Saturday, 22 March 2008

Two cents more to the BBC

Last night on my way home I passed by the Taipei City Government MRT stop. There was a lot of political rallying going on - people giving out flags and flyers and inflatable sticks and other unimaginable paraphernalia emblazoned with the crests of the candidates. On my way down the escalator a young couple ahead of me were both wearing t-shirts with "TAIWAN 1" on the back (supporters of DPP candidate Frank Hsieh 謝長廷), and holding green flags. Coming up the escalator was a man all in blue, with a great big red "2" in his hand (supporter of KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou 馬英九). They passed each other on the escalator as the tenseness of pre-election political fission seemed to drown out all else in the air.

Today we made headline on BBC News: "Taiwan Counts Presidential Votes."There's a Have Your Say option at the end of the article - so if you'd like to give your two-cents for free, now's the time. Here's my two cents:

The Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895 ceded Taiwan to Japanese rule for 50 years. My grandfather grew up under the Japanese occupation, and it is a period which has left indelible marks on the island and its people. Hence the separate governance of Taiwan happened before 1949.

Even as a child in Taiwan, our sovereignty and independence had always been to me an incontrovertible fact. When I first understood the situation as it is today: Taiwan denied international recognition, and under the constant threat of a dangerous, ambitious neighbour, I felt a great sense of injustice.

As we move toward real democracy and further onto the international stage, I hope that Taiwan will be able to gain international recognition and support. Although I am for Taiwanese independence, I recognize the right of the other citizens in my country to have a say in the matter. Thus the question of whether Taiwan should be independent of China is one which must be put to a referendum for the Taiwanese. Although the referendums being held today are ostensibly about UN membership, independence is the real question. Those who oppose holding "provocative" referendums or pushing for independence do so not because they wish to be part of a tyrannical state with a poor human rights record, but for fear of China's military might.

China's threats of violence and tactics of international isolation against Taiwan is an atrocity against the principles of democratic freedom. The international community at large would benefit from supporting Taiwan's claims to independence - not only because it would be the right thing to do, but because if China is not taught a lesson and weaned off its habit of bullying to get its way, one day it will point its missiles and nuclear weapons at someone else.

After I gave them my two cents I had a browse around a few pages on the BBC about Taiwan. There were certain things I found curious (in addition to their statement that Taiwan had been separately governed since 1949, which I dealt with in my comment above):

From Q&A: Taiwan Elections I quote:
"The Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, dominated Taiwanese politics for more than 50 years."
Now, I know I may be biased, but I think "dominated" is perhaps an understatement. That's like saying Leopold II "controlled" the Congo Free State. While these terms are not, strictly speaking, erroneous, they sanitize an entire period of abuse and leave a seemingly unambiguous clean slate behind. The KMT government did in fact dominate Taiwan - they also conducted the 228 Massacre, imposed martial law, suppressed freedoms of speech, and instituted arbitrary detainment during the White Terror era - just to name a few things they did whilst "dominating."

"But over his (soon to be former president Chen Shui-bian 陳水扁) eight years in power, voters have become increasingly concerned about economic issues and have tired of the corruption scandals that have dogged Mr Chen and his aides."
This is correct - but I would like to add that during their years of "domination," the KMT did not hesitate to fill their coffers by pilfering from the public. Their party-assets are still a topic of dispute in Taiwan. Unfortunately, corruption is not one-sided.

"Mr Ma, whose party traditionally leans more towards China"
Just exactly what does "leans more toward" mean? It's really wonderfully vague. Officially, the KMT still thinks that it's the legitimate government in exile of ALL of China - the reason why they would be open to "a conditional peace deal with Beijing at an unspecified point in the future" is because the KMT believes it has a claim to Chinese government as a whole rather than just that of Taiwan (guess what Beijing would say to that). The "condition" here is re-unification - but I don't see the BBC getting into any detail.

