Tags: taiwan



Caught up with high school friend Mike Hong today. Despite (or because of?) a litany of troubles he's grown up to be quite a mature, responsible adult, which is honestly far more than our teachers ever expected of him. He's currently teaching English at a cram school in Taipei to make ends meet so he can return to his other job as a freelance translator--both jobs to which NEHS alumni like him are exceptionally well suited.

Me: So, Mike. What are you doing to end the Taiwanese underpopulation crisis?
Mike: You should ask my brother. He's out with some girl again.
Me: Your brother's DNA is the future.
Mike: Yes. He will be the Adam who saves our race.

It's been pretty cool finding out that Mike, way out here on the far side of the world, has been living a lifestyle pretty similar to mine. He's been looking for work where he can get it, eating one meal a day when he can't, learning to be happy with what he's got. He shares a comfortably sized apartment with three college students and his brother, its various furnished surfaces cluttered with open textbooks and crates of instant ramen, and he keeps a bottle of Hennessy by his desk. We watched YouTube videos of local bands while killing time before his next shift at the cram school.

The food's cheaper in Taipei and live music is better in New York, but I guess being broke and underemployed in your twenties is more or less the same deal in any big city anywhere.

We spent some time puttering around Taipei a bit on his 150cc motorbike (Mike was nice enough to buy me a cheap helmet so we wouldn't run afoul of the law), a very Taiwanese experience I hadn't had the privilege of enjoying in maybe twelve years. I'd forgotten how disconcertingly fast those things go. Think a bicycle that goes almost as fast as a car, but with no pedal stirrups. Now imagine driving that down a busy road, with cars zipping past at 30-40mph in the opposite direction mere inches from your legs. Now imagine sitting behind the driver, on the same seat, holding the driver's shoulders, with your legs dangling in the air. How did these death traps become Taiwan's primary form of transport for like 50 years?

I've noticed that both Mike and I code-switch more slowly now that we're adults. We don't do it any less than when we were kids, we just do it a lot more awkwardly. Perhaps it's just that my Chinese is a little rusty or that Mike's been locked into bushiban-level English for too long, or perhaps it's that adult speech, being more deliberate, sounds jarringly unnatural when code-switched (as opposed to the rambling babble of children, for which leaps between rhythms are common even in monolingual speech), but for whatever reason it's clear that neither of us can speak two languages in a continuous flow anymore. You know how when people hit a break in thought in mid-speech, and say a pause word--"ahh" or "uhhh" or "well..." in English, "那“ in Mandarin, "ano...." in Japanese? Imagine that your brain automatically switches languages whenever you do that, like gears on a bike--the chain hops off the gear for a split second, and then just keeps on going instead of stopping. That's what it feels like to speak Chinglish again after so long--there's a noticeable stutter during the hop. Like playing chess and checkers on the same chessboard at the same time, when before it just felt like one game. Fellow NEHS alumni, those of you who have been better at keeping in touch with each other and still speak Chinglish on a regular basis--has this happened to you?

Tea. Tea is eternal. I am a coffee drinker at heart but I will never give up tea. I have discovered that what makes Taiwan's bubble milk tea taste so special, even when it uses cheap black tea leaves instead of that fancy jasmine or pu-erh stuff they use in America, is evaporated milk. I will guard this secret jealously until I blab about it to my livejournal. Wait, I'm blogging this right now, aren't I? Shit.

It is different being here as a visitor, knowing that there is nothing to keep me here. Comforting, even. I could get used to being a tourist in the country where I grew up.

entire republic of china attempts to get laid, fails

Friends. I am very, very tired. Long story short, both MIT and Georgia Tech grad school deadlines are coming up soon, and Murphy's Law of Recommendation Letters has been kicking my ass.

