that is essentially what they are doing. It's playing into that same old socioeconomic game: they see it as a line between what helps Taiwan and what they think doesn't, but it is also a color line, whether we like it or not. That color line is a power line: I have the power to gain certain rights and privileges in Taiwan simply because of the circumstances of my birth: the country and family I was born into. There is no universe in which I think this is fair.

Not wanting to consider that the line drawn is, in effect, a color line as much as everyone would like it not to be is a real problem. It's still discrimination. It's still saying "some people deserve more rights than others". It's still saying I deserve something better than a woman from Indonesia because I happen to have been born with more money and in the right country. And if you group people by who is on the 'preferred' side of that color line, of course it's the people who are mostly white. Who, again, is kept down? Non-whites.

Whether you like it or not, that is what it is saying.

But that line is also a poverty line: these views advocate rewarding people who were born in the right place to the right people, and punishing those who weren't. People who want a better life, just like anyone else. People who just want to work hard and make money to better their circumstances. People who do contribute to the Taiwanese economy in invisible ways, whether one wants to admit that or not.

With these attitudes still in place, I'm not sure how the New Southbound Policy will remain on solid footing going forward: Taiwan already has a bad reputation in SE Asia as the worst of all the industrialized Asian countries to move to for work due to low wages, long hours and rampant exploitation. Are these same countries supposed to happily work more closely with Taiwan for mutual benefit in industry, tourism, trade and culture, when Taiwan still doesn't want to give immigrants from those countries in Taiwan more rights? This whole strategy can only work if both sides stand to benefit, not just Taiwan as it weans itself off reliance on China. That means extending rights and benefits to foreign labor from Southeast Asia in Taiwan, not more of the same.

No one is an island, whether you like it or not. 

It also bothers me that, as I've talked to so many friends recently about how to talk about Taiwan in a convincing way with American liberals, that I essentially have the same problem in Taiwan: I don't know how to talk to Taiwanese liberals about foreign labor, especially blue collar labor. They seem to have gotten the message regarding foreign professionals and dual nationality - not that that is moving any faster - but cross that color line and I feel like I hit a discursive brick wall. There is a lot of sympathy for ending abusive treatment, but none for giving foreign labor real opportunity in Taiwan.

It's also just a bad look: I know the intent isn't racial discrimination but as that's the practical effect, it's bad optics when it comes to getting foreign support. We are foreigners too. We are, essentially, foreign workers with more privilege and different skin. We do - especially the more liberal among us - feel solidarity with Southeast Asian workers. When a party isn't doing everything they can for some foreigners, all politically astute foreigners notice. If they want more 'New Taiwanese' to support them, loyalty is bred by treating all 'New Taiwanese' well, not just the comparatively privileged ones.

It is quite problematic, as well, that when these issues do finally get discussed, they feel filtered down through layers of acceptability. First, the NPP didn't support changes to regulations regarding foreign professionals. I'm not sure that ever changed, but they did start to support relaxing dual nationality requirements...again, for professionals. The DPP relaxed these requirements, but only for certain professionals. It might be extended to the rest of us plebes someday, but not laborers. Only once that happens does it feel like the conversation might open to include talk of increasing their rights, too. It's like ideas of inclusion in Taiwanese society have to drip down through a layer of white Westernness for them to finally be acceptable to think about also including people who are not as privileged.

The US also has a problem when it comes to how the majority of people view blue-collar immigrant labor, although the liberal landscape is changing enough that Sanders took some heat for his views. It was ultimately not enough for most to abandon him or even reconsider their support. For us, that labor tends to come from Mexico, Central and South America.

It's not much different in Taiwan, the only difference (beyond the origin of the majority of laborers) being that not even the liberal electorate is admonishing the progressives they support for their views on blue-collar immigrant labor.

In both countries there is a power and a poverty line, and in both it is difficult to get certain liberal thinkers to really consider how it is also a color line - but in Taiwan it feels so much harder these days.

I know the progressives of whom I speak, so I know the intention is not to keep certain people considered 'undesirable' based on their race. We cannot ignore that this is the practical effect, however, and if Taiwan doesn't provide better opportunities for Southeast Asians within its borders, then Southeast Asia has less incentive to grow the stronger links with Taiwan that this country needs to weaken China's grip. There are times when the effects of globalization are not positive, but this, I feel, is not one of them.

