Thursday, October 29, 2009

Will Taiwan's traffic get you before the pollution does?

Despite Taiwan government advertising where statistics are bent to show the deaths per thousand on certain roadways (only) have been reduced there are startling statistics out there showing over 50% of accidental deaths occur on roadways in Taiwan and a disproportionately high amount of Taiwanese die in traffic fatalities.

I think I once worked it out to an hourly rate where a Taiwanese is killed every 1-2 hours in a traffic fatality. Anyhow, the statistic was high enough that recently the American Trade Office (AIT) Director was able to rationalize hawking BSE-threatened beef by comparing it to the possibility of dying in a traffic accident. Can't beat them odds.

Then there is the recent article from the China Post stating that Taiwan's traffic fatalities are the highest in the world. Now most of us know that the reporting in the China Post is so skewed that they will even claim that the color of the sun is really white because that's the color of it on the Taiwanese (KMT) flag. But even the China Post makes it obvious that the government does not consider scooters to be vehicles, and therefore the amazingly high death rate of 17.5 deaths per 10,000 people is made to sound like 10% of its real total, 1.75; i.e. manipulating it from TWICE China's death rate to around that of the death rate in the United States.

See? There's nothing wrong here people! Scooters aren't vehicles, so there is no one is dying! Traffic is fine. Crisis averted. You can all go home now, but if you don't mind, I think I'll take the MRT.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

China Post Again

Another excellent piece by Michael Cole on the skewed viewpoint of The China Post. The views are so obvious--and skewed--one could dedicate all his time blogging about little else. I wonder what English population their agenda is aimed at? Since most foreign English speakers are required to have an education and probably possess basic media savvy, it hardly seems worth it.

This time we see Chen Shui Bian being touted as the 'most corrupt' in the 'Asian world'. After a couple of weak straw-man inclusions of President Ma, we make the conclusion that Chen was both incompetent and corrupt.

It's really quite insulting to all those other despots. Either we are trying to smear someone here, or they are so culturally isolated they forgot about their neighbors across the strait and/or half of South East Asia. Whatever the case, that's not what the rest of the world thinks as depicted in the recent sensationalism about Taiwan in the US.

I should also point out that terms like "Western liberal democracy" are very recognizable phrases. When I worked with the Central Party School in the PRC, I heard very similar arguments like "western-style democracy is not right for the Chinese people"--very similar to the jumbled statements made by Jackie Chan earlier this year. (Interestingly, Jackie has been busy working with Jet Li on his CCP-sponsored movie on the Communist Revolution). Anyhow, whether you like the statements or not, it is interesting to see the rhetoric, like that of the protests over the Dalai Lama's recent visit, is lining up very closely.

Anyhow, Mr. Cole dissects this much better than I ever could, so I direct you to his article.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

China Post lost in translation

Reading a China Post article recently on Wang Chien-hsuan (王建煊) and his admonishment of Ma's apologies to the people. At first I was shocked at how Taiwan's ombudsman "called on President Ma Ying-jeou to stop apologizing for the delays in helping Morakot victims" and not to "'get on [his] knees and kowtow or make a deep bow lasting for 10 seconds or hug members of the bereaved families anymore'".

I couldn't believe that this was happening, apparently for no reason, but to 'stop apologizing' as the headline said. After further investigation I found that the story had been totally misconstrued by the English writer and his quotes taken out of context. It appears that Wang is telling Ma stop apologizing (for something you didn't do) and get on with it, when in Chinese he was really saying we need to get on with cleaning up after the flood and the President and Premier should be administrating and not concentrating on PR.

I'm not sure of the politics of this one, but this deliberately depicts Wang as callous towards typhoon victims, downplays the tragedy, calling it a tropical rainstorm, and makes it seem like Ma shouldn't be sorry for what has happened. Oh, then again, I guess I am sure of the politics in this one: make Wang the target, downplay Ma's responsibility and pretend it was only a rainstorm. 'nuf said.

I wrote the following hasty letter to the China Post. Hasty because I doubt they will post it:

This story totally misrepresents Mr. Wang's comments. He told Ma and Liu that their time would be better spent working on reconstruction and settlement and that they had to move beyond apologies and think about how to best help the victims of the flood.


He said, "I want to hug and pay my respects to those who lost people in the disaster, but right now Ma and Liu's time is better spent thinking about what we should do in the disaster's aftermath!" [contrast this to the quote from the China Post article above]

His main point was that Ma and Liu 「不能老在那裡臨場反應」 stop reacting to the disaster and start anticipating [how to overcome it].