From Timeline: Taiwan, I'd like to note that it begins only in 2000, thus missing out a great deal of background necessary to understanding the current situation. Also, I quote:

2002 January - Taiwan officially enters the World Trade Organisation, only a few weeks after China. Yes, but only as a "Separate Customs Territory," collectively known as "Chinese Taipei" - also the title under which we compete in international sporting events.

2003 July - Taiwan is the final country to be removed from the WHO's list of countries which were badly affected by the Sars virus. This is very interesting - because the BBC seems to have made a slip and called Taiwan a "country" - Beijing would not be pleased. Also, it fails to mention that Taiwan does not even have observer status in the WHO! On this issue, I quote:

Since 1972, Taiwan's health officials and medical professionals have been unable to take part in any WHO forums and workshops on the latest technologies in the diagnosis, monitoring, and control of diseases. Taiwan's health authorities have also been denied the right to maintain contact and coordination with the WHO, even in emergencies involving the containment and cure of existing or newly emerging infectious diseases. (Working for Health: Let Taiwan be WHO's Worthy Partner)

Now, politics aside, this is just dumb. Diseases do not recognize national boundaries. If you have ever worried for yourself or your loved ones because of a disease, or feared for nameless individuals in news reports who were perhaps even unknown to you, then you now know that the WHO's refusal to allow Taiwan participation on political grounds puts everyone (especially as the world keeps getting smaller) at risk by making us the missing link.

One last thing - we may have been the last country to be removed from that list, but unlike China, we are not in the habit of concealing information from international community in order to save face. Do you think you can trust the Chinese governments' reports on SARS? on the Avian-Flu? Let me remind you that they've just ejected all foreign journalists out of Tibet, and then reported that Tibetan dissidents are "turning themselves in."

2007 January - Taiwan defends school history textbooks which refer to China. Beijing accuses Taipei of introducing independence ideologies into the classroom. (ahem, and you don't inculcate your people with the idea that if Taiwan wants to separate, violence is the "legal" resort? Pot calling the kettle black, I should think)

Lastly, on the subject of being the aggressor:
2001 June - Taiwan test-fires Patriot anti-missile defence system bought from US, as China carries out military exercises simulating invasion of island.
2007 March - Newspaper reports that Taiwan has test-fired cruise missile capable of hitting Shanghai or Hong Kong.

Well, I'd like to think that these are a thumbs-up to our military might - but who are we kidding? if China invaded, our only hope is to hold them off long enough to make one last call of help to the US before kissing our loved ones goodbye. I'm serious, we live under constant military threat: there are 1,300 military missiles aimed at Taiwan right now, and their numbers are multiplying. But still the BBC makes it sound as though we were looking for a fight.

Am I biased and paranoid? I'd have to say that it's a distinct possibility - but hear me out here: context is everything - and that is exactly what is lacking in what I read on the BBC regarding the cross-strait issue.

There are several other pieces on the website about Taiwan that I've not had a chance to look at yet - perhaps after dinner...

Friday, 21 March 2008

Taiwan Swing Dance Movement: Contd.

I recently became a part-time worker, which has given me some much appreciated breathing space. I do 3 days a week, get to spend 3 days up in my mountain abode, and 1 day to do swing in town. Yesterday we took advantage of the decent weather (look! no rain!), and built us a bed. Later on Toph designed flyers for the Taiwan Swing Dance Movement for an event on Saturday.

He got the information from the flyers off the Taiwan Swing Dance Movement blog. I sent it out to the other organizers (Maria & Jon, now that Claire has left us to go back to Germany) to be verified. Turns out some of the information was wrong. At the same time that I found this out, I also realized that Maria and I seem to have fallen out of the habit of, well, organizing things together.

While I was working full time I had very little opportunity to spend time on the Swing scene. I guess now that I have more time I need to catch up on developments. One of the developments that I had missed out on is that Maria's lesson times and location have changed. I didn't realize this, so the information on the blog remained much the same as before. Another thing I didn't realize is that Maria and Claire have another blog, Swing Island, also about the Taiwan Swing Dance Movement.

At this point I began to wonder if our fledgling scene had already schismed.