Somehow I've been able to find the energy to get involved in that whole Amy Chua debacle, in which a second generation Chinese-American professor of law at Yale managed to piss off the entire Chinese diaspora (and then some) with a Wall Street Journal article about the superiority of an authoritarian, abusive, high-expectations, stereotypically Asian parenting style over the self-esteem obsessed, basic-human-rights mollycoddling that supposedly turns other American kids into underperforming idiots. Cue screaming from thousands of second-generation Asian-Americans raised this way, many of them now grown up, who note the ruinous effect this parenting style had on their lives. We didn't get our higher suicide rate, our negative stereotypes, and our spate of bizarre cultural neuroses from having warm, loving parents who didn't lock us in our rooms if we didn't get straight As. But at least we're all lawyers and doctors now, right? Mama knows best. We should be thankful.

I've responded to the article at length on Facebook and on other people's journals, and I don't have the time or the energy to continue the discussion further. If you really want to know what I think, follow the comments on that original article, this Quora discussion, this blog post, this old but relevant video from the Onion (the WSJ seems to endorse her position!), and this Phillip Larkin poem; through that scatter plot is where the curve of my opinion lies. Don't miss Jeff Yang's followup article on SFGate, in which Chua either exonerates herself or tricks you into buying her book, depending on how cynical you are of her motivations.

But let's not talk about that right now. You know what worries Taiwanese people even more than raising kids? Making them. Population growth in Taiwan has fallen by a whopping 12% since 2009, lowering the average number of children born per woman to 1.15. That's something like the third lowest population growth in the world, and, needless to say, not at all sustainable. Economically or ecologically.

The infamous Taiwanese tabloid animators at NMA chime in, as this is a subject near and dear to their, uh, hearts:

A slogan contest? Oh, Taiwan. This is exactly the kind of thing that you do.

President Ma's war on celibacy is even more hilarious when you consider how most Taiwanese people are less than seven generations removed from mainland Chinese, who are the undisputed world champions in getting knocked up. How did we lose our way? Perhaps a little soul-searching is in order. The mainland has outproduced, outconsumed, outgunned and outfucked Taiwan for long enough! It's time for a change.

I reiterate my old pickup line. Save an endangered species: Have sex with me.
caonima, censorship

why i am not buying an iphone

So, Foxconn. Taiwanese company, Chinese manufacturer. Makes a large proportion of the world's iPhones and PlayStation 3s.

Folks at the Foxconn plant in China, many of them around my age, are offing themselves like lemmings. Yesterday's was the 15th (of 17 attempted). It was bound to happen, really--Taiwan's corporate culture of overachievement, China's wanton disrespect for human life, and the global market's obsession with the bottom line cut both down the street and across the road like a three-bladed Gillette.

It's been happening so often, it turns out, that folks are beginning to suspect that at least some of them aren't really suicides, but deaths from overwork. Which might explain why a 20% pay raise, a bizarre "stress room", a suicide hotline, and the installation of bouncy safety nets have done little to stem the rising tide of reported jumpers. An undercover reporter sent by China Weekly to work in the plant found an unending purgatory in which there was no solace in anything but death.

And you thought your tech job was hell.

Official state sources, of course, are fraught with anecdotal evidence, pseudo-academic bullshit, and blaming the victim. (Not that there'll be much more word from state sources, considering that the Chinese government has recently put in a gag order.)

It's funny how Western bloggers try to peg this tragedy on American neocolonialism, calling Steve Jobs a murderer and whatnot. Oh, white guilt, you so silly. Apple has no fucking clue what their suppliers are doing. (Though they really should, you know, switch to a less evil supplier.)

Last time I visited my father, he said to me, "Kevin, no matter what you do, I respect your decision, but I think there are good opportunities for you in China. The tech sector over there is growing. Maybe you should come and work on the mainland and I can find you a job." What, so I can be a slave driver like the rest of the Taiwanese technocracy? Our family tree already has enough tyrants in it, thank you.

Mao promised his followers a China for the workers--workers like these people. What a fucking joke that dream has become.

(edit) Taiwanese news coverage on the suicides is ridiculous, as well, but for entirely different reasons. Way to let Foxconn's PR department dictate your investigative journalism, Taiwanese cable news stations. Just like Taiwanese PR hounds to try and convince people that newly built swimming pools and Internet cafes are somehow going to mitigate 70 hour workweeks for China's national minimum wage (sorry, minimum wage plus 20%), plus copious mandatory overtime...