Your story misrepresents this as Wang telling Ma to stop apologizing (i,.e. he didn't do anything wrong)--when the connotation of Wang's words was that Ma could be of greater help overseeing the bureaucratic process.

Also your characterization of a typhoon and flood disaster as a "tropical rainstorm" downplays the seriousness of this situation and is an insult to the lives lost during this tragedy.

Your translators and editors should be impeached!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A bit more on racism in Taiwan

I was reading Michael Turton's post about the recent story Apple Daily ran regarding AIT employee David Lyon and his alleged sexual exploits with a NCCU student. Not surprisingly, this story blossomed into a warning for all (poor, young, innocent) Taiwanese 'girls' to beware the evil foreigners walking their streets. They are only out to hurt you, take advantage of you and get you into bed, say Apple Daily's experts. Michael's article is excellent but I feel I need to rant on a few more things that strike me as inherently racist and in bad taste about this article:

First, is the use of his name and his linkage to the American Institute in Taiwan. (AIT, for those of you who don't know is the US 'underground' embassy in Taiwan as they cannot have official diplomatic ties.) It's interesting that in other more 'local' stories about this kind of thing, Chinese names are always shielded using titles such as Ms. Wang or Mr. Chen. Poor Mr. Lyon's was not. There were about 5-6 more stories generated from the initial story featuring photos of him having an elevator ride with the woman (gasp!) to quotes from his security guard who told several details about his private life ("he brought home tonnes of girls"). I'm not a lawyer, but the fact that he was not charged with any criminal activity and his name, job and other personal details was blabbed all over the press makes me wonder just how huge a violation of his person rights this all is. Of course, the local woman's rights were protected by a legal notice given to Mr. Lyon preventing him from exposing any racy photos or other details he encountered during the relationship.

Next in annoyances, is expansion of this situation to all foreigners made possible by the recruitment of local experts on foreigners who have done extensive research on the subject. By research of course, we mean girls like "Kelly" who has had relationships with at least 20 foreign guys and has somehow discovered a mathematical formula to derive that 90% of all foreigners in Taiwan are losers. (You'd think she would have gotten sick of foreigners after having 'relationships' with the first dozen.) Of course, this is backed up by another 'expert' Jiang Yingyao who says that 'foreigners see themselves as superior to all women' and warns (poor, defenseless, innocent) Taiwanese girls to beware. I'm looking forward to their next 'joint' paper on "ethnic psychoanalysis through dating".

Finally, the huge lack of logic in the whole thing makes it beyond annoying to me. If you read the chat log posted in the article, this woman is asking for true love after she meets him on (which is pretty much a pickup site, anyway) and goes on camera to chat with him (presumably revealing most of herself in the process). Later she is 'forced' to again have cybersex with him when he logs in from Japan. Poor thing, her legs all up on the table like that. Somehow naked pictures were taken during their trysts, etc. and now she is just horribly violated by this foreigner. Now at what point, I ask you, do you really start thinking 'this guy isn't Prince Charming'. I mean you are a student at Taiwan's #2 university. If 90% of them are all losers, how did this all happen?

This reminds me of a similar story from Canada back in the day. In 1979, a TV show called W-FIVE ran a story called "Campus Giveaway" that cited statistics showing Chinese were taking away opportunities from local Canadians at universities. Chinese Canadians were outraged by this attack and organized (what later became the Chinese Canadian National Council) in order to fight this kind of media discrimination. This resulted in an apology from the network and punitive measures taken against the producers and others involved in the story. No longer could you paint all Chinese with one brush in Canada. They even went on to repeal Canada's head tax and get a huge payout from the Canadian government in reparations.

Of course, in Taiwan, any foreigner involved in activities that concern the organization of alien residents to express an opinion would not only be recognized but in some aspects (such as political or social) be considered illegal and result in deportation. Until such time as Taiwan accepts such bizarre foreign 'international notions' of ethnic equality, gender equity and media ethics, I guess we'll just have to keep those poor, defenseless Taiwanese girls away from the evil foreigners for their own good.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More on Ma

A fellow Canadian blogger has a real good piece on how Ma and his party are spinning the typhoon into China policy. "Our biggest military threat is mother nature?!" I do not have a war of hate on against Ma, but man, it seems something is up with his agenda! The only thing Ma seems really good at doing is turning everything into closer relations with the PRC. The dead bodies from the typhoon aren't even cold and he's canceled Taiwan's national day, revoked its UN bid, and changed the island's military policy into 'search and rescue' instead of security.