Sometimes in one city you get alot of little different scenes, without much interchange between them. There's even been cases where the dancers boycotted one anothers' classes and dances. It seems a little bit crazy, I know, but it happens.

Obviously we're not at that kind of stage. But I still think that it's time we brought each other up to date on what's happening, and perhaps consolidated things a little. I mean, because I didn't know about the Swing Island blog, the Taiwan Swing Dance Movement blog doesn't even link to it (whereas the Swing Island Blog links to TSDM, but it's a broken link).

I guess my goal is to have a scene that's not too fractured - especially in terms of communicating information. Luckily we still share the same Google Group, so when things happen, everyone should know about it. It's just that I was under the impression that we were working together, but lately I've begun to wonder if it's really working the way it should. Perhaps my past record of being unavailable to help out with things (also my working schedule, which effectively kills any kind of social life) has hindered things a bit. But surely it's not too late to catch up?

Re: Thanks a fucking lot, BBC & The Far Eastern Sweet Potato

I'd like to think that you and I made a little difference. The offending article regarding Tibet on the BBC websites now makes no reference to Taiwan. Though they never got back to me personally, and didn't post a correction/apology as I had suggested, at least they realized their mistake.

So if you wrote them, thank you very much.

This may also be a good time to introduce the blog of a work-colleague, The Far Eastern Sweet Potato. In fact, on reading J.M.'s response to the BBC, I am definitely put to shame. His blog is one of the most thoughtful, articulate, and informative commentaries on politics that I have come across. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Thanks a fucking lot, BBC

Here's something that almost made me spew my breakfast all over my laptop this morning. In an article on the Tibet situation, the BBC comments:

The Dalai Lama calls not for independence, but for greater autonomy within China. There are various formal frameworks through which that could be achieved.
The one-country, two-systems model devised for Taiwan is one possibility.
So far, that has gone well in Hong Kong - although Hong Kong and Tibet are at very different stages of development.

What's the problem with that? First of all, anyone who knows anything about the cross-strait situation knows that Taiwan and Hong Kong are in vastly different political situations. China has "PROPOSED," not "DEVISED" (devised, to me, implies acceptance on our part), a plan - the "one-country, two-systems," and we told them to fucking stuff it (ok, we didn't have big enough guns to put it those terms, but we are having none of it). So, here we are, an independent, democratic nation seeking international support and recognition (because we've got Asia's biggest bully breathing down our necks and aiming missiles at us) - and what does BBC do? Well, the journalistic equivalent to putting a noose around our necks and chucking us out to the wolves. Now every reader of the BBC is under the impression that the BBC thinks Taiwan is a region with "greater autonomy within China." I am disgusted, especially as I like the BBC.

If you care about Taiwan's international status, please help us out by emailing the BBC and letting them know that they've just made a very pro-China error.

Here's how:
Click here, and give them your two cents - better yet, demand that they give you a response.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Goodbye, grandad

Early yesterday morning my grandfather passed away. He'd been ill for about two weeks and was staying at a hospital in southern Taiwan, where my aunt works as a nurse. I went down two days a week and stayed with him. With him being in intensive care, were allowed 2 visits of 30 minutes each every day. All our extended family who could make it went to see him. My aunt flew back from Canada. I don't remember the last time when we were all together somewhere. He was very lucid, but in a great deal of pain. He had a feeding tube and was hooked up to a breathing machine. He couldn't speak so we gave him a clipboard and a pen. He asked for coffee.

Since he got ill I'd been thinking about all the things I know and remember about him. I don't know which memory is my earliest of my grandfather. Probably the time when he put me off smoking for the rest of my life: I asked if smoking is fun, since he does it so much. He told me that it is great fun, so I asked if I could try it. He lit a cigarette for me and gave it to me. I inhaled deeply and spent the next 10 minutes hacking my lungs out, tears streaming. My grandfather was a very, very clever man.