Let's end with this: not too long ago, one of the strains of Taiwanese public discourse was that it wasn't good enough to just seek independence. That Taiwan has two gauntlets before it - de jure recognition of the independence it already has, and deciding not that it is a country (it very obviously is) but what sort of country it wants to be. At the time this discussion was about marriage equality, and it later evolved to include aboriginal land rights.

I'd like to extend that and say that Taiwan also has to decide what sort of country it wants to be vis-a-vis how it treats its immigrants - all of its immigrants. Not the ones that most obviously benefit the country, but those who benefit the country in less visible ways. Not the ones it is easy to welcome, but the ones you may have to overcome prejudice to welcome. Not the ones who already have the benefits of privilege, but those who don't, so they have the opportunity to do better and, as they raise themselves up, help make your country better as well.

Does Taiwan want to be the sort of country that gives all immigrants rights, or does it want to be the sort that discriminates based on old prejudices about what sort of people are desirable, drawing a line that, as much as we wish it weren't, is a color line?

...but he's right about the watermelon

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I like...black...suits and I cannot lie


Cue the amusingly cheeky - although not terribly important - comments from Lin Fei-fan about how "the DPP could win the mayoral election [in Tainan] even if it runs a watermelon as its candidate."

And cue the horrified screams and gasps from the pan-green camp, who called these comments "contemptuous and humiliating".

Cue "netizens", whoever they are (aren't they just people on the Internet, that is to say, almost all Taiwanese people?) who then called Lin a "cucumber" (delicate and fragile).

Look, yo, whatever. This isn't important. After Brendan commented on Lin Chuan stepping down and Lai Ching-de apparently taking his place that "the real story here is the desperate search through Tainan's fruit markets trying to find a suitable watermelon to replace Lai", he also said "honestly, of all the things that were said even at that event alone the watermelon comment was maybe 47th down on the list of importance" and he's right.

But, for the record, Lin is right too.

Don't get me wrong: the comment was probably a bad idea. It's a jab at the establishment - always fun, I enjoy that myself on a regular basis but I'm not a public figure - which, while not wrong, offered very little pay-off for a lot of ire. It would have been better in terms of political 'face' not to have made it, or to have said it a different way. One doesn't always agitate for change by taking shots at the people in charge (although sometimes this is necessary). You also have to have your own message.

And, honestly, this is not a comment that will do him any favors politically.

But he's right.

While not equating the DPP with the KMT, entrenched political legacies where one party is consistently the "lesser of two evils" (or at least, the lesser of two evils that has a chance of being elected) or can always, without fail, count on the support of a given constituency is a legacy that is probably not doing as well as it could by the people.

When politicians are too comfortable, it's easy to grow conservative and 'safe'. It's easy not to agitate for change that has the potential to temporarily upset the gameboard, or even upend it. It's easy to start making comments that one "feels an affinity for China" (while supporting Taiwanese independence) because one, I dunno, hopes to be president someday, not out of any real sincerity (and I highly doubt those comments were sincere. He wants to be president, period.) It's easy to continue to reward patronage networks. It's harder to advocate for things Taiwan really needs, like a truer version of multiparty democracy and a stronger stance on marriage equality. It's easy to start talking about nonsense like "boss rights" and offer shitty meaningless little increases in a too-low minimum wage rather than fight for real changes that could improve working conditions in Taiwan, and to stall on matters of human rights like marriage equality until your problem is effectively solved for you when you aren't afraid that voters will hold you accountable for your doughiness.

It's easy to grow soft, complacent, conservative and oriented towards protecting one's fiefdom rather than fighting for what's right. It's easy to always take the safest route when inspiring voters isn't necessary, because they'll vote for you anyway. They don't even have to like you very much, so you don't have to work hard beyond protecting what's yours

I do fear that's exactly what the DPP is becoming.

