Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sunday, April 16, 2006, Taiwan Blog Round up

Another Sunday lost in the great wake of life, like a dead whale floating past the gawkers on a cruise ship. Lots of stuff happening, lots of news....

It's Easter week, and I thought I'd start off with the The Taiwan Chronicles considering the problem of Easter:

The dilemma with Easter is slightly more serious in my eyes. For one thing, I'm dealing with a younger class of students this time, and beginning to explain the holiday with "Some people believe that there was a man named Jesus who died for your sins..." is not going to go over as well as it did with the older kids. To the smaller kids, either something is true or it isn't... there is no in between, no room for interpretation. How do I explain to them why two other teachers in our program don't celebrate Easter as I describe it, one coming from a Buddhist family and the other from a Jewish family?

As I write this, I'm starting to feel convinced that I can't teach this lesson at all. As a teacher, I often find myself in a position where the kids believe everything I say. Take leprechauns, for instance... the kids gobbled up everything I said about lephrechauns, took it as truth. It was only when I told them flat out that leprechauns aren't real that they considered the idea could be false. So what happens with Easter? I can't think of any good ways to present it to them without having to answer the question "Is it true?" Whether I believe one way or the other is unimportant, as it isn't my place as a teacher to either support or refute religious beliefs and, again, these children do not yet understand the subtleties of religion and the wide variety of beliefs in the world. It seems as if the best option is to opt out of teaching Easter.

I've always felt that teaching holidays is a colossal waste of time -- for example, how many times have you ever used the phrase "jack-o-lantern" in your life? And yet it is a staple of children's English programs across Taiwan! Why not teach more useful stuff....

Speaking of teaching, Scott, who is on a misson to disprove widely-held beliefs about Asia, takes on another one:

One aspect of education in Asia that is frequently expressed by local and foreign resident alike is that students and universities are fundamentally different from those in Western nations. The belief goes that Asians are so culturally different that their approach to education and schooling does not follow the theoretical models of the West and thus outcomes are radically different. Examples of this belief abound.

In an April 2 comment to this post, Michael Turton makes the claim that Asian academics are different from their western counterparts and that this is what accounts for the differing political behaviour that I describe. Part of his explanation for this focuses on the authoritarian nature of education. I don't mean to pick on Michael since this was also the theme of a long series of posts and comments from the influential blog Jeff in Korea that was carried over to EFL Geek (also see here).

In the course of his comment Michael touches on a number of examples of what I feel reflects erroneous thinking about Asian education. Here, I won't be dwelling on all of them, but I do want to address one point that particularly runs counter to my personal experience....

An area fraught with cross-cultural landmines.....

Wulingren at the Mandate of Heaven blogs beautifully on encounters....

With the passage of time, one of them uttered a question which had the effect of delineating that moment as a break with previous moments in my life. He said: "Do you want to see the real Taiwan, the Taiwan of the mountain folk," the people known in Taipei as aboriginals (yuanzhumin原 住民). He said his friend, a taxi driver, would take me into the hills. I was a little worried because in America I was taught as a child not to speak with strangers, and all those present had been drinking. After thousands of milliseconds of consternation, I accepted and embarked on an adventure.

We drove on winding, mountainous roads. At one point, we stopped at a house, within which we drank Taiwan beer and ate sushi. No, it was not wise to go on this journey, but I seemed to have lost the capacities of judgement, so intent was I on discovery.

It's a long post, and well worth the investment of time.........

I already blogged on it, but again, don't miss David at Jujuflop's wonderful musings on the possible role of KMT Chairman and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou.

In both cases, I would argue that the main issue is that Ma just doesn’t have full control over KMT legislators. Although it’s a tried-and-trusted technique to say positive things in interviews and then conveniently forget about them, I don’t think that is happening here. Ma’s US trip was much more difficult for not having anything positive to say about arms sales - instead of having a proposal to wave, he was left defending the indefensible. Equally, he didn’t have to advise the KMT Caucus to have an open vote this week - he could simply have left the decision up to the caucus without any advice if he wanted to wash his hands of the whole affair.

