Time for some travel

Once again, I have made a promise to post all of my backlog of travel photos and narratives before embarking on my next journey, which yet again lies unrealized. Tomorrow – or technically today as I write this at 3.30am – I depart for a primarily research-justified trip to Manila, Philippines and Taiwan. I will be in Manila from the 23rd to the 28th of February, then fly to Taipei on the 1st of March, and back to Manila on the 14th, from whence I return to Japan on the 21st. Following that, I am taking an entirely non-research trip to Seoul from March 24-31.

Taiwan will be mainly in Taipei, but with a few days going down to the south, Kaohsiung, maybe Tainan, maybe Taichung area. Philippines will be almost totally Manila, and Korea will be basically just Seoul.

People in any of those places, feel free to get in touch and see if we can meet up!

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Renting in Japan vs America – Part 1

Inspired by the news the other day that a Kyoto district court has rules that housing rental contract renewal fees are a violation of consumer rights, I thought I would write a brief introduction to how renting works, based primarily on my own experiences.

I have rented twice in America, three times in Japan, and one time in Taiwan, with an asterisk. As this post was getting quite long, I’ve decided to split it up into three pieces. Since I want to go in chronological order, I’ll first discuss America with a brief mention of Taiwan, then part 2 will discuss how it works in Japan, and finally in the third part I will break down my actual housing contract as specific examples.

I went to college at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, in the small city of New Brunswick. After two years in various dorms I decided to move out, and went looking for a house or apartment to share with a friend or three. The Rutgers campus is surrounded by a zone of houses (with a very few apartment buildings) which are occupied almost entirely by students renting from year to year, formed as if the city were insulating itself from the campus in much the manner of an oyster generating a pearl to protect its soft, fragile body from a piece of grit. Since houses in the area are almost entirely for students, landlords can advertise directly to them quite easily through the housing office bulletin board etc, so there is no need for anyone to involve real estate agents. In most cases, the owner of the house rents directly to students, and are usually very amateurish about arranging repairs etc. The security deposit is equal to 1.5 months rent, as specified by city ordnance, and must be kept in a special bank account which may be used only to store the security deposit. When first moving in, the only thing you pay are first month rent, last month rent, and the security deposit. There is no “renewal fee” or anything similar, and in ordinary circumstances, most of the security deposit is returned.

This is pretty much the procedure throughout the US. While houses may be rented directly by the owner or through a real estate agent (who I presume earns some sort of fee), one often has contact with the landlord (i.e. the actual owner) after moving in, but owners of multiple properties may hire a company to deal with residents for them. Large apartment buildings generally have a superintendent who manages building, particularly construction, although I am somewhat vague about how small apartment buildings generally work. Security deposit is usually legally restricted to an amount of 1.5 or 2 months rent, and contract renewal fees are illegal. There is one big exception in the case of ‘key money’, which I will discuss later.

I should also add that exclusion by race or nationality is highly illegal, to the point where realtors are legally prohibited from even discussing the racial makeup of the neighborhood, should the renter be trying to, for example, avoid living near black people. This is very strictly enforced (at least in some states.) My mother had a good friend who worked as a realtor, who told me that the New Jersey state board of real estate (or whatever the official name is) actually sends undercover inspectors to do random checks of real estate agents and make sure they are following the discrimination guidelines. Realtors who break the rules lose their license.

I lived in one such house for a year (actually the first story of a two family house, as many houses are in the area), went to Japan for two years, where I lived in school dorms, and then returned for my final year at Rutgers, where I shared a second-story apartment of a different two-family house, which had been arranged while I was away by the girlfriend of a good friend (the girl being Jess Rees and the friend being Brian Cervino, both members of the band Huma whose music I recommend), and another guy that she knew. I’m afraid I forget now exactly what the rent was, but it came out to somewhere between $300 and $400 per person, plus some more for utilities. The security deposit in New Brunswick is set by law at 1.5 months, and in both cases most of it was returned, although well after the 30 day window required by law. As a student with no independent source of income, the landlords also required parents to co-sign as a guarantee. This is common in the US in such situations, but is not usual for renters who actually have a stable job. In both cases, everyone living in the apartment signed the lease, but the room and rent allocation was not explicitly spelled out, which in retrospect might have been a good idea, as there were some minor arguments in that area in the first house (although none at all in the second.)

I next went to study in Taiwan for a few months, where had arranged no housing in advance aside from a one-week reservation in a youth hostel, but almost immediately found a promising room advertised on a bulletin board at school. This experience gets an asterisk because as a subleter I never signed, or even examined, a contract and know relatively little about the local procedures and laws. My general impression, however, is that it works more or less the same as in most of the US, with no ‘key money’ or renewal fees, and only moderate security deposits. It seemed to me that rentals often go through agents (at least in apartment building-dominated Taipei) but perhaps in smaller cities/towns there are more landlords renting directly.

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow.

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Gay politics in Taiwan vs. Japan

I had been vaguely aware that gays are more open in Taiwan than in Japan (more active gay pride festival, spotting a very cleary labeled gay bookstore near Taiwan University), but hadn’t consciously realized quite how different things are before reading this article from yesterday’s Taipei Times.

Gay rights activists yesterday announced that they would form a voting bloc to support gay-friendly candidates in the upcoming legislative by-election in Taipei City’s Da-an District (大安).

