Restaurant bathrooms are often oddly residential looking, sometimes even with a bathtub, which is usually converted into storage space. Oddly, this is sometimes seen even in restaurants which do not even remotely appear to have conceivably been converted from houses.
Traffic on the right side (coming from Japan here).
Seaweed very common in food. Much more than in Japan (at least parts of Japan I’m used to).
Men sometimes grow a single fingernail, or one on each hand, creepily long.
Restaurants typically bring you lukewarm drinking water, although they will add ice if you request it.
Military bases right in the city.
The truly genius 統一發票 system, which deserves its own post.
Ordering food in most places is done by checking off boxes on a disposable menu. There may be room to write in any specials not included on the regular menu.
Pedestrian crossing signals often count down how much time is left. This is an amazing stress reliever, like the electronic signs telling you how much time remains before the next train that almost every system outside of the US seems to have.
Cell phone signals are available throughout the ENTIRE Taipei Subway-not just in the stations. I have never seen this anywhere else in the world.
On Saturday, I went with a friend of mine to see the “Children of the Dark“(闇の子供たち) , a new film by Japanese director Sakamoto Junji primarily about child prostitution in Thailand. The story is primarily told through the perspective of the two Japanese main characters, a reporter for Bangkok bureau of the fictional Japan Times (no relation to the actual English language Japan times, but more of a pastiche of the Asahi or Mainichi. I believe the Mainichi was thanked in the credits) named Nambu, and a Japanese college student named Keiko, who is volunteering at a tiny Bangkok NGO. Secondary characters include Nambu’s mildly irritating 20-something Japanese backpacker/photographer sidekick, and a wide selection of Thai criminals, NGO workers, and abused children.
Except for a brief trip back to Japan around the middle of the film, it takes place entirely in Bangkok. The dialogue is mixed Thai and Japanese, probably with Thai dominating. Nambu speaks appropriately good Thai, as a foreign correspondent should (even if they don’t all), and Keiko speaks a bit haltingly, but according to the subtitles at least she seems to have no trouble expressing complex thoughts, or understanding what anyone says.
The central plot thread is your fairly typical “newsman uncovers a story and chases it ragged even at the risk of his own life” and makes sure to include a selection of the typical cliches, such as a back-alley gunpoint menacing in which none of the stars are harmed, despite a secondary Thai character having been shot in the head in another scene moments before or the photographer’s constant wavering between going home to safety in Japan or staying in Thailand to fight the good fight. At the beginning of the film, Nambu receives a tip that Thai children are being murdered so their organs can be transplanted into dying Japanese children. This is just one of the ways in which children become disposable in the film, but I felt like the addition of this imaginery (although certainly not impossible) scenario to the array of real horror detracted from the film’s effectiveness.
The primary goal of the film is the depiction of evils inflicted by adults on children, and there are a number of truly unpleasant scenes involving child prostitution by foreigners of both Western (American and European) and Japanese origin, as well horrendous mistreatment of the child slaves by their Thai captors. These sorts of terrible things happen all day long in many parts of the world, and it is understandable that the film makers wanted to depict it on screen, but I found the “deeper” messages to be more muddled than sophisticated.
Incidentally, the Japanese Wikipedia article on the film has a rather odd criticism I’d like to mention briefly. It mentions that Japanese blogs (2ch-kei foremost I imagine) have called it “an anti-Japanese film” since it “puts all of the blame for the selling of children in Thailand on the Japanese.” This claim is patently absurd. Of course a significant part of the film’s purpose IS to blame Japan predatory Japanese, but Western perverts are given at least as much of a spotlight in the brothel vignettes. And the Thai criminals who actually run the victimization business are hardly made out to be innocent bystanders.
For some reason I was mildly irritated by Keiko’s inexplicably competent Thai throughout the film, but it may simply have been the fact that I found the character generally pointless. When she first arrives at the NGO, one of the ladies working there asks her “Why did you come to Bangkok, isn’t there some good you can do in Japan?” While this question lingers throughout the film, and naturally Keiko does come to do some good in Bangkok, her motivations are never explored and her character acquires no depth. Why did she come to Thailand? Why is she even in this movie? She is tabula rasa- a standin for the audience, or rather for the way the film maker wants the audience to think. Her initial appearance suggested that she could have been an aspect of a message that I think the filmmakers were trying to convey-that Thailand (and presumably other countries like it, although no others are mentioned) are playgrounds for Japanese and Western neo-colonialists to act out their fantasies of either depravity or heroism without repercussion. However, despite this theme perhaps being touched on ever so briefly during her first appearance, Keiko turns out to be nothing but an autonomic cliche of a young NGO volunteer.