So, we are left with the probability that the man who over 70% of KMT members support, who is in the middle of a honeymoon period as KMT Chairman doesn’t have the will or the power to control his party. There are several possible reasons for this. Since I think it’s a combination of all of them, I’ll just list them here in no particular order.....

David raises a slew of very interesting issues. Can't wait for time to tell on this one...

TOS, the pro-KMT blogger, holds as an article of faith that the English-language media ignores problems with the Greens....

Another story that seems to be escaping the eye of the English media is the still-developing 太平洋 Sogo scandal. Sogo was once the Taiwan equivalent of Harrods, but has fallen on hard times recently. Sogo’s previous owner, 章民強 Zhang Min-qiang once supported current ROC President 陳水扁Chen Shui-Bian, but later publicly stated that he did so with the hope that Chen would extend his credit and allow him to keep his store.

Actually, two days before TOS posted on the 11th, the Taipei Times had already had two articles on it, TT 4/10, TT 4/9. The English language media certainly doesn't ignore DPP scandals -- it is usually quite distressed by them.

The Gentle Rant muses on the history of panda diplomacy in China:

Panda diplomacy is well over a thousand years old. It began in the Tang Dynasty. The second Tang emperor, Taizong (626-649) reportedly sent a pair to Japan to help seal a trade agreement. (1) Other sources say it took place in 685 when the Empress Wuzetian sent pandas to the Mikado as a goodwill gift. (2) Either way, these amazing creatures have been used as fluffy pawns in China’s great game for at least thirteen hundred years.

Much has already been said about the wisdom of not keeping opposition leaders in a secure location and the questionable wisdom of accepting gifts like these under circumstances like these. On the latter point, I think probably Virgil said it the best in his Aeneid, shortly before the Greeks jumped out of that big horse and slaughtered all the Trojans in their sleep,

equo ne credite, Teucri.
quid quid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentis (3)

Which translates as, “Do not trust the horse, Trojans! Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even bringing gifts.” Let’s hope they’re at least x-rayed.
I had no idea panda diplomacy went back so far....

Feli at Writer's Block blogged on a hate crime against foreigners that entered her own life. I already posted on this below, but I want to round it up because it is just so important.

Then he began to tell me that shortly after we'd danced, some men told him that he had to go i.e. leave the club. Some men took him outside and before he knew it there were three men beating him up with a baseball bat and baton. They hit him in the face, on his back, stomach, legs and knees. They told the American that a woman he'd danced with in the club was pressing charges of sexual harrassment; that she had gone crying to security claiming that he'd grabbed her breast. (*Not that, that could justify roughing someone up!) It was all mostly blur for him. At some point the police picked the American up and he made it to a police station where he reported the incident and made a statement with the help of a Taiwanese friend who translated for him. He also had to go to a hospital for treatment of his injuries. He was in pretty bad shape, his glasses were broken, face messed up, body bruised, head and body aching.

The club already had a rep for this type of thing. Naturally, Apple Daily arrived to misreport events. I hope Thomas' case goes well. Anybody know a good lawyer?

The ever hopeful Jerome Keating spotted a sign of maturity in Taiwan's political sphere:

In the vote, 208 of 221 seated legislators voted. Hsieh needed 105 votes to get a simple majority approval. He got 101 and so lost by four votes. Counting the 86 DPP legislators and 11 TSU legislators the pan-green votes totaled 97. The members of the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union except for Independent legislator May Chin were absent. This meant that four legislators had crossed over and voted for Hsieh.

PFP Legislator Shen Chih-huei was one. Shen stated that to vote on partisan lines in this case was interfering with justice for political reasons. To prove her point she displayed her yes vote for all to see and then cast her ballot. In Taiwan politics this is a rare occurrence and that woman should be noted for her conviction.