Read Michael Cole's write up at The Far-Eastern Sweet Potato

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A letter from a friend

The Taiwan government seems very undecided when it comes to internationalization. In one way they want to consider themselves globalized, yet in the same breath they are scrambling to draft basic agreements on how to deal with other countries that want to offer aid: first, there was no aid requested, then aid was turned down and now they are asking again. Make up your mind.

On a more personal level, a friend wrote me about his personal experience in Taiwan trying to volunteer. Although he speaks excellent Chinese and has international training--his skin color seemed to get in the way.

I realize that there are probably reasons for keeping things Taiwanese only, but how he was rejected as a 'non-Chinese' made quite an impression of how Taiwan deals with its expats. The recent terseness of an important volunteer update on the DPP website makes it clear that "foreign volunteers" should not expect "English language assistance" when trying to help out and that "local relief efforts will run much more smoothly if local governments take the lead."

My friend is not a native English speaker and I have made changes in [editor's brackets] to protect his identity and correct some grammatical errors. Seems that another recent article by a fellow Taiwan blogger hit the point: international studies and political correctness are a North American invention fed by white guilt, but ignorance about the outside world is quite plentiful enough no matter where you are.

Sent: Thursday, August 13, 2009 9:33:24 PM
Subject: Re: Mr. Ma and TYphoon Morakot

Thanks for the concern!

I've very mixed feelings about it. I was[...] in Taichung [Saturday] and went from there to Nant[ou], but local authorities just asked me to go back.

Back in Taipei city[,] all international organizations collect money, but reject non [Chinese] helper[s]. I showed them my Maltese cross first aid medic ID license , but they simply said that they got government order[s]...[L]ooking back from [the] 921 experience, there's a huge lack of co-operation between international teams and Taiwanese.

[...] And the green camp?

Well, there was a [post] on facebook by a former DPP legislator. After calling her on [the] phone she just said :"We Taiwanese can help can donate money if you want...thanks for calling..."

I know about oversea[s] Chinese, even PRC [personnel] who assisted the ROC forces, but it seems so long as you don't have a Chinese face you are not [welcome], but your money is [...].

That's my experience here in Taiwan[...] and by the way[,] I donated a few thousand NT$, but I had to ask my Taiwanese girlfriend to do it for me, an [Alien Resident Certificate (Permanent Resident Status)] isn't enough to donate directly to the people inside Taiwan. From outside Taiwan of course a credit card is enough.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mr. Ma and Typhoon Morakot: A Test of Leadership

Taiwan's Good-looking president Ma Ying Jeou (馬英九) has really taken a political beating from the recent damage Typhoon Morakot heaped on Taiwan. From both reading local and foreign press, the typhoon's winds and rain might have brought about a bigger wave of change in public opinion.

Taiwan-based blogger Michael Turton cites an article from the Hong Kong-based SCMP, a newspaper that has traditionally lauded Ma's performance during his presidency:

"To date, the big loser appears to be President Ma. The President, whose origins in the KMT security state and whose apparent indecision, short temper, self-centeredness, and indifference to the fate of his own people is never seen in foreign press depictions, took a beating this time so bad that even the South China Morning Post, usually a KMT cheerleader, was moved to write about it today:

"...A man, who won a promise from Mr Ma to help him locate his missing father, yesterday had to hire a bulldozer with his own money to try to see if his father had been buried by a mudslide in the eastern county of Taitung.

"Mr Lee and his mother broke through a police cordon to demand Mr Ma's help during his inspection tour of the hard-hit county on Monday....Television footage showed an embarrassed Mr Ma telling Mr Lee: 'Now you can see me', after Mr Lee said it taken a huge effort to get close to him.

"...The media also reported that Mr Ma went to a wedding when the typhoon was tipped to hit Taiwan. The media also said a local leader of Mr Ma's Kuomintang hosted a banquet in Kaohsiung on Monday evening to drum up support for the KMT election of central committee members on August 22 as Hsiaolin village was reported to have been buried by landslides.

Turton adds, "In the exchange between Ma and the local villager Ma was nastier than the SCMP indicates here. The man in question had implored Ma, saying that they had all voted for him...and that it was difficult to see him. Ma answered both sarcastically and testily: 'You're seeing me now, aren't you?'"

Ma's performance has also been likened to former vice president Lien Chan's (連戰) nonchalant attitude during the 921 earthquake in 1999 where he was chased out of the disaster area by locals disgusted with his performance. (Interestingly, many credited this incident with Lien's loss during the subsequent elections.) Unlike 921, however, Ma has been further criticized by the fact that he and his cabinet will not issue executive orders for a state of emergency. While Taiwan already has disaster preparedness planning and budget, an executive order from the president might increase foreign donations of aid. so far donations and international support have been minimal with contributions consisting of US$250,000 from the United States and about US$130,00 from Japan.

