Thursday, March 31, 2005

Beijing tames the shrew?

Now that Beijing has tentatively agreed to see Lien Chan, the chairman of the KMT, to talk about cross-strait relations, one has to wonder what the KMT thinks they'll get out of this. At this juncture even the most naive of us have to ask why the KMT seems intent on rewarding Beijing's belligerence--after China passed the anti-secession law--with talk of thawing realtions. If anything, the KMT's behavior will reinforce the CCP's thinking when it comes to Taiwan; prove you're a tyrant and be rewarded with supplication.

The KMT will have to make a choice soon, whether its members would prefer to draw their power from the people in Taiwan, or instead try to curry favor from the ghoulish lot at Zhongnanhai.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Here's something on ducks and necrophilia.

Important research from Holland.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Here's something I desperately need ...


Friday, March 25, 2005

I'm leaving Taiwan

on Monday. I'll be shipping out, starting over, putting all this behind me. I'll return on Wednesday, of course -- shipping back, picking up where I left off, getting right back in the swing of things.

I'll be spending the interim in Macao. Doesn't it sound terribly exciting to say "I'm off to Macao?" And even more exciting to say "I'll be on assignment in Macao"?

No, it in fact sounds foolish to say you'll be on assignment in Macao -- when in fact you'll gamble and eat Portuguese food and drink alcohol and (very grudgingly) shop and visit historic buildings and fend off prostitutes, like everyone else. Since when do slots and baccarat constitute an "assignment?" My biggest assignment will be getting back with my wallet.

Now, to matters closer at hand. Tomorrow I must shake off my nasty cold and go document the big rally against China's anti-secession law. Scores of other journalists, some of them professional, will also document the rally, but I'm going to give it that special "Dog of the South" touch nonetheless. I'll tell you later where to find the write-up.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Food poisoning sucks ...

After having holed up in the bathroom for well over eight hours, and recovering in bed for another 24, I say stay away from ice cream.

On a brighter note, we'll see on Saturday if President Chen Shui-bian can get a million marchers to the streets to protest the anti-secession law. I for one am hoping that the numbers go through the roof. Of course such a protest won't change Beijing's mind, but it might remind China's martinets that their ham-fisted approach to Taiwan leaves something to be desired.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The joy of civic duty

On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays we recycle paper, clean plastic bags and old clothes. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays it's cans, glass, batteries, oil, unwanted appliances and plastic containers. On a schedule that I confess has not yet become reflexive for me, we dispose of our food scraps -- dividing them into "things that pigs don't eat," such as coffee grounds and egg shells, and "things that pigs do eat," such as everything else. And on each of the trucks' thrice-nightly runs, we unburden ourselves of our plain old trash. After all the recycling, surprisingly little falls into this last category.

It's a marvelous system, not only because of its manic environmental ambition, but also because it provokes a simply awesome display of civic cooperation in a city whose ordinary functioning might generously be described as a sort of enlightened chaos. As soon as the garbage trucks announce their coming with a musicbox rendition of Edelweiss that despite its tinniness is shockingly loud, all the neighborhood housewives, and some of the more forward-thinking househusbands, plus the odd bachelor, come scurrying down from their tenement walk-ups to joyfully fling their pre-sorted waste into appropriate, environmentally-conscious, legally-mandated bins. We get hectored a bit by the garbagemen, but they're paid to hector and can't be blamed.

On man-sized tricycles, freelance recyclers trail the trucks aggregating cardboard for sale at bulk. Who's paying the tricycle-men for cardboard when the city collects tons of the stuff for free? This is a question I cannot ask in my fractured Mandarin. And everyone's speaking Taiwanese to begin with.

Monday, March 21, 2005

More to the point ...

Moral indignation is certainly edifying; you can snort and stomp like a rhinocerous. With all the hand wringing over the French push to sell arms to Beijing, US officials are lashing out at Gallic hypocrisy. At first glance, one can hardly blame them. Indeed French efforts to lift the arms embargo on China stink of avarice and blandishments that flow like the Loire.