This isn't to spit on their history. I have said and do maintain that, while I don't care for the DPP much these days, that at least they were on the right side of history. There may be a lot to criticize about them now, but they are the ones who fought for the democracy we now enjoy. In many cases, they are the very people who were beaten, tortured and went to jail. On the other side you have a party of the former dictatorship, who, while not exactly proud of having once been fascists, aren't too apologetic about it either and who unfairly take credit for benevolently bestowing democracy upon a populace they seem to (unfairly) disdain as simpletons. Of course, in that framework, one party comes out better than the other.

It would have been smarter, however, to acknowledge that whatever doughballs they are now, that the activists of today stand on their shoulders, and they in turn stand on the shoulders of everyone who fought and died between 1947 and 1996 (picking that somewhat arbitrarily as the date of full democratization). They too stand on the shoulders of fighters from earlier eras. I have no doubt that Lin understands this, and that voters are not stupid so much as choosing the less bad of two problematic options, but perhaps it doesn't come across in a throwaway quip about watermelons.

That they started out as firebrands doesn't mean, however, that they are forever immune to becoming an entrenched network of status quo pushers themselves.

It is entirely right, if they become this - and I fear they have - to criticize them for it.

It's not "contemptuous" to point out the real truth that Taiwanese voters tend to be conservative - not in the American sense, but in the "safe and non-threatening" sense, even if it means stalling real, needed, important change. It's just...true. I'm not even sure one could call it "contemptuous" to speak one's truth about one's own voting district. Lin is from Tainan - if he thinks the DPP is too entrenched and voters there too conservative, that's his right. He's not an outsider mockingly poking Tainan voters with a stick - he is a Tainan voter.

I mean, I absolutely loathe my congressman, John "face you just wanna punch" Faso. He even looks like a fake person, like a stock photo of generic white men plus a jar of mayonnaise in front of a cliched yearbook background of an American flag. I am not convinced he's not a bot. Trust me, his "politics" (by "politics" I mean "being the biggest ball of dripping mucus this side of the Hudson") are no better. If you voted for him, that doesn't mean you're a bad person but it does mean your vote was bad and you should feel bad.

I am a constituent, unfortunately, in this bum-bungler's district. The only good news is that I get to have whatever opinion of him I want, because he represents me.

Lin is less profane than I am, and probably is a little happier with the DPP than I am with the sack of crap invented by a third-rate AI spewing conservative dogwhistle garbage that pretends to be a real human person "representing" me in Congress, but the point is the same: you have every right to think whatever you want about the people who represent you and the electorate who put them there. If he's being "contemptuous", then he's also contemptuous of himself. If I think John Faso is the actual literal embodiment of The Machine, and therefore having elected it means we've voted for being subsumed by said Machine, that's my right. If I am contemptuous, it's also of myself.

This is where I'd also support Lin's remarks: how does it make one "fragile" to make such comments? He had to know that saying something like this would draw this kind of ire, and yet he did it anyway. Not for political benefit - if anything, to his political detriment - but simply because he believed his words. The fragile "cucumber" thing to do is to always say the safest things, to keep quiet when there is less benefit than drawback no matter how right you are, to never rock the boat, to allow "not quite right" to be good enough because it'd bring too much trouble down on your head to point out that something's not quite right.

That's the cucumber approach. Speaking out is what shows mettle.

I'm not saying that every politician should live in constant fear of losing their job. There's something to be said for having the full faith of the electorate to execute your vision without being terrified that any bold moves will see you kicked out of power.

But a little fear - for accountability's sake, so they can remember who gave them those jobs to begin with and who is really the boss when it comes to democracy - is maybe not such a bad thing. Ma Ying-jiu forgot who put him in office - he forgot whose employee he was (ours) - and he paid the price in popularity, legacy and the performance of his party in the next election. It's not such a bad thing to occasionally be reminded that if you don't serve the people who really run the country, from whom your power flows, that that could be you.

If you could quite literally run a watermelon and win (just as I am pretty sure John Faso is a composite photo that people voted for and not a real person, and yet he won), where's the accountability? Where's the reminder that you are the appointed steward, and not the CEO who can do whatever he likes because his job is assured?

And now I've spent entirely too much time on this completely unimportant thing, and I am going to go to bed.