I hope my ramblings do not give the impression that I hated the movie- I did not. I would, in fact, say that it was overall decent. But I did find it very disappointing. It starts well, and has a number of powerful scenes of horror and despair, but it is too long, the story is meandering and a bit cliched, and one of the leads is just dull to the point of no longer being annoying. Those with a particular interest in the problems this film addresses should see it, but wait for the DVD.
The New York Times has a great article today, in which a reporter visits every single end of the line subway station in the city, reminding us that you do not have to travel a great distance to engage in some serious tourism.
When you’ve lived in a place for a while, and then left for a while, there are any number of details that you haven’t exactly forgotten, but don’t often think about. And when you go back, you notice the un-remembered (but not forgotten) details of everyday life with a reaction that fits somewhere between remembering and discovery. During my first few days back in Taiwan, I kept a list of all of these everyday details that jumped out at me as familiar but rarely thought of since.
Roaches- they love the sub-tropical climate. I see them out on the street almost daily.
No plastic bag in the convenience store- costs extra by law.
The ubiquitous Taiwanese style breakfast shops Chinese/American fusion breakfast shops.
Trash: categories of separation, daily pickups, having to bring it to the truck yourself if you don’t live in a building with dumpsters.
Gas powered water heater on the balcony- gas canister delivery instead of gas utility. (This works because it’s only needed for hot water and cooking, never for space heating.)
The styles of doors and gates.
Indoor/outdoor footwear customs influenced by Japan.
They LOVE their sweet tea here. You have to really remember to check the labels in the store to get even unsweetened green tea, and restaurants always serve sweet black tea.
For decades Japanese airports have been governed by an Airport Improvement Act (空港整備法) which apportioned control and funding of airport projects between the national and regional governments. Earlier this year, the Diet signed off on an overhaul of the statute which changes its name to the Airport Act (空港法) and focuses the law on promoting the competitiveness, rather than development, of Japan’s airports. After all, the country has already over-developed its airports in many areas ([cough] Osaka [cough]); now it needs to rationalize their existence.
Under the old law, there were three “categories” of airports: the largest international airports were designated as Category 1, the main city airports as Category 2 and the smaller regional airports as Category 3. Category 1 airports were funded, constructed and controlled solely by the Ministry of Transport unless privatized. Category 2 airports could be centrally controlled, in which case Kasumigaseki would fund 2/3 of construction costs, or could be moved to local control, in which case Kasumigaseki would fund 55%. Category 3 airports were controlled by local governments and construction costs split 50/50 with the state.
The new law has reshuffled these categories a bit and made them more logical. Category 1 is now effectively gone, which makes sense since it has been obsolete for some time: three of the Category 1 airports (Narita, Kansai and Chubu) have been privatized and funded under their own respective statutes for some time, while the other two (Haneda and Itami) currently operate in roles more befitting of Category 2 status.
Categories 2 and 3 are now known as “state-administered airports” and “regionally-administered airports” respectively, and the small collection of regionally-administered Category 2 airports are now lumped in with the Category 3 airports. So now the system is a bit easier to explain: if the Transport Ministry runs the airport, the state pays 2/3 and the prefecture pays 1/3; if the prefecture or municipality runs the airport, costs are split evenly.
The new law also requires the Transport Minister to prepare and publish a Basic Plan (基本方針) for the country’s airports. While the plan is still in development, the Transport Ministry has given some preliminary comments on what will be in there. Among the more interesting specific points raised:
International terminal projects at Category 2-level airports such as New Chitose, intended to improve capacity as direct international flights to the regions become more popular. Chitose has really been overdue for some terminal expansion, in this blogger’s lofty opinion.
Improved airfreight handling systems to make Japan’s airports more competitive with Asia’s as cargo hubs.
More multilingual signage at regional airports, adding Chinese and Korean (and possibly Russian or other languages) to the existing Japanese and English. Some airports are already there but others are apparently lagging.
Soundproofing homes in areas adjoining airports—a huge policy issue already around Narita, Itami and other land-locked airfields.
Expanding Haneda’s international services to Beijing and Taipei, and permitting scheduled long-range flights from Haneda during the late night and early morning hours when Narita is closed.
Maintaining the current status quo in the Kansai region: KIX is the wave of the future for everything, Itami is suffered for as long as people want to use it, and Kobe is heavily restricted so that it doesn’t really compete with the others.
