taiwan

All posts tagged taiwan

On Wednesday, the Olympic torch passed through San Francisco and we went down to Embarcadero for lunch to see the festivities. Predictably, the well-to-do-but-willfully-modest lower-upper-middle-class yuppies were out in force, holding aloft signs emblazoned in magic marker fury. Free Tibet! Down With China! Free Burma! Free Darfur! Free Sudan!

Fights almost broke out if not for the meaningful police presence. In the distance, I saw a Free Tibet banner, floating above a sea of sight-seeing baseball caps, meet a giant red flag of China. They lowered quickly, disappearing into the mass, and then people erupted in a mix of cheering and jeering. It wasn’t as bad as earlier in the day when protesters shook a bus they thought contained the Olympic torch, but it really caught the feelings of the moment. I watched bemused as an old Chinese woman yelled at a Free Burma chick to “stop causing trah-bul” or when an elderly man argued with a kid who had no idea what his Free Darfur T-shirt really meant.

Then again, it’s not like the adults understood what it all meant either. I don’t want to get too contentious, but the Free Tibet people have to understand that since the Mongols conquered them, Tibet has never been considered a free nation by anyone except themselves. As unfair as it is, the world runs on established documents and treaties, and none exist declaring Tibetan sovereignty.

Instead, the international community recognizes the Succession of States principle that essentially says when one state takes over another, it assumes the former’s assets. In this view, Tibet was passed over from Mongols to the Qing, Qing to ROC, and finally ROC to PRC. Interestingly, Taiwan (the ROC) actually denies Tibet’s independence. Not one foreign government supports Tibetan independence despite criticizing the violence- the world would fall apart! States would be meaningless.

So what defines a state? The answer, sadly, is everyone else. Without international diplomatic recognition, no amount of desire for independence can *make* you a state, anymore than Hawaii’s islanders can declare themselves historically sovereign from the United States. Tibetans validly point out China colonized them by force, but that essentially validates they are a subjugated state. Are our southern states rightfully independent because the Civil War formed the Union by force?

One cannot go around earning freedom by demanding it. Knowing the Chinese people well, protests and shame are only going to reinforce their adamancy. If we want results, first take politics out of the Olympics, as it was always meant to be. Then treat China as a peer, don’t bring Western arrogance to the table. They will follow that lead far better than any empty threats. Or crazies yelling out “FREE CASINOS FOR TIBET!

It took a while to put together this photojournal of our trip, but here it is, written in photos and comments:

PART 1 – Taipei

PART 2 – Tainan

I learned something very deep about the Taiwanese people during this trip, something that I always suspected in the back of my mind, but when I realized it became pervasive everywhere I looked there.

The Taiwanese are some of the most resourceful people I've met. That is not to say they are practical, logical, or expedient. That is also not to say they can't be wasteful, or excessive. No, they manage to be all of those, and yet still resourceful, with an aplomb that is sometimes both embarassing, and yet charming for ABCs like me (american born chinese).

They are able to find a use in anything, to coop the last iota of utility, intention, even style, taste, or sentiment. You will see a populace obsessed with name brand goods stack them unceremoniously on their body, judging fashion not by the gestalt but by the individual articles of clothing, no matter how gaudily they're assembled. You will see the disembodied head of a beautifully painted mannequin decorate a stack of lumber as if lipstick on the pig did the trick… and yet for them it does.

Many Taiwanese households are utterly infested with items that they insist are useful, be they pens unused in years, disintegrating beta max tapes, or some toy or bowl or cardboard box that hasn't entirely rotted away. They are magpies, they are infinitely matter-of-fact about things. They are democratic to a fault.

As I left the island, I was struck by how little vandalism I saw. Sure, there was plenty of other crime, but it seemed suspiciously lacking in vandalism. I don't think even the scoundrels can stand to see something have its value defaced for no good reason. To the Taiwanese, it simply doesn't make sense. I admire that communal sense of survivorship. And while not creative in the ways I'd boast that Americans are, they can appropriate anything to their lives without fear of disdain. For all the stress and political turmoil on the island, they can, more than almost any in the world, carve a comfortable niche for themselves in a place the Portuguese named Formosa, meaning "beautiful." And if I lived in a place so beautiful, I think I too wouldn't have a care in the world for modern pretenses.

Curiously, that beauty is literally worldwide… the antipode to Taiwan (should you cross through the center of the earth to the other side) is a little Spanish-founded city in Argentina, also called Formosa.