Ironically, China, who did evacuate thousands of people to safety in time while Morakot loomed, came out looking like the more concerned nation after pledging U$16 million to help Taiwan. In years past, the popularity of Wen Jiabao (溫家寶)skyrocketed, when 'Grandpa Wen' visited thousands devastated by earthquakes in Sichuan and other major disasters. Wen's caring and emotional countenance endeared him to most of the people he visited.

In the foriegn press, Reuters and AFP, news sources also traditionally sympathetic to the president, noted public dissent over Ma's performance during the typhoon. AFP noted "Tempers have flared as desperate relatives have gathered at rescue centers -- police and soldiers Wednesday had to push back people who tried to storm their way on to helicopters heading to the stricken zone" after people were convinced the government was not doing all it could. Many inside the government are accusing Ma of being "too proud" to ask for aid. The Reuter's article quoted a DPP spokesperson as saying Ma's government response has hindered Taiwan's people from recieving the benefit of Taiwan's own substantial search-and-rescue expertise.

Adding to the failure of Ma's government (in public image at least) during the typhoon, the Neihu MRT broke down again today, with allegations that reporters are now being banned from entering to report on it. The leaking and malfunctioning Neihu-Muzha MRT line is compounded with accusations against Ma over the Maokong Gondola, which had to be suspended due to safety concerns last year and smaller project disasters such as the Chiencheng Circle, whose redevelopment Ma commissioned as mayor. When the formerly thriving circle failed to attract the same numbers of customers, Ma then remarked "I can't help if people aren't interested in your products."

Perhaps the typhoon has scratched the coating of Taiwan's so-called Teflon president. Whatever the case, these winds of change have brought unprecendented opportunity for an up-close examination of Ma's performance under pressure.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Taiwan Years - Introduction

[Originally published on Lai Wongbao]

Okay, well, this blog has been dead for a long time, but I've never forgot about it. I really wanted to do something with it for a long time, but never really had the chance or the mindset. Now, after being sick for a number of days, I've had the time to sit down and think about what I wanted to do. I've written a short retrospective of my time here in Taiwan, because since being here, time has flown by--not in the proverbial fun and frolic of a lad overseas, but rather in a flurry of tempestuous trials that have challenged me and really changed my thinking. I guess in a way I am posting up my memoirs of this time as a continuation of what I hoped to be a travelogue of my first years in Taipei.

First, for those of you who don't know the story. I was hoping to document my return to Taiwan and China in a week after week travelblog. The problem is that the first few posts were more negative rants and I didn't want the blog to take that direction. I always wanted it to be more of a current issues/satire kind of blog. A kind of prose-based Feign-esque commentary: humourous, witty and a bit sarky at times. That has been achieved with the opening of my second blog Taiwan Introspective which I have also started recently. I'm going to keep this one for more personal reflections and the other for more current affairs-based commentary.

The chapters for this blog evolved as I began editing an original post of Wednesday, April 05, 2006. Catharsis set in, and half a day and a box of gumdrops later, I am sitting here posting this... enjoy!


On to Chapter 1: "The Great Wait"-->

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chapter 6: Moving out (Part 1)

My sick leave passed very quickly due to several events. While getting a proper visa was high on the list, one unexpected and sudden event, however, became moving out of the residence that I was in at the moment. Although I was still recovering from bronchitis, the rest of March was spent packing and by April, I had found a new place and signed a lease. Basically, my welcome kind of wore out and my friend's girlfriend turned on me.

When I visited Taipei for the first time in 2005, I had a great time. I stayed with my friend for a couple of weeks, and he was happy to have a visitor of his own. Prior to my arrival his girlfriend invited some guy she met on the internet to stay with them and he basically took over the place. He became the golden boy and my friend became the pariah. After getting rid of him, it was hard not to be appreciated with my friend following me around saying 'see? He would never say/do/ask about that', etc.

Also, for some reason, my friend's girlfriend went out of her way to introduce me to her coworkers. I spent several nights attending these kind of cutesy, cheesy match-up situations which I used as a great opportunity to practice my Chinese. Also, it was not hard to feel the gallant bachelor being the only guy around and a visitor to boot.

Nothing really came of it, but I did hit it off with one of her colleagues and had a quick date before I left in 2005. That was when I saw the other side of my friends girlfriend. I had a nice time with 'the colleague' I had been introduced to and just before I left, this girl took me to a tea house on the side of the mountains in Miaokong. It was a beautiful and very romantic time drinking tea, but to be honest, nothing happened except for a few cute glances across the table over the steaming water. Besides, she was dating a judge in the south of Taiwan anyway.

