Friday, April 29, 2005

I didn't think this up, but I wish I had

Last night I was discussing Lien Chan's (and his wife's) trip to China with a person in government and the conversation hit on the panda bears that China may (or may not) offer to send to Taipei. Now, it turns out that accepting or rejecting the pandas, if they're actually on offer, will be a complicated proposition -- apparently a set of international protocols governs the exchange of all pandas, and these protocols require official state-to-state contact. Taiwan will insist on following those protocols. China will argue that the protocols are not applicable because Taiwan is merely a far-flung province that, while it produces delicious pineapples, suffers under the oppression of a cabal of brutal splittist elected leaders.

But that's not the point. The point is that the above-referenced person in government believes that Taiwan should accept no charity pandas from China -- rather, Taiwan should insist on an even trade, in which two bears are shipped to Taipei in exchange for the two Liens' remaining in Beijing. Now there's a fair deal, say I. Let's insist, though, that the Liens be properly fed, that a special dwelling be constructed for them at a modern zoo facility, and that they receive regular medical care from a qualified veterinarian.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Street dogs

You see them by the dozen in every corner of the city. Scroungy, hungry-eyed and skulking, they look prepared to bite off your toes and eat them for dinner. Yet I know of only person in Taipei who's actually been bitten, and he was merely nipped. Plus he deserved it.

What dawns on you after a while is that not all these furry vagabonds are as homeless as they appear. Many of them, in fact, can be observed consorting with human families, and the street-dog population seems to fall dramatically when the sun goes down. So a lot of these characters actually have homes. It's just that they're left free to wander the streets from dawn to dusk, darting into traffic and crapping on the sidewalks.

A few weeks ago I went into a shoe shop so I could get a heel replaced. While I waited for the work to get done, a short fat dog with black circles around his eyes, raccoon-style, kept running inside to shake water off his fur. The shop owner would chase him out but he'd sneak right back inside, flinging dog-water in fine droplets all about the shop. I'd have chased him out myself but I was afraid he'd touch me.

Back to the issue of dogs darting into traffic -- a friend who has lived in Taipei for years tells me that he's never seen a dog hit by a car in this city. The claim is preposterous on its face, but I've never seen a dog hit either, and I've been watching eagerly. How can a city with so much traffic and so many dogs fail to produce dog carcasses? I think we may be witnessing evolution in action -- a form of natural selection in which animals unable to deduce the logic of auto traffic don't get the opportunity to reproduce, making each generation cagier than the last. I've actually seen dogs standing at intersections among the pedestrians, waiting for the light to turn green, then trotting across the crosswalk as if on the way to work. I'll be on the lookout for dogs hailing taxis.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Musicians in Taichung.
Complex issue with no easy answer.

I have a close friend who enjoys playing devil's advocate over coffee on Saturday afternoons. He is taking me to task for what I wrote earlier about the government's decision to eject the Chinese journalists who work for Xinhua and The People's Daily.

To begin with, he told me about the press release from Reporters sans frontieres, which condemned the government's position and suggested that the reporters be allowed in. Here is graf from the organization's statement:
Urging Taiwan to reconsider its decision, the worldwide press freedom organisation said, "Even though the People's Republic of China is certainly no model of press freedom, using censorship against its media makes no sense. We believe that the right to news and information should in no circumstances be compromised because of political differences."
While I understand the point, I still believe that these reporters are reporters in name only. Perhaps this situation could have been handled more smoothly by government officials who, rather than do what many democratic government' officials do, i.e. bullshit, chose to criticize the reporting and tell the world how angry they are about Chinese journalists misrepresenting Taiwan in communist newspapers. What they should have done is either never allowed the journalists into the country to begin with or at the very least spin the issue as a visa problem and not a press problem, though it would have been clear to everyone what was going on.

I am not, however, suggesting that all Chinese journalists or even those who work for party organs, are fake reporters. Anyone who has been keeping up with the ebb and flow of the Chinese press must be aware of the number of significant contributions China's journalists have offered their readers. China seems to have a number of investigative reporters, all of whom probably know the risks they are taking, who continue to uncover corruption, sometimes at the very highest levels of government.

At this juncture, I'd be interested in hearing other opinions on the issue, especially from journalists or those who agree with Reporters sans frontieres' position.

It's not hard for a waiguoren to get good-paying work in Taiwan. But it's also easy to spend a lot of money if you don't pay close attention. So you end up working more to spend more and in turn working more.

Why should it be this way? Taiwan is actually quite an affordable country if you live like the locals do. For proof, the average person's salary here is maybe half of mine -- not even taking into account the extra money I make from freelancing and teaching part-time -- and folks get by just fine on that amount of money. So how do foreigners manage to blow all their extra cash? Well...
  • Western restaurants and Western-style bars are not cheap. Nor are they very good. But when you're feeling lazy or in need of comfort, they're there.
  • Taxi drivers, who are little better than drug pushers, patrol the streets in highly conspicuous vehicles whose entire purpose is to entice you away from your true moral path. Your true moral path, of course, is public transportation.
  • (Taiwanese) girlfriends can be expensive (for foreign guys). It isn't their fault -- but they earn less money, and you can't ask them to pay an equal share every time you eat out or see a movie.
  • Finally -- and this is just my own problem, I imagine -- 100 NT seems to be worth the same as one US dollar. In fact it's worth three US dollars -- but in my mind, it's still just a buck sometimes.
All that said, I've made great financial progress during my time in Taiwan. But I'd spend less time chasing money if it weren't for the obstacles listed above.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Excuses, excuses ...