Provisions for “joint-use airports”
One interesting footnote to the new law is that it specifically contemplates joint-use airports; i.e. those split between commercial/private operations and SDF/US military operations. There are a few airfields, such as Misawa Air Base in Aomori, which already operate on this model. The real unwritten target in this instance seems to be Yokota Air Base, the huge US Air Force logistics airfield in west Tokyo: policy wonks and Tokyo politicians have been salivating for a while over the prospect of starting commercial flights there, and there’s even a note or two about it in the Transport Ministry’s planning materials.
The health and labor ministry’s White Paper on the Labor Economy (link) came out last month. It’s stuffed with statistics, but today I would like to focus on what it’s got to say about Japan’s foreign workforce, and then think about what implications a major increase in the amount of foreign workers would have on the Japanese economy.
At the end of FY2006, there were 755,000 legal foreign workers in Japan, double the 370,000 in 1996 (A recent NYT article claims it’s actually “more than a million” in 2006 vs. 700,000 in 1996 but the author does not cite where he got that number… UPDATE: it appears to include the number of foreign spouse visas, which can be found at the justice ministry (PDF)). 180,000 are on “professional” visas and work as engineers, programmers and other specialized fields (This number includes 57,000 here on language teacher visas cultural/humanities visas (I am interested to see what the impact from NOVA’s closing has had on this number…) and 35,000 on technical/engineer visas). There are 35,000 Nikkei Brazilians working in factories, etc. 95,000 are here on the controversial technical trainee program. A whopping 110,000 foreign students are working part-time (15% of all foreign workers in Japan and 90% (!) of all foreign students).
The report points out that Japan’s rules on letting in foreign labor are actually quite liberal in the cultural cultural/humanities (mainly language teacher) and technical (engineer/programmer) categories. 62% work at companies with less than 300 employees, and 45% are non-permanent. 64.8% make an underwhelming 200,000-299,999 yen per month. 61% of technical visas go to “data processors” while 58.8% of cultural visa holders are language teachers or otherwise in education, leading the report to conclude that the country is not utilizing specialized foreign labor in core corporate activities such as development, design, and international trade.
The ministry plans to promote a system to facilitate permanent employment for foreign students after they graduate. A survey of companies found that the biggest reason that foreign students in Japan did not seek jobs was “limitations for foreigners to succeed in a Japanese company” (34.5%). On the other hand, companies surveyed cited a “lack of internal infrastructure (communication issues, etc.)” (44.9%) and a general “negative [stance toward] hiring foreigners” (43.8%) as reasons why they did not hire foreigners. Such companies’ views of foreigners included “strong self-expression” (42.6%) and a lack of “loyalty” (29.4%). Of the mere 10% of companies with experience hiring at least one foreigner, 80% said they would continue to hire foreigners in the future.
Ironically enough, two thirds of foreign students study humanities or social sciences, while two thirds of the labor demand from firms is in the hard sciences and engineering.
Citing larger numbers of foreign laborers as necessary to “bring vitality and internationalization to the Japanese economy,” the report calls on companies to reform their attitudes towards hiring foreigners and the structure of their labor management systems, and colleges to attract more foreign students based on companies’ needs.
In previous discussions on this blog and elsewhere, a general consensus seems to form around the basic lines of the above-mentioned NYT article:
With Japan’s population projected to decline steeply over the next decades, the failure to secure a steady work force could harm the nation’s long-term economic competitiveness.
... experts say that it will have to increase by significantly more to make up for the expected decline in the Japanese population.
I very rarely see an argument in the J-blogosphere to contradict this idea that Japan’s shrinking, aging population is destined to doom economic growth, bankrupt social services, and quite possibly cause social turmoil. Therefore, goes the argument, this situation must be avoided or alleviated by any means – encouraging people to have more children, employing the elderly, and last but not least bringing in more and more foreign workers.
Dean Baker, a liberal-leaning US economist, is critical of this approach:
The focus of the article is a village where Chinese workers are brought in to pick lettuce. Presumably, farmers would have to pay much higher wages to get Japanese workers to pick their lettuce. This could make lettuce growing unprofitable in Japan. The result would be that the land would be used to grow other crops, or it could even be left available for other uses. Since most farming is heavily subsidized in Japan, if land was pulled out of agricultural production, it could mean substantial savings to the government.
One of the other potential problem mentioned in this article is that a chain restaurant may be forced to cut back on its plan to triple its number of stores because it can’t get enough workers.