To make a long story short, when I left Taipei, I wrote the colleague a nice letter and left some souvenirs for my friend's girlfriend and her. I stopped by Hawai'i on the way home and also sent the colleague a cheap necklace I found at Hilo Hattie's.

That's when I came home to MSN messages with long lists of how bad this colleague had suddenly become and why I shouldn't talk to her anymore. Apparently, the colleague had said something to the effect of me having unnaturally good taste in Taiwan women. My friend's girlfriend took this as an insult as the implication was that most foreigners--including the friend I was staying with--end up with homely women in Taiwan. From then on it was war with gossip and her private life being streamed to me daily from my friend's girlfriend.

Also added to the list was the fact that I sent the colleague something and never sent my friend's girlfriend anything. I was slightly astonished about this, because of course, I never knew I was dating my friend's girlfriend. It didn't matter I was told, and I should have been sending equal gifts to everyone. Was this Taiwanese culture, I wondered.

Anyhow, looking back now, I saw how manipulative, jealous and insane my friend's girlfriend could be. This played directly into why I had to move out the second time I visited, because although I had forgotten her little eruption after a year, my friend's girlfriend quickly turned on me after I arrived again in 2006, leading to the first item of business on my agenda when I got better being that I had to move out. Forget the resident visa for now--I had to get my sanity first.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chapter 5: Disaster Strikes!

Things had been stable for first few weeks after starting class. I had settled into a routine either taking the bus, the subway or hitching a ride with my friend's girlfriend in the morning. I even had been able to have breakfast a few times before class.

Unfortunately, about three weeks after class began, the friend I was living with had a car accident, something infinitely more common than in the West. He was pretty wrecked up so I stayed home to help him that (Monday) morning and ended up going in to teach his classes as well. That was two hours off my ten hours I was allowed to miss that month. Oh well, I had holidays coming up anyway, so I could use that time to go to HK and get my student-visitor visa.

After six hours of teaching my friend's classes in a small sauna with hyperactive kids, I was so washed out the next day that I missed another class. Four hours missed. I was just totally exhausted. On the Wednesday, I made it in to class but really didn’t do too well because my voice had become very deep and hard to understand. Thursday, I woke up with a fever and trouble breathing. Six hours missed. Friday, I knew I had bronchitis. Eight hours missed.

By the next week, I missed my ninth and tenth hours because the bronchitis had turned into rales (pronounced rawls, I’m told). This is when your lungs fill up with putrid sputum and you get that bubbling effect. It’s kind of like breathing through a hookah or a sponge. I had this problem once before when I had viral pneumonia. I knew this was not good, because only severe bronchitis has this kind of problem. Anyhow, the rest of the week was spent going to doctors, taking antibiotics and just generally feeling like crap. I didn’t lose the fever for several weeks. The end result for those of you keeping score: eighteen hours of class missed.

Luckily the next week was my holidays because I was in the third week of a heavy lung infection. The doctor was scaring me because he kept telling me I should have cleared up by now.Also scary was waking up on the second day of my holidays to realize that I had stayed in Taiwan almost 60 days. That's right, my visa was expiring and by law, I needed to go to the 'foreign affairs police' to get an extension. The only problem was, I did not have a student visa and an extension was only given to visitors with the note that I was studying. I was supposed to be leaving. Even if they were to make an exception, a requisite document for visa extension was my attendance record--something that showed I had already missed twice the allotted hours.

So here I was faced with the fact that since I had already missed 20 hours of school, I couldn’t present the requisite attendance record and I was likely to be denied an extension. I decided to throw myself on the mercy of the cops and got the ‘we’ll do it this once but never again without the proper records’ treatment and I renewed for another 60 days. They also mentioned that, since I missed over 10 hours under Ministry of Education stipulations, I was to be booted out of school and never allowed to re-enroll. From being ill, my marks weren’t that hot either so I didn’t have much to stand on.

Finally, and most sadly, I was a bit beyond the point of no return, financially. There were no refunds for my schooling and I had invested money in rent and had other expenses that made it tough to back out and just go home. Plus, it kind of became a challenge to me to see if I could actually work within this crazy system. So after some reading and talking to people, I came up with a plan to apply for sick leave. As long as the doctor cleared me, I could opt out of the rest of the semester, losing the money I had paid, but buying myself time to get well, go to Hong Kong and apply for the proper visa. With the new visa, I would be able to start my studies anew next semester and work towards the four months I needed to get the resident visa. Or so I thought.