There was no reason to vote against Hsieh, who had a distinguished record as a prosecutor. The whole thing was just another example of the ongoing obstructionism of the KMT and its allies. Keating wrote further on the ethics of another prosecutor attacking Hsieh.

In a recent editorial, one of Taiwan's English-language papers expressed the twisted and convoluted logic often found in Taiwan politics. At issue was the problem of how prosecutor Lee Tzu-chun could co-lead a rally to protest the selection of Hsieh Wen-ding as Prosecutor General. In trying to influence Hsieh's selection process through leading the rally, Lee was clearly taking sides.
Read the whole article; it is a good example of the kind of crap that democracy in Taiwan has to overcome.

Daniel at Suitcasing comments on the act of blogging:

Rarely in the comment section of a blog, do commenters make note of the blogger's style. Unless you are deliberately writing poetic or descriptive writing, people seem to focus on your argument, your research, your politics. This is perhaps strange, as I believe the real struggle in writing is not logic or data (you have those long before you being typing) but of rhetoric. The blogger sits down and asks not, "What do I believe?" but "How am I going to put this"? The real enemy a writer faces is language; particularly in the blogging medium, mostly posts are written fairly quickly without much reference to outside facts, so how the writer writes is essential. It would be nice to occasionally see comments saying something like, "As a side issue, your argument about China is infantile, but I want to say that paragraphs two and three were beautiful".

Many of the questions that we ask ourselves probably have no answer and have been debated for centuries. It is also probable that once an issue reaches a certain complexity, it contains an infinite number of possible interpretations. Discussions of the meaning of Bible verses, "What is x part of Chinese culture?", "Is it right for us to....?" - is it possible that a very large part of what we are doing is telling stories, and how appealing those stories are determines how true they seem? A blogger who writes generally in favour of a feature of Taiwanese society, and a blogger who mauls it, are they really in disagreement? Are they writing in utterly different words about something that, were they discussing it face to face, they would end up almost completely agreeing on?

Good writing once again.

Pinyin News reports that the Taiwan gov’t wants to subsidize ‘mother-tongue’ education in kindergartens. It's good to know our budget here in Taiwan is unlimited....he also notes that Mayor Ma of Taipei has called for more Mandarin in Taipei schools. I'm not generally in favor of mother tongue education here. Not only does it cost money, but in the current atmosphere of identity politics it simply creates permanent ethnic communities that have vested interests in perpetuating themselves as subsidy recipients, thus impairing Taiwan's already dangerous underdeveloped sense of its own nationhood. Pinyin News also blogged on the myth of Chinese characters and lefties...

I came across an article earlier on myths about left-handedness. The section labeled “oppressing the left” notes that “lefties have long suffered.” One of the statements made in support of this, however, is that “Chinese characters prove extremely difficult to write with the left hand.” I’ve heard this assertion about Chinese characters before, many times....

Certainly there’s been a great deal of discrimination against left-handed people in China and Taiwan, where they are often forced to switch. This happens even more frequently in those two countries than in the West, where it almost certainly continues to occur. (When I was in second grade my teacher tried to force me to use my right hand. Fortunately for me, my left-handed father came to school to set her straight on this. )

Oddly enough, people in Taiwan and China have often remarked to me that left-handed people are especially smart.

They were just sucking up to you, Mark!

Foreigner on Formosa blogs on Not Getting Invited....

Now I know how Ma Ying-jeou feels. Ma, the rookie KMT chairman, couldn't even manage to get an invite to a meeting held by lawmakers belonging to his own party. The April 10th meeting consisted of 20 to 30 legislators from southern districts who are unhappy with the party's current obstructionist policies. There, attendees discussed changing the party's goals, as well as methods for directing the party towards greater moderation on the issue of legislative gridlock. A few days afterwards, the snubbed chairman was reduced to announcing he was "happy to see legislators have opinions on the party's affairs."