These are useful examples for showing why a declining population does not pose an economic problem. Japan has no special interest in maintaining its lettuce production, if it proves not to be an economically viable sector. If farmers cannot make a profit paying the prevailing wage to grow lettuce, then there is no obvious loss to the country if the lettuce industry is allowed to disappear. Similarly, Japan has no special interest in seeing this restaurant chain triple in size if the market conditions will not support this growth.
In the Nikkei Shimbun’s Economics Classroom (Keizai Kyoshitsu) column, Mieko Nishimizu, a former vice president of the World Bankand current fellow at a METI think tank, takes this basic line of argument into more detail as she outlines proposals to turn Japan’s demographic crisis into an opportunity to improve the lives of the citizenry. She sees three basic “silver linings” to Japan’s declining population:
Progress in “capital aggregation” will dramatically boost productivity. Labor shortages will put pressure on producers to get more output from each employee. If the producers cannot count on foreign labor to fill that gap, all the better for Japan’s productivity growth. That growth, she says, will come from Japan’s advanced robotics technology as well as scientific and information advances. Knowledge industries will become an important source of economic growth.
The nation will respect its older citizens more. Those over 60 will be seen as vaults of knowledge and experience, elements critical to knowledge based industries. Such pressures will likely end Japan’s system of retirement at a fixed age (65 now). The freedom to work will give the elderly the chance to choose when they want to retire, and those extra productive years will alleviate overall social security expenditures. For this to work in an era of advanced life expectancy, medical technology has to be ready to make those later years more livable, in a manner that’s fairly available to all citizens.
Out of necessity, women will be required to balance work and child-rearing (no mention of men’s role in child-rearing in this essay). But that means Japan will finally need its women to work. If Japan can be a nation where women can exert leadership in companies with flexible management, competition for good talent will break all glass ceilings. In part to facilitate women’s participation in the workplace, companies will grow ever more eager to achieve employee satisfaction, by allowing more family time and permitting telecommuting. She cites studies that a happy home life leads to a more productive workforce. And happier home lives might just produce more children.
As she mentions in passing early in the piece, the implications of this scenario are that immigration as a supplement to the work shortage would just get in the way. To Nishimizu, hastily letting in immigrants poses “more than just an lost opportunity for Japan to make great strides, it would produce immeasurable costs.”
The point of managing an economy is to improve quality of life, she says, not to pursue a certain population number. The important thing is to work toward a society where people feel secure about the future. This will produce a justified feeling of belonging and work to stabilize the country.
To have a successful immigration policy, Nishimizu argues, Japan will first of all need to work toward improving quality of life. But Japan also must be ready to open up, to share its culture in a broader sense. Without that, newcomers will have no incentive for them to develop a feeling of “belonging” to their adopted home. They’ll just feel like unwelcome outsiders. But the desire to get a piece of Japan’s wealth will inspire more people to take citizenship and provide a long-term contribution to society.
Baker and Nishimizu argue that we should be a little concerned about the population decline, but let’s not panic and do anything rash. What are some of the doomsday scenarios of a 20-30% decline in population? Sure we might have to live with one Yoshinoya for every 126,000 people instead of every 42,000. And we might have to start consoldating the dozens of tiny, unproductive businesses that scatter Japan. But why not focus on fixing the problems instead of doing the same old thing again and again?
I’ve been looking at some of the bills passed by the Diet earlier this year, one of which amends a law which I should have known existed but had never seen before: the Act Regarding Special Provisions for the Treatment of the Gender of Persons With Gender Identity Disorder (性同一性障害者の性別の取扱いの特例に関する法律).
So now I can give a legal opinion on how to get a sex change in Japan. It’s a simple enough process to understand, although rather arbitrary. Here are the relevant provisions in full:
Article 2. Definitions
In this Act, “person with gender identity disorder” means a person who, despite having a clear biological gender, is persistently convinced that they are mentally of another gender (“other gender”), who has a desire to physically and socially conform themselves to the other gender, and with respect to whom two or more physicians having the knowledge and experience necessary to properly diagnose this [condition] have given corresponding diagnoses based on generally accepted medical viewpoints.
Article 3. Decision to Change Gender Treatment
A family court may decide to change the gender treatment of a person with gender identity disorder, upon that person’s request, who:
1. is twenty years of age or older;
2. is not presently married;
3. does not presently have children;
4. does not have reproductive glands or has permanently lost the function of the reproductive glands; and
5. has adopted a bodily appearance which closely resembles that of the other gender in the area of the genital organs.
The law also amended the family registration laws to allow a person who has undergone a legal sex change to have a new koseki issued reflecting their new sex.