On to Chapter 6: "Moving Out (Part 1) -->

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Chapter 4: School Daze

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, er, university, things continued to get interesting. First, I got my class schedule. Yes, even though I didn't have the proper visa, I was enrolled and I found I had been assigned classes that started at 8:10 in the morning. That's when the leisurely one hour commute that I had been taking at noon became and grueling early morning rush hour trek with added time because of the volume of people. My heart sunk thinking that I was now going to have to be getting up at 5:30 to be ready to catch an overcrowded bus so I could get to class on time.

Of course, I checked the university rules. ‘Classes cannot be changed without a valid reason. Work schedules are not a valid reason’ it said. If work was not a valid reason, I supposed commute times and buses wouldn’t be valid, either. Anyway, after a few classes, I kind of liked my teacher and the small class (no one comes that early) so I decided to stick with the up and at 'em.

After about a week of being packed into an over-crowded, unsafe minibus that was standing room only at 6am, it was much easier to start giving into my friends who were urging me to drive illegally. And hey, I was an illegal student, so why shouldn’t I be an illegal driver? I could buy a scooter registered to someone who had already left Taiwan and drive it to school. All perfectly normal, I was assured by the folks here.

Luckily, the guy I was living with had a girlfriend who started giving me lifts to school in the morning. After about a week of driving downtown, I became much more rested and could actually form words in class, but the polluted air was beginning to take its toll. The morning commute on a scooter was horrible on the lungs. Every time one would stop at the light, he would be wedged in between busses and cars in a veritable cloud of exhaust.

Soon, I wasn't just sitting in class tasting exhaust fumes, but I was starting to cough too. I started driving to the nearest subway (MRT) station instead. Less polluted, way less dangerous, and hey, between driving illegally and attending class illegally, I don’t think I was violating any law bytaking the subway--until, one day, I took a drink of water to stop coughing. People glared at me like I had lit a cigarette. (Drinking is illegal on the subway.)

On to Chapter 5: "Disaster Strikes!" -->

Friday, January 23, 2009

Chapter 3: Rude Awakenings

Returning to Taipei was nice, except that on arrival I had some bad dumplings served to me (a friend was too cheap to replace his broken fridge) and that laid me up with food poisoning for about 5 days—lost about 10 lbs. Oh well, I needed to lose weight anyway. Since I was spending most of my time on the porcelain throne, I phoned the school and told them my difficulty about getting down to registration. No problem, they said, just come in the same week and register late. Nice enough.

Around this time, it started to sink in what kind of a locational predicament I was in. I had hoped to live with my friends at the other end of the city and commute to school, at least part of the way, by scooter. Of course, to do that I would need to purchase a scooter and convert my license. This is where the first shoe dropped. I found out to do any of this—that is to register a scooter or even get a license to drive one—I needed to have an resident visa and an ARC (kind of like a SIN number). What was I going to do in the four months to get to school? ‘Drive illegally,’ I was told, ‘everyone else does’.

Determined to obey the laws, I started taking the bus to school, because let's be honest, it wasn’t really that difficult. It made the commute in just over one hour. I could leave around 11am and arrive just after noon. Perfect to have lunch and then get to an afternoon class!

So I arrived at school fresh from my commute the first day for orientation. ‘Visas’ our cheery, church-going, mandarin-speaking, white-guy host informed us, ‘are so complicated here. You can talk to our visa specialist if you have any questions.’ So I cued up, well, mobbed up with the throng of others who were trying to figure out what the hell was going on. After a moment, I was told that my ‘visitor’ visa, needed to have a note saying that I was allowed to study at the university. That’s funny: that was what I was told not to do when I got the visa in the first place. Oh well, I'd have to go down to the government buildings and fix that.

So I asked the ‘visa specialist’, "how do I get the 'little note'?"

“I’m very sorry,” he apologized hatter-of-factly, “but you have to leave Taiwan and apply for another visa.”

I stood looking at him dumbfounded.

“Sorry,” he said again, “so many students are in this same situation.” Also, I was told that the ‘four months’required to get the resident visa would not start until I had the little note on my visitor’s visa.

How was I supposed to know that the visitor's visa was supposed to have a note in it? What was this crazy half-way between visitor and student?

It took a minute before the logic kicked in…you see in Taiwan, students studying Chinese are not considered real students. They are not permitted to be residents until they study for four months, unlike university students who enrol and are accepted at a university and given an ARC for the duration. I had no idea about this strange 'visitorness' of Chinese students at home in Canada where I taught and when I studiedin Hong Kong it was very different. Stupidly, I had assumed that the residency issue would be handled, like many places, once I got here. I was learning the hard way.