“We’ve had six gay pride parades in Taipei in the past six years and more than 18,000 people took part in last year’s event — that’s where the voters are,” chief coordinator of last year’s gay pride parade, Lee Ming-chao (李明照), told a news conference.

“In the process of mobilizing the gay and lesbian community in Taipei, we estimated that around 10 percent of voters in Da-an District are gay — including myself. We can surely become a deciding minority if we stand together.”

He predicted that the turnout for the by-election would be lower than the 60.47 percent for last year’s legislative election.

This whole concept seems to me utterly inconceivable in Japan. While there is not much in the way of active discrimination against gays in Japan (like there is in most Muslim countries and some Christian ones, even including much of the US until recently) I get the impression that homosexuality and related issues are still generally more taboo here than anywhere else in all of East and Southeast Asia. Yes, there is a transgender politician in Tokyo, but Kamikawa Aya is said to be the only openly LGBT politician in the entire country of over 120 million people. Compared with Taipei’s apparently increasingly popular gay pride parade, Tokyo’s has been cancelled for this year due to lack of interest/resources.

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Photo festival part 2-B: Adjoined slum and cemetary in Taipei: Part B-Cemetary

This is the third installment in my rapid photo gallery posting series to prepare for my new camera, following Part 1 Osaku amateur photographers in Akihabara and Part 2-A: Adjoined slum and cemetary in Taipei: Part 1-Slum.

Last summer when I was in Taipei I stayed for a week and change at my friend Cerise’s house, located in a nice new looking development up the hill a bit from Xinhai Station, on the Muzha MRT elevated train line. The area immediately around the station looks to have been a center of carpentry and similar workshops since well before the station was built in the early 1990s (Muzha was Taipei’s first MRT line, built from 1988 and opening in 1996), and still surround it.

Behind the station are several of the aforementioned workshops, beyond which is a hill, upon which is a traditional Chinese cemetery of the kind popular in Taiwan. This is not particulary weird, but what is kind of weird is that in between the cemetery hill and the immediate vicinity of the station is a small cluster of private homes that I can’t describe in one word any more appropriate than “slum”. These photographs are of the cemetery itself, and Part 2-A: Slum is the gallery of photographs of the area from the station to the area to the cemetery proper.

All photographs here taken with a Canon 300D camera with 17-85mm EFS lens, on August 1, 2008.

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Here are a flash slideshow, recommended for full-screen mode, followed by HTML for the flash challenged.


Here is the view from the path leading up the hill into the cemetery.

Continue reading Photo festival part 2-B: Adjoined slum and cemetary in Taipei: Part B-Cemetary

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Good news for Losheng?

Since I visited the Japanese colonial era Losheng Leprasorium in Northern Taipei last summer I have been keeping tabs on developments in the battle between government officials trying to destroy it and preservationists trying to…preserve it.  Things had been looking grim when elderly wheelchair-bound residents were dragged out of their homes, but a high level apology may mean that things are getting sorted out.

Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) yesterday offered an apology to patients with Hansen’s disease— also known as leprosy — for the “grievance” and “unequal treatment” they have suffered in the past, promising that his administration would take good care of their nursing and medical needs. The apology came six months after the enactment of the Act of Human Rights Protection and Compensation for Hansen’s Disease Patients (漢生病病患人權保障及補償條例), which detailed measures the government must take to care for leprosy sufferers.

[…]

“I will not accept the government’s apology, because they did not apologize for what they did to me in December,” said Lan Tsai-yun (藍彩雲), a Losheng resident who was removed by the police from the Joan of Arc House. “I asked them to give me two more weeks to pack, but they refused. They cut the power and water while I was still inside, then they cut through the door with an electric saw and took me away by force. But look, Joan of Arc House still stands there today, a month after that incident — why couldn’t they give me two more weeks?”

Here is a video from Taiwanese TV showing activists being dragged away when protesting in support of Losheng preservation back in December. At exactly the 1:00 you can actually see my friend Em having her camera taken away as the police pull her away, although I think she got it back later on.

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Photo festival part 2-A: Adjoined slum and cemetary in Taipei: Part 1-Slum

This is the second installment in my rapid photo gallery posting series to prepare for my new camera, following Part 1 Osaku amateur photographers in Akihabara.

Last summer when I was in Taipei I stayed for a week and change at my friend Cerise’s house, located in a nice new looking development up the hill a bit from Xinhai Station, on the Muzha MRT elevated train line. The area immediately around the station looks to have been a center of carpentry and similar workshops since well before the station was built in the early 1990s (Muzha was Taipei’s first MRT line, built from 1988 and opening in 1996), and still surround it.

Behind the station are several of the aforementioned workshops, beyond which is a hill, upon which is a traditional Chinese cemetery of the kind popular in Taiwan. This is not particulary weird, but what is kind of weird is that in between the cemetery hill and the immediate vicinity of the station is a small cluster of private homes that I can’t describe in one word any more appropriate than “slum”. These photographs are of the area from the station to the beginning of the cemetery, and Part 2-B: Cemetery is the continuation.

All photographs here taken with a Canon 300D camera with 17-85mm EFS lens, on August 1, 2008.

Here are a flash slideshow, recommended for full-screen mode, and HTML for the flash challenged.

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The front of Xinhai station.

Continue reading Photo festival part 2-A: Adjoined slum and cemetary in Taipei: Part 1-Slum

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