The new amendment changes item 3 of Article 3 to read “does not presently have minor children.” It was apparently pushed by the DPJ and JCP with the LDP staying completely mum on the issue (per Yahoo Minna no Seiji). The bill passed nonetheless and is effective December 18 of this year.
Incidentally, since we haven’t mentioned it on Mutantfrog yet, Japan happens to have one of the few transgendered elected officials in the world: Setagaya city councilwoman Aya Kamikawa. Kamikawa was first elected in 2003, a year before the transgender statute was passed; while she was legally male at that time, she purportedly refused to fill in her gender on the candidate application form, and thus appeared on the ballot as genderless. She completed the family court process in 2005 and is now legally female. (I am an Aya fan, if only because she has a comical domain name and an equally comical physical resemblance to Ann Coulter.)
Update: Photo gallery added on 9.23.2008. The new Flicker flash gallery has a fullscreen mode which is excellent for photos like these. Also added some additional comments by Mr. Chang.
I had meant to write a few days ago about what I’ve been doing in Taiwan, but my friend’s house mate forgot to pay the DSL bill and so I haven’t been able to get online all that easily, so tonight I finally broke down and paid the NT$100 (about US$3) for a 24 hour WiFly (WiFi service in every Starbucks, McDonald’s, KFC, etc. in Taiwan) access card.
So, today I visited Taiwan’s famous Losheng Sanitarium (樂生療養院), a leper colony built by the Japanese colonial government in Xinzhuang City, Taipei County. As in leper colonies throughout the world, Taiwanese victims of Hansen’s Disease were forcibly imprisoned in Losheng by the government, as they were in Japan by the government there. Although the leper imprisonment order was lifted in Taiwan in the 1950s (I believe someone today told me 1957), they have for the most part remained. With modern medicine the patients are no longer inmates, and no longer contagious, but nothing can de-cripple them or regrow their missing fingers and stumpy limbs. And they have nowhere to go, and no way to survive except by public welfare of some sort.
I had first heard of Losheng perhaps a couple of years ago, due to the wave of protests to the government’s plan to demolish the entire complex to make way for a train depot, as part of Taipei metro’s never-ending expansion plan. Although there are naturally no opponents to MRT expansion itself, there have been severe doubts regarding the sense of building the depot in this particular location, which apparently requires the leveling of mountain to create flat ground which naturally occurs elsewhere and is widely suspected of having been chosen to satisfy local political interests before practical considerations of engineering.
Primary opposition to the plan however, is due to a desire to preserve Losheng. The adage goes something like, you never really appreciate something to it’s gone, and it is born out time and again in the history of urban preservation. New York City’s historical preservation regime was established in the wake of the foolhardy and abhorrent demolition of Penn Station in the 1960s, and throughout the world preservationist activity is often triggered by the threat of imminent loss. The government’s plan to demolish the place made people realize for the first time that it was worth preserving, and recent protests have spurred a surge of interest in the hospital site and its residents that has gone beyond simple preservationism to community organizing attempting to integrate Losheng, which for most of its existence was in principle as isolated as a prison, into the surrounding community. This has led to large numbers of non afiliated visitors spending time with the patients for probably the first time in many years, if not ever.
Since I cannot process the files from my digital camera until I get home to my desktop computer, words will have to suffice for now in describing Losheng. it turns out that from the articles I had read in The Taipei Times, not to mention the briefer pieces I saw in Japanese media I had no idea what it was like. When I read about a hospital/leper sanitarium being destroyed to make way for MRT construction I had for some reason imagined a cluster of shabby old buildings on a city street corner. But of course a leper colony could not be in such a place, and is in fact built on slightly elevated and up-sloping terrain on mountain foothills of a part of Taipei county that, at the time, was mostly farmland. Less a modern style hospital or a prison, Losheng is actually a sprawling and rather pleasant, almost collegiate-looking, campus with abundant greenery and attractive brick buildings. The main hospital building looks properly medical, and the general sense of design reflects its Japanese period origins, with semi-exposed corridors reminiscent of the older buildings on the Japanese Imperial Universities of the early 20th century, such as today’s National Taiwan University or Kyoto National University (the two examples whose architecture I am familiar with). Most other buildings are also in the pre-war Japanese style common in Taiwan, with a few notable exceptions. The least Japanese buildings in Losheng are probably the Buddhist temple, which is in standard Taiwanese style, and the now shuttered Catholic Church, which is perhaps the most spartan Catholic church building I have ever seen, with only a spare cross on the roof and no writing of any kind on the outside, but with a green Chinese roof, oddly complete with dragon tiles on the corners, and outer walls painted in the Chinese temple fashion. It reminds me of nothing so much as the far more elaborate Tainan Catholic cathedral, which is constructed and painted completely in the manner of a Chinese temple, if you do not look too close at the paintings. Of particular interest are the residence buildings for patients (originally, remember, inmates) from particular parts of Taiwan, such as Penghu or Tainan, donated by the governments of that region.