I was waiting for David at jujuflop to comment on this event! The Foreigner beats him to the punch. As this event shows, the KMT is in fact a deeply-divided party.....and those divisions still have to work themselves out in the future...

Lien Chan went to China this week, and the blogosphere was pretty quiet, all things considered, except for a flap about Taiwan businessmen being forced to go to the event, which ESWN and I blogged on (see Taiwanese Businessmen Forced to Attend Lien-Hu Lovefest in China). Rank noted in Lien's Trip to China:

Honorary KMT Chairman Lien Chan is following up last April's historic Chinese visit with another this year. He's leaving Thursday, April 14. Since he added the "honorary" title, the Chinese could hardly not accord him even more honors befitting a high-profile provincial minion - so he gets to meet with PRC President Hu Jintao on Sunday.

Hu's most generous gift to Lien and Taiwan last year was a pair of giant pandas. He's expected to offer more goodwill this year - probably in the form of more non-cashable currency. The big question in some people's minds: Will Hu take President Chen's bait and announce that he embraces the 1992 consensus and explicitly state that it means that Beijing can interpret "one China" as the PRC and Taipei can can interpret it as the ROC?
I'd like to see Chen talking to China. It would be an enormous boost for him....which is why the PRC will never permit it to happen. You can be sure that Lien Chan impressed that on his hosts.

The Lost Spaceman penned on the Spring Scream. I have to admit that I was/am in exactly the same position as him, having never been to one either:

Before this weekend, I had been a Spring Scream virgin. My impressions of Spring Scream were negative. I imagined it to be a massive English teacher piss up with some smoke and moderately terrible indie bands stinking up three stages in an over the top masturbatory celebration of foreign music. I understand those are the roots of the festival, but it has grown up strong and mighty. While the show had several drawbacks (like being in Kenting, Taiwan's pathetic answer to Koh Chang and a non-existent shuttle service to and from the inaccessible concert grounds), I was happy to be just a music fan for three days as opposed to "that foreigner" or something else defined by the color of my language.

Over the two days I was on site and not handing out magazines (the site of Highway 11 as festival litter was both troubling and mildly alluring) I was able to catch about two dozen bands from Taiwan, North America and Japan. Although I wouldn't say that I'm the best source of information on the Asian independent scene, I was really impressed with the show and the caliber of music in Taiwan (and Japan for that matter). My faith in Taiwan has been restored for the millionth time knowing there are people here who are making and distributing good music.
And don't miss the magazine, Highway 11, available up and down the East Coast, that he and his sturdy Hakka girl edit.

Taiwanonymous introduces the world of Chinese pronouns for Deities:

I knew that there is a unique character (祂) in Chinese for the third-person pronoun of God, but I only recently came across something distinctive for referring to Satan. (For an interesting discussion about the use of the characters 祂 and 祢 as respectful or honorific ways of referring to God, see the comments section here.) In the work I was reading, the third-person pronoun 牠, which is normally used to refer to animals, was used throughout the text when referring to Satan. I wondered, is this a unique example of a de-honorific? Not to play the devil's advocate, but was the devil being demoted to a beast? Does this have anything to do with the traditional image of a hoofed Devil with tail and pitchfork?

I checked the most common edition of the Chinese Bible, the Union (和合) version. The Bible is not particularly fond of using third-person pronouns, and Chinese uses them even less than English, so it took a bit of looking to find some examples. The results were not conclusive in showing the beginnings of this usage. This translation does not even use the 祂 character for God, so, as expected, its treatment of Satan is very even-handed. In the temptation of Jesus in the desert, for example, the normal third-person pronoun 他 is used for the Devil. When Satan is characterized as a dragon, the pronoun for animals, 牠 is used.

Learn something new every day.....