(second edit) Thank God, at least some Taiwanese people still remember how to do the right thing and exert pressure via protests. Love that 成語 on the bottom sign, which reads, rather elegantly, "At what price flesh and blood?" And, of course, the Hong Kongers, who never forgot, are burning paper iPhones. +200 public relations damage!

my uncle, on why he came to america (paraphrased and translated)

Do you know why I came to America? I came to America because Americans believe in respect for all things.

Respect is not like filial piety. Filial piety is given, respect is earned. A Taiwanese person obeys a police officer because he knows the police officer is more powerful than he is. He obeys his teacher, his parents, the laws of society, for the same reason. But the moment those people look away, he does whatever he wishes. When he disobeys them, he does not understand whether or not what he is doing is wrong. When he obeys them, he does not care whether or not what he is doing is wrong. He is not a bad person--he is just not raised to think about right and wrong. And if he cannot understand right and wrong for himself, how is he fit to revere the rightness or condemn the wrongness of those who have come before? How is he fit to judge those who come after? I tell you, Kevin, in Taiwanese society, filial piety is not reverence. It is an excuse to abdicate moral responsibility.

I much prefer the American concept of respect. All Americans understand it. They may neglect it, sometimes, but from an early age they are taught to know what it means. Respect is not just for power, or for seniority, it is for all things. It is for the beliefs, possessions, and safety of others. When an American gives money to a beggar, he knows what he is doing. When an American spraypaints graffiti on a store owner's wall, he knows what he is doing. Would a Taiwanese person help an old woman cross the street if he knew he would not have the woman's gratitude? Would a Taiwanese person think twice about bursting the tires of a friend who betrayed him?

When I first came to America, people warned me that I would not fit in. They said I would be treated differently, that I would be discriminated against. But I tell you, Kevin, no one has treated me more fairly than the Americans. Look at my beloved white son-in-law, Scott, and my beloved daughter-in-law, Beverly, and how good they are to my children. Look at your little second cousin Lucas. Are we really so different? They are family, every bit as much as the ones we left in Taiwan. They have never treated me differently from other Americans.

"Chinese people." (Note: The Chinese phrase for "Chinese people," translated one ideogram at a time, means "central nation people." --Ed.) Really? Little Lucas is no less Chinese(English) than we are. Ask little Lucas what nationality he is. What do you think he will answer?

I have run my own business in Cupertino for over thirty years. The other Americans, they may look at me differently, but they respect my business. They recognize me as an established part of their community. I have never felt alienated or alone. And I tell you, Kevin, I have no regrets about leaving, and no intention of going back. I wasn't like your father, coming here in search of opportunity. When I was in my twenties, I had all the things Taiwanese people want. I owned a successful bicycle parts factory, many pings large, in expensive Taipei; I had a car when everyone else was still riding bicycles; I had a wife and children. I could have stayed and lived well. And I still knew it was time to leave.

The problem, I tell you, is education. Not just schooling, but the entire education process that turns someone from child to adult. They've ruined it, over there. Self-interest, greed, corruption, kickbacks--your father never saw any of this, back then. I did. They cultivate a culture of apathy, leaving goals half-met and half-finished, and aspiring to nothing. They are competitive, with so much wealth and so many people, to the point where, if they see a tragedy about to happen, they will keep silent and watch rather than lend a hand. They shun the sick and the disabled, and shame them into hiding their weakness. They teach children to look out for themselves, their friends, and their parents, and no one else. You look at the Japanese, who are even more obedience-oriented than we are--what happens when a Japanese politician cheats the public out of their trust? He genuflects in public (A gesture of sincere apology and deep shame in both Chinese and Japanese cultures, colossally expensive in social capital--Ed.) and steps down. Will you ever see a Taiwanese politician genuflect? No. The only words a Taiwanese person in any position of power knows are "It's not my fault." This is a problem not only with the politicians. It goes all the way down to the lowest members of society. It is rottenness all the way down, transformed from habit to tradition, back to the days of the KMT in China and beyond. And a Taiwanese person who harms society is not necessarily bad. He simply does what everyone else is doing, what he believes to be acceptable because it is done everywhere, and does not understand.