Then the frustration began: How could this university let me walk in and register without the proper visa? I mean, I wasn’t even told until I actually asked! Were they just going to let me study there without a proper visa? Didn't they care that I was illegal? Why wasn't there a big red warning about this? Flashing lights?

“So you let me enroll here illegally?” I asked him. He didn’t seem to like the tone of my question and went on to someone else. So there I was, an illegal student in Taiwan. The concept of illegal student seemed so funny to me. Like if I was caught at an intersection with a dictionary or Chinese book, the policeman upon examining my passport would yell out, “you can’t be learning here! You’re not allowed!”

The rest of the orientation was a blur. The good thing was I was allowed to miss 10 hours of class a month, and since classes were two hours long, I could probably take a week and go to Hong Kong and reapply for a visa. Considerable expense, that: preparing a whole new application and then buying a ticket, hotel, etc. not to mention missing class I had paid for. Again, I wondered why all this wasn't clear.

Anyhow, I figured, since I was illegal, but enrolled, I would take a few weeks and then escape to Hong Kong to become a bona fide, legal, quasi-student-visitor. Now I was getting the hang of it. I didn't want to skip the first week of class, because of course everyone had happily taken all my money and I just kind of assumed they weren't going to give it back because I had screwed up my visa.

On to Chapter 4: "School Daze" -->

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Chapter 2: The Underground Consulate

The term 'underground' consulate came to me from a Taiwan academic friend. At the time, I was not aware of the depth of its meaning, but after learning more of Taiwan's situation and the fact that it could not have an embassy of its own, the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) was a front for an agency that provided consular services to those traveling to the island. Call it de facto or underground, it did seem a little strange that the place was so unofficially official.

I thought it was interesting that as I entered the TECO I was met with the sounds of some white guy raving about being treated like a criminal. He told them he wanted all his visa materials back and there was no way he would ever think of going to Taiwan now. He was obviously an English teacher of some sort, raving about how his grandfather fought against communism and how only communists did things like this (seems they had made him sign some sort of confession or something.) Obviously, this guy was LOONIE…

Next, it was my turn. I walked up with my bank statements, air tickets and other items for the visitor visa and laid out my application for the attendant. She looked it over and told me that I had to change my plane ticket because I could only stay in Taiwan for a maximum of 180 days. I told her I had intended on studying for two semesters so I booked a September return, but I understood and I would arrange another ticket to leave Taiwan, probably to visit some friends in Hong Kong.

“You must declare this statement on a piece of paper and sign it,” was the attendant's response. Was this the ‘confession’ the other loonie was talking about? Boy, was he touchy…

As I took a piece of paper and began writing ‘I solemnly swear to leave Taiwan before 180 days’, the attendant quickly added:

“Also, you must write that you will not work or study while you are in Taiwan.”

Study, how? “You mean teach?” I asked her. “No, study… like study Chinese.” But that was why I was going!

“So if I want to study, do they change the visa once I get to Taiwan?” I asked. It seemed reasonable after my experience in British Hong Kong, the HKSAR and Mainland China. Most of these places make you enter as a visitor and then you have to go and register to become a permanent resident, student, or whatever. I’ve done this a lot of times on HK and the mainland. This prevents people from getting in on a student visa and then not showing up. Plus, the university website had mentioned about after 4 months of study you must apply for a resident visa.

“I don’t know anything about that” was the attendant’s response. So standing there, pen in hand I had a choice. I surmised that this was just some legal red tape and that I would be instructed on what to do after registering at the university. After all, I wasn’t yet a registered student, so it still kind of made sense… I could reapply at the proper government office when I got there. So I took the pen and wrote, "I understand that I cannot work or study under a visitor’s visa" and then handed her the form.

And off the visa went to be processed. My friends assured me that everything was fine. In fact so many foriegners are working illegally there, they were bound to be very lax on students. Plus, it was either that or don’t go at all.

The visa was returned the three days later and after a great deal of stupidity from Air Canada, off I went to Taipei.

On to Chapter 3: "Rude Awakenings" -->

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chapter 1: The Great Wait

It all started when I visited Taiwan about four years ago around this time. Like many, I was impressed with the people, the place and the general air of sophistication that goes with living in many large Asian cities. Also with a few friends here, I had a really good time. It’s always more fun when you are visiting friends.

My first two degrees have focused on China-related topics and though Chinese competency was requisite for my degrees, I have always dreamt of really ‘mastering’ my Chinese. After living and studying in both Hong Kong and the mainland, I got in into my head that maybe I should give Taiwan a try. After all, Taiwan is also a Mandarin speaking region (as much as can be said for China—every place has its regional dialects). So I went about looking for the best Chinese language program. From advice from various friends and forums, I was told that National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) was the best place to study. So I applied by the required date in January and looked forward to starting my studies in March 2006.