I mentioned above activity integrating the Losheng campus into the greater community. This consists of various activities, such as holding lectures and community meetings inside Losheng, or educational programs for children. As chance had it, I happened to go on a day which was particularly active. Community activists are currently running a summer camp for children from various elementary schools in the area, using various Losheng buildings for different activities. I was taken to see the room being used for a week-long Japanese language class run by a Japanese woman studying a PhD in Urban Planning at National Taiwan University, in the room of the hospital building where the sickest patients were brought, connected by a locked iron door to the much smaller room where they were taken to die. This is either morbidly incongruous beyond belief, or an excellent symbol of the way in which the space is being reclaimed and repurposed from its grim past. But little of that darkness remains. The staff (mostly Taiwanese college students) had cleaned the room fastidiously, and it was festooned with child drawings illustrating various basic Japanese words and phrases.
Then I went to a much larger room, a sort of meeting hall I suppose, where the kids were being led in Japanese songs by some of the old patients who remember their Japanese well. One played the keyboard-no easy task with hands ravaged by Hansen’s Disease, while another sat in front of the stage in his motor chair, leading the children in Furosato.
After the class was over, I spent some time speaking to the old men, who seemed both movingly thrilled and slightly amazed to have so many young people, children, teenagers and 20-somethings, having fun inside Losheng and spending time with the patients as human beings, and not afraid of their no longer contagious disease. As is the case with many elderly Taiwanese, their first language is Taiwanese (aka Minnan, Hoklo, Fukkianese, etc.) Their Mandarin is generally weak and heavily accented, and most of them also speak Japanese to some degree, having undergone elementary education during the colonial period. I spent the most time speaking with one old man, Chang Wen-pin 张文贫 (can’t figure out how to type pinyin with traditional characters on this thing…), whose fluent Japanese was easily the best out of the group.
Mr. Chang, now 81 if my calculations are correct, went to a Japanese colonial elementary school in Taiwan and worked as, I think, a locksmith both under the Japanese and in the early years of the KMT, before he was interned. He was around 20 years old at the time of the 228 incident, and considers Chiang Kai-shek to be the worst thing to have happened to Taiwan.
To paraphrase, translated and from memory:
Taiwan’s history is full of tragedy. After WW2 Taiwan shouldn’t have been given to Chiang Kai-shek, but instead the allies should have occupied it. America, England and Russia should have managed Taiwan and then organized it for independence. If they had done that then we would have avoided the 228 massacre and noone in Taiwan would be speaking Mandarin (lit: guoyu) today!
He went on to mention that he suspected a war between China and Taiwan would involve Japan and the U.S., and expand into not just a nuclear WW3, but literally “becoming the battle of Armageddon as described in the Bible.” He mentioned his strong distrust of Ma Ying-jiu, and his worry that Ma and the other KMT supporters of unification with China would lead to the destruction of Taiwan.
When we were done speaking and I was preparing to leave, Mr. Chang and the others made me promise to come back and visit next time I come to Taiwan, and before I left he made me wait while he went back to his room and brought a copy of the photo and essay book about Losheng assembled by the preservationist activists, which he signed and gave to me.
Countless speakers have said that “A society is ultimately judged by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members.” (Based on a quick search, the source of this quote seems obscure.) The leper has always been a symbol for the lowest in society, and despite having no use for religion myself, I think I can understand why Mr. Chang finds his solace in Christianity, a religion in which the leper is a symbol not of disgust, but of redemption. It says a lot of a society in which lepers are no longer lepers, but patients, and the resurrection of Losheng from a medical prison into a park where children play may be taken as a symbol for Taiwan’s transformation from colony and then military dictatorship into the relatively free and effectively independent country that it is today. But the current metro expansion plan still requires the demolition of something like 30-40% of Losheng’s territory, with some buildings kept in place, a few relocated, and many destroyed entirely. Even the preservationists have abandoned their attempts to save the entire site, with construction of the nearby depot building already well under way, and their best case plan today is the “90% plan.” There is still room for improvement.