Yet waving the fist may be premature. This Asia Times article describes a US$5 billion loan, approved by the US Export-Import Bank to China National Nulear Corp. If true, the US is bankrolling China’s growing nuclear ambitions as Janus-faced US officials berate Beijing for its cavalier approach to proliferation. The Times’ sources say that Chinese officials have assured the US that proliferation is a thing of the past. If Washington takes such statements at face value while castigating France for its naivite in dealing with China, then something other than principle is afoot. At this juncture, the US’ argument with France is one of style, not substance.

The late Edward Said once wrote: “One of the shabbiest of intellectual gambits is to pontificate about abuses in someone else’s society and to excuse exactly the same practices in one’s own.”

Let's cut to the chase; everyone wants in on the game. Australia has floated the idea of exporting enriched uranium to China. The US has pulled off a back-door deal at the behest of American nuclear firms. Russia’s planned joint military exercises with China is more about Moscow’s desire to show off the hardware to a prospective buyer than it is to strengthen ties. Ukraine has admitted to selling ballistic missiles to China. France’s true sin, it would seem, is that he asked first if he could kiss the girl.

Friday, March 18, 2005

What happened?

Well, I suppose I should at least say a word or two about why I haven't been posting much this week. I've caught another severe cold, and it has taken all the energy I could muster just to make it in to work. (It was deadline week at the magazine.)

I'm also about to pull a variation of the much-hated Josh Marshall here by telling you that I have written a post that I think should be seen, but I have to give it further consideration, because by posting it, I could adversely affect a friendship, so I may not. How's that for a lame tease?

Monday, March 14, 2005

They've gone and done it

China's new "anti-secession" law, which provides to the moral cowards who run the PRC a statutory justification for a war they'll probably never have the courage to launch, will provoke some concerned murmuring in Washington, some hot rhetoric in Taipei, and lots of bilious propaganda in Beijing. Beyond that, what's it likely to change?

I'll argue somewhat cavalierly that only the following events can cause meaningful change in the Strait:
  • China develops into a liberal democracy -- or, just as usefully, implodes;
  • The US decides to recuse itself from proceedings in the Pacific;
  • Taiwan declares formal independence without the US' blessing; or,
  • Taiwan, in a fit of national psychosis, agrees to unify with China
That's a pretty narrow set of circumstances -- which is why we're at an impasse to begin with -- and China's masturbatory legislative process has nothing to do with any of it. Hu Jintao will daydream a little more boldly now about ordering a missile strike on the Presidential Office, about putting that little demagogue Chen Shui-bian out of his splittist misery, but daydreaming is as far as he'll get.

All that said, I look forward to March 26 -- when Chen has called for a million people to pour into Taipei's streets to protest the "anti-secession" law. A banner day for Taiwanese identity! I'd thought that Chen could ride that pony no further for the moment, but here comes reliable old China to the rescue, figuring out yet again how to antagonize the Taiwanese people, proving as if more proof were needed that Beijing doesn't know democracy from jelly doughnuts.

Friday, March 11, 2005


From time to time you see them selling packs of gum around Taipei, hooded to hide their disfigurement, with so much irrecoverable -- burn victims.

A day or two ago I saw a woman who had chosen not to hide beneath the hood. Her bravery was staggering, but her appearance made you understand why others make a different choice. The woman simply had no face left, nothing recognizable as a human feature, and if her head had not been attached to a body, I wouldn't have known what it was. She was flanked by men I took to be her brothers; thank heaven for mercies.

Some months ago I saw a man lying across a window-unit air conditioner that was protruding from an eighth-floor office. He was working steadily with his screwdriver and wrench, going about his business as if he were engaged in something normal.

Families on scooters -- small children standing on the floorboards, unharnessed and helmetless between a parent's feet. Busses to the left, delivery trucks to the right, the scooter itself zipping as scooters do through the mass hysteria of Taipei traffic.

And this relative pecadillo, that Taiwan taxis are equipped with seat belts but none of them actually work. This is less dangerous than it sounds, because some of the cabbies are sober.

Dare I ask what sorts of standards are prevalent in the control rooms of Taiwan's nuclear power plants?

I understand that modern concepts of safety are the luxury of fully-developed nations -- but Taiwan is wealthy enough for little bits of luxury.

I understand that modern concepts of safety can metastasize into something oppressive, as when parents refuse to let children skin their knees.

