Monday, March 10, 2014

How the construction-industrial state really works

So... for a couple of years now a man, we'll call him Mr Ching, who lives in a Taipei suburb, has been talking to a developer about an urban renewal program for his house. Mr Ching's house is old and the original builder ignored the law and built one end of it into the alley behind. The city has promised to knock more than a meter off the end of each house on that alley, some day.

Anyway, the program was always presented to Mr Ching as an urban renewal program, under which he'd have certain rights since the government was involved, and he could appeal to the authorities if anything went wrong. They promised to give him two apartments in the new development, and to give him money for rent. But yesterday that contract arrived. Since he couldn't understand it, being in his 80s and unfamiliar with the laws, he gave it to his daughter, who is ubersmart, works in a foreign trade office, and speaks several languages fluently. Being paranoid, she actually read it, and discovered that it is not in fact a contract for urban renewal, but a simple contract between himself and the construction company. Promises seem to have suddenly vanished.

Cultural stuff comes into play. Mr Ching is your basic "tiger at home, kitty outside" kind of man, and doesn't want to raise a fuss. His daughter, who is stubborn, insists that they attend the meeting of the whole area homeowners and get a public explanation. Because he is the eldest of 11 children, he does not consult any of his brothers, several of whom are experienced businessmen who regularly buy and sell properties. That would a loss of face; he'd rather lose the money, home, etc. Interestingly, most of the other area owners are mainlanders and they all have urban renewal contracts. This is not because of ethnic favoritism, the (Hoklo) daughter tells me. It is because one key difference between mainlanders and Taiwanese is that mainlanders are often pushier and more likely to speak out on their own behalf, so the construction company was more circumspect with them. But they felt they could push Mr Ching around without a problem.

All over Taiwan, Mr Chings....
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