I know the frequency of posts leaves something to be desired. I am busier now than I have been in a long time. I'm scrambling about trying to fill out financial aid forms for graduate school, plus I have a number of stories to work on and the magazine must be put to bed by Friday. So for the regulars, my apologies. Things should return to normal in May.

And as I understand things, DogoftheSouth is also often beholden to deadline pressures around the same time I am.
A blow to freedom of the press? I think not.

When the Mainland Affairs Council decided to eject two Chinese reporters-- one from Xinhua and the other from the Communist Party's mouthpiece, The People's Daily--earlier this week, we were blessed with the unsurprising hue and cry from the KMT and the biased media outlets that tacitly support the pan-blues.

We were told that ejecting the two reporters was a blow to Taiwan's burgeoning democracy, that freedom of the press was now on its knees begging for mercy and that by sending the reporters back the government would irreparably damage cross-strait relations. We were, so to speak, invited to a horsefeathers banquet.

Just because these reporters work for news agencies doesn't make them real journalists; they are nothing more than hacks for the Chinese Communist Party. They have no interest in balance, fairness, getting at the truth or even reporting the facts. They are paid to file stories that confirm what the boys in Zhongnanhai want to hear. The stories must fill out the narrative that Taiwan is the Rebel Province brimming with evil splittists trying to lead the good people of Taiwan astray on their inexorable journey to "reunification."

How anyone can pretend that these people are anything more than the cogs of a propaganda mill or outright spies baffles...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

For money, on deadline

That's the sort of writing I've done a lot of lately. And I'm a person who likes to write for pleasure. It's the only way you can get away with unrestrained self-indulgence. Editors don't go for that stuff.

But another reason I haven't been posting here lately is that on Rank I want to restrict myself to issues related to Taiwan, and I haven't come to many new revelations about this country for a couple of weeks. But maybe that itself is my revelation of the moment -- that any place you live, no matter how strange to you it is, becomes unremarkable after a while.

Sure, we foreigners have built our stock catalogue of what's weird and wonderful here -- the chicken butts, the stinky tofu, the girls in pink sweaters and knee-high leather boots. But fundamentally we live workaday lives, like anybody anywhere, and we devote more thought to doing our laundry and paying our phone bills than we do to the infinite strangeness that surrounds us.

I could also argue, of course, that Taiwan isn't firing me up right now because in the end it's no different from anywhere else -- that folks are the same all over the world, that they care most about food and sleep and sex and the people they love. That observation isn't false, but it's facile. And it doesn't resolve my questions about not seeing anything new these days in the sensory parade of daily Taipei life.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Hot spots, trouble zones ...

whatever you want to call them, news junkies are always keeping an eye out for the next revolution, coup d'etat or outright act of aggression. In Taiwan--considered one of the hot spots of the world because of China's intransigence--people are aware of the potential for things to get out of hand, so much so that the country's awkward relationship with China defines day-to-day politics.

But if Al Giordano is to be believed, the next international flare up is nigh. Vincente Fox may be about to wager his legacy as a shephard of democracy on a power grab sanctioned by Washington. Read the full piece here. (via James Wolcott)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Spring arrives

I don't mean to say that the sky is blue -- but now it's hazy-gray instead of rainy-gray. And though the birds aren't particularly chirping, at least the rats are no longer sharpening their precious little claws inside the walls of my apartment. That's winter work.

It's just remarkable how frigid a subtropical winter can be -- mostly because subtropical houses lack heating systems. If you're stubborn enough not to purchase a space heater, as I was for one and a half winters, you'll start to pine for northern climes, with their subzero temperatures and central heating.

Space heaters are cheap. I don't know what the hell was wrong with me.

But now the heater's going in the closet. Time to bring out the fans -- we're going to need them.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

An item that should concern bloggers or readers thereof ...

Via Steve Gilliard.
Talking shit

in the Legislative Yuan means you are dooooomed. or canned or harassed ... In any case, it's not good. More here.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The People's Daily gushes over the KMT's visit.

I guess they just can't help themselves. Here are two choice passages:
People on both sides of the Straits have the same roots and share weal and woe, a strip of the shallow straits cannot cut off the feeling of reminiscence. The "tour of reminiscence" embodies such a feeling of history and continuation of tradition, and exhibits the Chinese people's unique national sentiments, so naturally it is easy to strike a responsive chord in people's hearts.
and ...
During its tour, the KMT stressed that it would provide the Taiwan people with "another kind of expectation and choice," and would not "follow the authorities in running amuck," obviously, this remark was made strictly in light of the reality, which deserves deep thoughts to be made by various social circles on the Island.
I'm still stumped about where, if anywhere, the KMT thinks this will lead. The CCP and the KMT inked a 10-point proposal, but since the KMT doesn't represent the government of Taiwan, that piece of paper is merely symbolic. Perhaps one day it'll be considered symbolic of the Nationalists' perfidy. You can read the piece here.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Because the KMT lacks legal standing

to negotiate with the Chinese Communist Party, their having sent a delegation to China to do just that can only be the product of political calculation. But it's a baffling calculation -- as Hyatt noted, they only seem to be rewarding China for belligerence. That won't play in Pingtung.

What they're really after, one assumes, is to undercut the international legitimacy of the DPP, and of the president in particular. In some countries, they'd call that treason.

Isn't it funny how perfectly the KMT's interests seem to align with Beijing's? You'd almost think they were coordinating their strategies...