There was nothing from NTNU for about two weeks after my application, so like any student anxious to get going, I wrote the school and told them that I needed to get prepared if I was going to arrive in Taiwan early enough to be there for registration, which was around February 21. The university website stated that you should register as early as possible in order to get the proper classes, etc.

Anyhow, I had hoped to arrive a few days early—five, actually—so I could actually take my Chinese placement test without worrying about jet lag. So there I was, writing in the second week of February saying that I had the application in a week before the deadline and I should be making plans to buy a plane ticket, etc. I received a short one-line email saying that I was indeed accepted and a letter of admission had been sent but might take a few weeks to arrive. (Please remember that I had told them that I really needed to get going in order to make it in time.) Also note that there was no mention of any specific visa processes that I needed to follow.

Knowing that I was accepted and had a formal letter on its way, I quickly booked my plane ticket and got about readying my visa application. Checking the university website, I read that once you had a formal letter of admission you could apply for a visa, so knowing the letter was on its way, I hurried off to the ROC ‘underground’ consulate to get my visa.

On to Chapter 2: "The Underground Consulate" -->

Monday, January 19, 2009

KLIM is back with more cheese than ever!

Ah, KLIM, you old friend of Taiwan's supermarket shelves, you're back! And all NEW, no less.

It makes me wonder why you ever left in the first place! It obviously wasn't to think up a better name, say like ENIMALEM, which might be very popular with the new rap generation.

No, you're back and you're all new with 100% New Zealand and Australian Milk. I wonder why that would be so important to promote these days?

Ah well, I'm not going to take pot shots at an industry which has obviously been destroyed by tainted milk from that place we are not to mention in the local Taiwan media these days. (Unless, of course, it's totally positive--just ask those poor Buddhist Monks who, for some reason, seemed to hardly make a blip on Taiwan's scandal-hungry media radar.)

No, I just wanted to ask: KLIM, you old chemical standby of fresh milk, is the cheese you put into your advertising 100% New Zealand and Australian, too? (That opening shot, however, is very realistic, I must say. The early morning in Taipei--sunlight streaming in over a smoke-filled kitchen.)

In the end, well done, KLIM, for not giving up and going home. Because Planet KLIMTON is just so far away to visit!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Illegitimi non carborundum

Illegitimi non carborundum

“Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” I always seem to pull this phrase out when dealing with Chinese bureaucracy.

Now, just so you don’t think I’ve suddenly turned racist (I know all of you had your suspicions), I should note that Western bureaucracy is just as annoying, but has different characteristics. This is bureaucracy with Chinese characteristics.

One of the major differences between Chinese bureaucracy and Western bureaucracy is that Western bureaucracy tries to find legitimacy in its confusion. It is this way, because it has to be this way and this, o one of little knowledge, is the best way we can do it, at least for now.

In bureaucracy with Chinese characteristics, however, they make no excuses: you don’t understand it, we don’t understand it, and nobody knows why and we are caught in this horrible agonizing trap… oh and sadly, you’re holding the stinky side of the stick. This is often referred to this as the 'meiyou banfa' culture (沒有辦法).

Illegitimi non carborundum isn’t actually proper Latin… the ‘bastards’ part is Latin, but carborundum is actually the name of an abrasive used for sanding and grinding surfaces. The phrase was made popular by the American WWII General, ‘Vinegar’ Joe Stilwell, who was a China hand assigned to the Sino-Japanese War.

I can figure that this probably became old Joe’s slogan when he found himself charged with helping the Chinese fight the Japanese, only to have his progress hampered by infighting among the Chinese (communists vs. nationalists). Although both camps had united to fight the Japanese, there was still a war going on within a war. For example, when Stilwell attempted to distribute weaponry, the nationalist leader refused to let him give any to the communists, which were often at strategic points holding off the Japanese. Thus poor Joe couldn’t get his objectives accomplished because of conditions like ‘help us win the war, but don’t give half the army any weapons’. Meiyou banfa.

Thus, any time I can’t get things done overseas due to bureaucracies, be it China, Hong Kong or Taiwan, I find this phrase leaping to mind. The only thing more exhausting than dealing with red tape, is doing it in another language and culture. While I’d be the first to say that all bureaucrats are bastards (ABAB), the 'grinding' part is such an apt description of the process of trying to deal with things when you don’t have the wit or analytical abilities that help you manage your native cultural landscape.