It's been a long week for us, and it continues in fashion. Xstine's dad is in town, and we are obliged to keep him and her newly MBA-minted lil sister occupied with the diverse exotic that is the Cali americana. It was quite a challenge to balance their distaste for American prices with their desire for American products, but such contradictory stances are common in the Asian tourist.

In fact, after a night of supping them with fresh caught Half Moon Bay crab, we went late into the nite trying to explain to Xstine's sister the intricacies of Western sarcasm, which for us is a both a style of humor, and also a social tool to introduce potentially socially inappropriate subjects by being literal and rhetorical at the same time. If that sounds confusing, then you must not be American. See? Admittedly that bit of sarcasm comes across poorly on the internet, but it is almost culturally absent from Asia. Her sister's stories of improprieties towards her by us residents often underlined cultural misunderstanding more than actual insult.

I found it funny that while we still could not convince her that the ABC she was dating wasn't necessarily wrong to respond to her comments about Taiwanese girls trying to hook a citizenship through ABCs here with a sarcastic "well what are your intentions then," she hammered in a day's end irony by stating she didn't like the guy anyways, and dated him just to learn English. The Chinese tend to speak very directly about their feelings, or not at all. Rarely do they use jokes as a way to accomodate dissidents. We experienced that once with a Romanian friend as well, whom we didn't know it was inappropriate to rib poke with more risque ribaldry. Perhaps as an ABC myself, I see nothing wrong with what he said, nor find it rude not to want to divulge details about how much I earn, what my parents do, etc. on a girl I may stereotype as golddigful. Unlike FOBs, I won't introduce what my parents do before introducing myself.

How whimsical is other peoples' etiquette!

We'll be busy with Dungeons & Dragons Online and my new remastered Aeon Flux DVD set until the typhoon passes.

On a crazy whim, we drove out towards Taizhong, but ended up giving up halfway and exploring XinZhu instead. The photos tell all.

When I stayed in XinZhu years ago, I was sequestered in the Jiao Tung university dorm rooms trying to surf Chinese MTV without running into the many barely scrambled softporn channels they came on late at night. I was disappointed that I didn't get to see the real city much. But this time we really scoured it up and down.

We hit up downtown first, which was an explosion of shops, restaurants, and street vendors, and I was on a holy quest for Green Apple Green Tea Conjac Drink. It is the most delicious beverage mankind has ever invented, with the exception of Surge soda. Xstine's mom, by then, was pretty familiar with me, and very chatty. I remember when I first met her, ceremoniously at the opening of an elevator door, her first reaction to me was a shocked "ah yo!" and then a brisk turn and disappearance off-stage. For those who don't know Mandarin, "ah yo!" translates to "oh yo!" with a Scottish accent and a startled face.

But once we were off on our merry trip, and after I had made fun of her for expecting all her daughters' boyfriends to be "tall dark and handsome" in contrast to my "short light and boyish," we were good friends. It is really strange to me, the expectations asians have for their children. On one hand, her mother is keenly aware that "tall dark and handsome" still landed her in a turbulent marriage, on the other hand, she preaches it almost automatically to her daughters. Find a handsome man. Tall. Owns a house. Doctor or lawyer. Tall. Handsome too. You have to wonder how a man so tall, handsome, rich, and perfect is going to show fidelity in marriage, no? She admits to me, true, but like Xstine's dad, what other monologue can you supply her?

What fascinates me is that asians deeply believe in fate. Their word for getting what you deserve is "huo gai," translating literally to "life-meant." In other words, your suffering was meant for all along. When you study in school, your major determines your career. Your career determines your wealth. You wealth determines happiness. Is it any surprise then that asians LOVE gambling? Your ability to win is predetermined. Your ruin is predetermined. There is no personal responsibility! All you need to do is work hard, and Old Man Heaven will reward you with a lot already chosen for your life. Sadly, a life of working hard and penny-pinching often leaves the people unprepared for a change in world paradigms, or an estate tax at the end. Women are housewives, men are wageslaves, neither can reconcile nor empathize.

I talked about this in length before, having noticed it as an immutable aspect of the Japanese culture, this concept of blind sacrifice. If there is a lesson to learn, it is that Americans have this one advantage. We are not the smartest, not the hardest working, not the best behaved. But as long as we idolize individuality and the ability to adapt, we will be what Darwin terms "fittest." It's sobering, but I think important to recognize that strength while we still have it. When Josie Wales is forgotten for the Naruto spirit, we'll be in trouble indeed.