He had a whole bundle of grand-children: my father is the eldest of 5 kids, and there are 10 of us grand-kids in all. When I was wee I used to think that my grandfather liked my brother best. My brother was a very well behaved child. I remember sitting in at Japanese restaurant with my grandfather as a child, waiting for takeaway. I asked him if I could ask him a question and he said yes. I asked which one of his grand-children he prefer most. He laughed (I think slightly embarrassed but also surprised that I'd asked such a question), and said that he likes us all equally.

My grandfather was a avid golfer and mahjong player. He tried to get me into golf, buying me a membership at a country golf club and getting me a whole golfing kit (plus lessons). I was more interested in the restaurant attached to the club house, and the big lunches after a day on the driving range. I think I only went there once. He never tried to get me into mahjong, though twice he taught me to play during Chinese New Year. I never got good at it, but I always enjoyed asking him if he'd won after his pals have been 'round for a few games. Most of the times he says he'd won, and would give me a share of the takings.

As he got older, his eyesight began to wane. He was forbidden (as though we dared forbid him) from driving long distances. Still he occasionally drove me to school, and in Canada we had our weekly shopping trips to the local grocery store. My grandfather was a very methodical man. We had a shopping routine where he pushed the trolley and I got the food. We started on the left hand side, with fruit & veg, then the deli counter, the dried pasta, the tea bags and his cereal (Tony's Team Tiger Frosted Flakes), the meat, and rounded off with eggs, milk, juice, and occasionally ice cream. Once my father went grocery shopping with us, and he tried to make me push the trolley. My grandfather grabbed the trolley from him, and waved a dismissive hand (implying: "you who do not know how the shopping works, do not interfere"). We then proceeded in the usual manner.

He had a penchant for luxury vehicles: Mercedes Benz especially, and once, a Cadillac that was more boat than car. Once he told me that when he was a child, he saw rich people with houses and cars, and he swore that he'd have a house and a nice car one day. Well, he had those things several times over and more. In fact, he went from being a poor country boy who lost his father at the age of 9 and had only primary school education to being a successful businessman who spoke 3 languages, put 5 kids through university, moved most of them to Canada, and learned to use Skype and read newspapers on line at the age of 79.

Above all my grandfather was a generous man. Ever since I could remember, he had been giving me money. Red envelope money at New Year was a must, but it went far beyond that. Whenever he drove me to a film with my friends he would hand me a bill (on occasion, a wad of cash), and made sure I was more than reasonably well provided for on my journeys away from home. It was his way of showing us that he cares about our welfare and is looking after us. When the money was given for good grades (or getting into a good university), it was also his way of showing that he's proud of us. This Chinese New Year Toph and I both got a heavily laden red envelope from him. Topher's red envelope money has quickly re-materialized in the form of a pair of luxury studio monitors which are blasting out drum & bass in our Jinshan home. I squandered some of mine on clothes and deposited the rest into my bank account. (If I were anything like the cunning investor my grandfather was, I'd do something clever with the remainder.)

Of course he had his shortcomings like every other man. He was never able to kick his addiction to tobacco, which was the source of so much of his health troubles. He was sometimes temperamental and impatient. He was prone to bouts of ill humour and mild depression. But these traits don't figure much in my recollections of him. Maybe because we see the past the way we want to see it, but there's also the fact that his good points far outweigh the bad.

Above all I think his death has made me realize the meaning of "never" for the first time. Normally it's never say never, because so little is for certain. But I know for sure that I will never see my grandfather again. The enormity of that is too much to comprehend. Ever since there was an "I," there has been an "阿公" (grandad). I find it difficult to imagine that I will not visit him again in his Taipei home, or see him having tea or sneaking a smoke in the garage in Canada, or hear his voice on the other end of the line at 3 a.m. in Edinburgh. I find it difficult to understand that he won't be there holding a red envelope of congratulatory cash, smiling broadly, when I get my PhD. Somehow the "family" doesn't feel complete without him, the much beloved patriarch that he is.

I understand Tony Harrison's sentiments in Long Distance II, "I believe life ends with death, and that is all. / You haven't both gone shopping; just the same, / in my new black leather phone book there's your name / and the disconnected number I still call."

Goodbye grandad. I will miss you.