But nonetheless. Would a bit of sensible precaution-taking be a bad thing in Taiwan? Would safety squeeze the lifeblood out of a country whose whole charm is its zaniness?

I say no. So I encourage repairmen to dismount their air conditioners and come back inside, where the ground is nearer by. I call on scooter-families to ride the slow old bus instead. Most of all, I'd prefer to see more buildings equipped with fire escapes, so that we'd encounter fewer hooded unfortunates who sell chiclets for a living.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Big News.

The beginning of the week was a smashing success if you think of bad news as a house party. The Central Intelligence Bureau (CIB) announced that they apprehended, ahem, a dead man, Chen Yi-hsiung, who, according to the CIB tried to kill President Chen Shui-bian last March. It's not always good news when you get your guy, especially if he is as stiff as a board and can neither defend nor incriminate himself. This end is just grist for the mill for the die-hard conspiracy lot. And die-hard they are; their raison d'etre is to find the "truth," which means getting the public to swallow their scurrilous lies.

Then China leaked some of the language contained in the "anti-secession" bill, a bill that reinforces China's threats to invade Taiwan, while reminding the world that Beijing would prefer the international community to treat China's belligerence toward Taiwan as an internal matter. The story got good play in the press, and CNN trotted out its China-Taiwan expert who parroted a number of Beijing's characterizations of Taiwan. Sigh.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

New blogger, first post.

Hello, readers of Rank. And thanks, Hyatt, for allowing me to blog here.

Among the oddities of being a foreigner in Taiwan — and I’m using “foreigner” as shorthand for “English-speaking male” — is how easily you can position yourself as an expert on a wide range of issues about which you know virtually nothing. Boiled dumplings, the martial-law era, public graft, street dogs, Taiwanese womanhood, notions of face, ineffectual policemen, brief naps at lunchtime — no matter the topic, your opinion somehow matters. I, for one, didn’t know when I arrived in this country who its president was; within months I was providing analysis of Taiwanese politics to publications on two continents. Even earlier than that I was writing instruction manuals for electronics devices that I did not understand how to operate. And of course, many of Taiwan’s English classes are taught by near-illiterates, not all of them Australians. Why is this sort of foolishness tolerated? Why are foreigners not prevented from broadcasting their ignorance, from perpetrating their incompetence? Can foreigners not be educated? Or trained in some useful skill?

We probably can’t — because Taiwanese people consider us indispensable. If it weren’t for us, after all, who would edit wretched Chinglish texts until they are grammatically perfect and perfectly incomprehensible? In teaching English as a second language, who would establish the international impression that white people wake up every afternoon in a puddle of beer and dirt? In journalism, who would compose the error-filled news pieces, the meandering features, the wrong-headed editorials — all of them suffused with that weary nonchalance, the product of not having one’s self-regard challenged when a challenge is exactly what it needs? And even in romance, who would date those vastly forbearing Taiwanese girls who see in us something that’s invisible in our peers?

We get away with a lot. It’s why some of us are here. But ignorance unchallenged grows braver and more pronounced, like a patch of mold in the shower. That said, two or three times every week starting now, I’m going to post Taiwan-related pieces in this space. Let me know if I seem to be forgetting what I’ve written today.

Friday, March 04, 2005


It looks like Rank is about to have a new blogger aboard. Dog of the South has expressed an interest in writing on Taiwan, which should give the blog more focus than it has had up until now. I'll let him fill you in on what he's about.

In addition, I've altered the masthead, intend to fix the uppercase lettering of the blog's title and have changed the weekly archives to monthly now that the blog is beginning its sixth month. I'm also looking into getting an RSS feed set up.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

"My own mind is my own church."

The US wasn't founded on Christian values. More here.
Moo now means more than we thought ...

Just read the article.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Hammering the point home.

I just got back from the videoconference held here in Taipei at the Presidential Office where President Chen Shui-bian spoke with members of the European Union's Parliament in Brussels. What was eminently clear (a redundancy I know, but hell, I'm tired) was the fact that Chen had one point he wanted to get across; the European Union member states, by lifting the arms sanctions on China, was abandoning its universal values such as democracy and human rights, to serve national interests. Without being explicit, he implied that the EU member states were being hypocritical. And he made the point over and over again. No EU MP could have left that meeting without having an idea of what Chen wanted to say.