Photo albums for DanShui and YieLiu are up, which are pictures we took when traveling with Xstine's dad. He lives in a very tasteful sky-rise apartment in DanShui, which appeared to me to be an area with a higher income or living standard in certain areas. Outside the clusterfuck of Taipei, I guess there are many places like this.

The meeting with Xstine's parents was an interesting experience. Generally speaking, I've always been very comfortable with other people's parents. I give credit to my parents, who traditionalism meant weekly formalities greeting meeting seeing every who's who's who remotely distantly related to any friends and family. While I never learned the Chinese names for the brother of an uncle of a friend's mother, I did gain an acute understanding of Chinese etiquette and the concept of "filial piety" that the Chinese term "xiaoshuen." The term is more dreaded among Chinese scions than you could imagine.

What I noticed first off the plane was that her dad gave me a more familiar handshake, a lengthy one. Our custom here leans towards a firm and brisk shake, rather than a a long grasp, so I can say that was the only facet of the meeting that threw me off. He was an experienced and worldy business man, however, and after the initial reservation grew very warm when talking about things he was proud of, and things he disliked. I was appreciative that he was so observant of way the Asian civilization had changed, customs had mutated, and while one could hardly expect him (or my parents for that matter) to be happy about Xstine and I living together without declaring marriage intent, he was very aware of it being a superior method for marriage retainment. Last week's Economist showed how the divorce rate decreased as marriages happened later and couple lived longer before making the big step. Social disapproval of this important courtship period has contributed to a society more conservative than the American society, and yet with an similar percentage of divorces.

Other than that, we talked mostly about China, Taiwan, and stocks (of which he was earned an understanding of which most of Taiwan, being mere speculative gamblers, do not have). Like my Uncle William, I've realized that worldy business men have a more balanced view to preach despite what they practice. It is a tremendous step away from the world view of my Grampa's generation, where all white men are to be feared and China will be a rising dragon to dominate the world because of its 10,000 year history, and into a more courageous light that accept there is much to learn from gaijins.

I'd like to reference Kishore Mahbubani's excellent book Can Asian's Think? that offers clarity in the debate to rectify the Eastern and Western perspectives. His argument for the East to accept responsibility for its lagging development vis a vis its Western counterparts, and not blame the West for tangible but exaggerated and irrelevant past transgressions, seems to glimmer brighter and brighter behind each successive generation. He hopes, as I do, that a day when the East embraces, not contrapositions but its idealogical differences, will a synergy between formed, for it and us, for me and them. In short, I can see where Xstine gets her lovable skepticism for anachrononisms anonymous.

Next stop on this photo tour is Taipei. I've commented as many as the photos as I could.

Taipei, the city itself at least, is very modern. Too modern in some ways. But in almost every corner of the city you will find the ubiquitous night-markets, or "yie-shi." These act not only as one of the primary forms of entertainment for people, but a functional place to get cheap goods as well. Many food carts will sell you a dinner's worth of noodles, buns, fried meats, or red-bean dessert for a measly buck or two, and you can get a satay kabob or fish balls for just $0.25. I didn't find the living costs overall to be that much different than the U.S. when adjusted for income, but snacks like these were undoubtably in their own caste of bargaindom.

Before I went, Bob warned me. There are "no hot chicks" he said, and those words gave me drive to prove him wrong. I can say that for Taipei at least, he was dead right. My theory, I later elucidated to him, was that the food there was so toxic, and the student's life preparing for their brutal exams was so stressful, and the air was so corrosive, that every girl there was obliged to wear layers of make-up capable of combatting bio-terrorism. Add to that their penchant for superficially copying the gaudy dress style of their Japanese counterparts, and you had a patentable formula for bad taste, bad fashion, bad looks. I'll post up pics of Xi Men Ding later, but where the college students were, things got a bit better, and I attribute that to college life being a relative cakewalk. Relative to high school I mean. Xstine's still has agonizing nightmares of cramming 12 hours a day for entrance exams.

But what really surprised me were the guys. Donning ambigusexually teased "Jap-rock" mullets and carrying women's coach bags to match the ever-fashionable and ever-present Verizon guy glasses, they were a force powerful enough to reinforce the emasculate male stereotype for asian dudes across the globe. Taizhong, which is a major city in central Taiwan, had much beefier guys with denim and T's, buzzcuts and attitude, and generally looked much better. Taipei, however, was damned.