As a university teacher, I am well aware that it is very easy to get a rep for being se, obsessed with sex. Probably everyone who has been in Taiwan a couple of years remembers the big flap about the Taipei sexuality prof who got reamed publicly because she had a link to a beastiality site on her website. That raging double standard is one reason my blog, which read by some of my students, is so light on sexual stuff. So it is with the most awed, jealous wonder that I contemplate the blog of Brian, who teaches at a university in southern Taiwan and regularly blogs on all sorts of outre sex stuff. This week there were entries on domination, and of course, polyamory:

Polyamory is more than just an excellent drag name. It's the state of being openly in love with more than one person, or having more than one love relationship simultaneously. Kind of like polygamy without the marriage part. Thanks to HBO's new series "Big Love," which features a Utah polygamist with three wives, romantic multitasking is getting viewed with a fresh new eye. Honestly, I think a lot of people are in polyamorous relationships. It's just that one member of the group doesn't know about it yet -- they're called "affairs." I mentioned this theory to Janet Kira Lessin, president and CEO of the World Polyamory Association, and she thinks it's just about right. "Our society suffers from pluralistic ignorance. We're doing one thing while professing another," she says."Polyamory is just another offshoot of people who are sick and tired of having to lie."

HBO has a series on polygamy? Interesting. I admire polyamorists; I hardly have the energy to keep up with one wife.

Peking Duck had a great post on an article in the IHT about Hu's charm offensive against Taiwan, and the two Chinas -- the foreign policy China that Hu handles so well, and the anarchy that is China at home...

The bottom line is this: Lin said this was exactly correct. There are two Chinas and they exist in separate universes. Now, this is not any great revelation. We've discussed it here many times, especially in regard to local officials who are free to act at whim with no fear of reprisal or justice, existing literally in a universe apart from The central Party. Lin said the great paradox here is that despite Hu's awesome power, he is literally helpless to make any changes in China's domestic situation, only in its foreign policy (which, granted, can then in turn affect China's domestic situation).

So I've been thinking about this paradox all week. Should we admire Hu Jintao as the Bismarck or Metternich of his time, using political skill to achieve enviable results? Or should we laugh at him for being utterly impotent to effect any meaningful change in the country over which he allegedly rules? If he is so utterly incapable of halting corruption, of freeing the innocent, of enforcing the law, of imprisoning unabashed scoundrel and murderers, why does he even live in China? Couldn't he set up a condo in Bermuda and run China's foreign policy from there? What difference does it make? According to Lin, he's literally irrelevant to China's domestic situation.

SHORTS: Tea Masters posts pics of her Qing Dynasty tea cups. Senorita Pequena reviews the Turkish Restaurant in Tainan. The Gentle Rant posts a wonderful series of pics on the Gods Themselves walking around his neighborhood. Apple Daily had another hate screed against foreigners, discussed at Forumosa: "Foreigners only interested in sex". Taiwanonymous checks out the image museum in Hsinchu. Don't miss the podcasting at Getting a Leg Up, The Bluesman's Killing Floor, Misadventures in Taiwan, Ugly Expat, The Formosa Diaries, and What's Up in Taiwan. As always, great photos at 35togo, Unplugged, the forgetful's photo gallery, the forgetful's photo gallery, amateur commune, andres, Clarke vs Matt, Cat Piano, T_C at Fotolog, battphotos, Fotologging Taiwan, Photoactionboy, leftmind, MaMaHuHu, Everything Visible is Empty, Roger in Taiwan, Love Songs (Are for Losers), Photoblogging Taiwan, Eight Diagrams, Tagging Taichung, Finding the Rabbit, and The New Hampshire Bushman in Taiwan and The World. Also, Waiguoren Project wants your stories.

WEATHER: Rain sucks. Cold rain sucks more. Gone by Wednesday, the weather bureau says.


In and Around Taiwan
China Confidential


Chili Cook Off in Taichung Sat Apr 22
Taipei Hypnosis Workshop Sun Apr 23
Blogging Roundtable Sat Apr 22 Tainan
International Democracy Forum Taipei April 29-30
Breakfast Club Meet Up, Taipei, May 6

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