It starts early--very early. As early as when your cousin Li Wei was in elementary school I saw them doing it to her. I saw the teachers shunning and chastising her because of her disability (Li Wei is partially deaf due to an early childhood injury), writing her off as a lost cause, as teachers over there often do. I saw them sorting the children, as they do, into those who would grow up to make money and earn reputation for the school, and those who weren't worth the time and effort to teach. And I didn't want my children to grow up in that world. I didn't want to be in that world myself, anymore. I wanted my daughter to grow up just like any other child. I wanted to raise them in a country with a short history, with respect for all people regardless of who they are or what happened to them, and no such taboos. No country better understands that respect than America.

And now look at Li Wei--a Masters in Computer Science and happily married. Look at my son, Robert, stubborn and troublesome as a child, now a successful doctor and a wonderful father. What kind of people would they be now, if I had let them grow up over there?

I have not one regret.

every day's great at your junes

Most of the people on my flist who still read this journal won't get this, but anyone who's been to Japan, Taiwan, or South Korea will. Within seconds, at most.

This song is far more catchy than any of FamilyMart's actual advertising--and more relevant to their brand. (Nooooo! I'm half the world away from the nearest FamilyMart and I still can't get that little jingle out of my head!)

You know you've transcended from "mega-corporation" to "cultural institution" when people not affiliated with your company write a sentimental pop song* about your stores. Taiwanese blogger MUTEBKTK, who was immediately inspired to make an unlistenable remix of the song the moment he heard it, observes that the song is not just a commentary on Japanese convenience stores but on the loneliness and alienation of contemporary urban life. In the past, we had family to welcome us with a bowl of warm food when we came home from work; now, the one who welcomes us home with a warm bowl of food is FamilyMart. (全家就是你家!) The blogger finds this poignant. I find it sad.

(The attitude is a little dated, too, but hey, Taiwan and Japan are still very traditional, patriarchal societies; modernity is just now bringing them through the same kind of familial separation anxiety that America experienced fifty years ago.)

*"Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" is only a sentimental pop song if you're high

(edit) Oh, hey, looks like there's a Taiwanese version. This one incorporates the jingle with the advertising slogan from the Taiwanese television commercials (some commenters are calling it the "FamilyMart brainwashing song"), and, as such, it is quite possibly the most annoying song I have ever heard.

good news, bad news

Good news: Hurrah! Super Typhoon Parma has miraculously done a 180 degree about-face and is now moving away from both Taiwan and the Philippines, where it will dissipate harmlessly in the Pacific. Also, Typhoon Melor, which looked like it was going to hit Taiwan head-on, is curving east away from the coastline. Local news has returned to its regularly scheduled reporting on the size of the steaks visiting NBA players will be eating. (But not, curiously, the names of the players that are coming or what teams they play for.) I guess God figured we've finally had enough?

(Update: Oh. So this is what's going on with the NBA thing. Wow, the hype for this game is absurd.)

Bad news: Damage from heavy rainfall outside the typhoon's rim has been pretty bad. Not as bad as the Philippines, but still pretty awful. And Melor's going to run right smack into Japan. :(

Also, that whole thing about the Taliban bombing that U.N. World Food Program office in Pakistan has me pissed off. Not like I had any sympathy for the Taliban to begin with, but seriously, guys. The World Food Program. That's, like, one step short of raping orphans in the name of Islam. How desperate and blinded by ideology do you have to be to believe that God finds such behavior even remotely acceptable?

Bad news about the Good News: The Conservative Bible Project. Because, clearly, if you're a Christian values-centered activist and the Bible and your politics disagree, it's the Bible that has to be changed. (Bear in mind that, despite their protests to the contrary, the original Greek and Hebrew texts do not support their revisions.)

More in-depth Taiwan update later...got job-searchin' to do.

Asian women waiting for you in NEW YORK, NY!
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Women: Get your U.S. green card now!
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