But enough with criticisms. There will time for more later… hahaha… I've got to say that Taipei changed alot since I last went, eight years ago. The stores brim with service, to the point that I became uncomfortable when forced for sake of sanity to ignore greetings and hello-come-try-our-snacks' every five minutes. Every storekeeper was a veritable rainbow under the constant Formosan rain. And the people themselves, when face-to-face and not driving like assholes, are incredible friendly. Many many times did they eavesdrop on our distress and help point the way to the next attraction our confused expressions graciously accepted. American like to think we are a friendly people. I think we are too busy thinking we are, and altogether not in constant surveillance for silly lost tourists.

Most memorably, I had bowl after bowl of beef noodle soup, a Taiwanese delicacy. I plan to write a who's who book of best beef noodle soup places in Taiwan, and will be the emminent beefnoodologist of greater Pacifica. Even with the sly heat sabotaging every "gloomy" day and wrecking the crust of Axe deodorant I was swathed in, I had no fear plunging into the perils of beefy gluttony. Here, for just $3, was the soul of Taipei, and it was addicting.


First photo album for Jiou Fen is up! Comments within as well. Took me forever, what with real life and photo conversion DPing me.

I decided to recount our Taiwan trip not by daily accounts, but by theme. I've got about 6-7 memoirs to dish out, so bear with me.

Our time there was hectic, and in my semi-fluent haze I didn't manage to capture all the names of places and peoples and things that we experienced. Also, I have to apologize for the crappy camera work. We bought a new Cybershot T7 for the trip and and hadn't gotten used to it. Moreover, I found out that asians don't like being photographed, and I often had to do it secretly, quickly, and ignorantly. If you watch Taiwanese news you'll notice this strange cultural phenomenon. Any accused or accusing subject will run past the press with a towel over the head or a motorcycle helmet. So without fail, some lackey would rush over to tell me that their innocuous national treasures (read: shopping malls) could not be photographed, to which I respond with a big rude Americanized "oh dwei boooo chi." That's Mandarin for "I'm sorry, sorry that I'm a culturally obtuse snob, but I got my pics anyways, seeeeyaaaaa."

While the pictures of Jiou Fen, a tourist hamlet north of Taipei fractured with deep and exciting markets to explore in its almost catacombic alleys (save for the sliver of rain glazing the inner trail), seem mostly undistilled, don't let that fool you. The moment we left airport and entered Taipei's urbanosphere, it was like entering the atmosphere of a different planet. Humidity, pollution, and the sheer density of the residential sprawl almost lured a gravitationally warped spring to my steps. This wasn't Planet Silicon, however entrenched in a valley it was. But lucky for us, alot of the smog was washed out of the sky by the tropical mini-storms that constantly barrage the island mini-nation.

I'll save the details of the personal encounter with Xstine's parents for the next entry, but what hit us first wasn't anything about marriage or life in the States. Our first challenge was trying to survive non-stop nightly excusions out into the night-market maze that formed what one could consider the primary tourist firmament to pierce before leaving ground-zero for the other wonders of Formosa, all beginning the second we reached her mom's place. And damn did her mom walk fast.

Back in the USofA at last! Taiwan was a blast, but overweight white folks and 10-lane freeways have never looked cozier. Whew! More to come, tons of photos to post, snide remarks to italicize, and snobby capitalist commentary to follow!

Summary:
:up: Everything went GREAT!
:down: No hot chicks.

Well, this is my last nite in the safe clutches in white america. Tomorrow we fly to Taiwan laden with expensive gifts to court Xstine's parents and talk about the scary M-word. I haven't been back to Taiwan in a long time, and it has always been my impression about Taiwan and Mainland that in some ways I loved it more than the people there did, and that lessened my love for them. I guess that only makes sense in my mind. Truthfully, I've slowly lost much of the infatuation I had with the history, land, language, culture, and traditions there, finding such irrational appreciation unreciprocated by the "real" Chinese. Instead, they love fast food and pop stars today. I hate both.

For the long plane trip there, however, the M-word will be Metroid Prime Hunters, which I picked up yesterday and had a blast with. Until my hand cramped from using the stylus to aim. And until some guy online owned me 7-0. Otherwise, the combat is intense, fast, and the characters are very interesting to use. Best of all, wi-fi runs like a greased pig. The only hiccups are the short solo missions, and the annoying friend-code player matching if you want to play anything besides vanilla deathmatch.

But the real reason I'm looking forward to this trip will be being able to travel around Taiwan with Xstine's expertise. I never got the feeling I saw much of the real Taiwan outside the tourist traps. We even got a new Cybershot T7 to document the trip, so pictures to follow!

P.S.
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