Double passports?

Apparently Taiwan has a peculiar new proposal, the likes of which I have never heard before-to allow second passports. Upon seeing the headline, I assumed at first that this was about some change to the laws on multiple citizenship (which have been hugely controversial in Taiwan recently, at least regarding politicians such as Diane Lee) but it is actually something completely different.

He said many businesspeople had been lobbying for a second passport as their travel documents were sometimes held up at travel agencies or embassies during the visa application process, which prevents them from traveling abroad during the waiting period.

I can certainly understand how this might be useful, as I had to be without my passport for well over a week when getting a tourist visa to enter Kazakhstan, and could have serious problems if, for example, I had to rush home to the US for a family emergency.I have simply never heard of such a thing before. Would this system be entirely unique, should Taiwan implement it?

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.

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

Pinyin in Taiwan

The Taipei Times printed an interview the other day with Yu Bor-chuan of the Taiwan Pinyin League, and head of the team that designed Tongyong Pinyin. He is of course a heavy promoter of Tongyong Pinyin, saying that it is better suited to Taiwan than the internationally accepted but PRC originated Hanyu Pinyin. He has some interesting background on the history of various kinds of phonetic writing in Taiwan, and of course makes his argument for avoiding Hanyu Pinyin.

That the MOE did not cite the source of the Hanyu Pinyin charts constituted an act of plagiarism as the phonetic system was approved by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China [PRC] and ratified by its National People’s Congress in 1958.

This is just a weird statement. He seems to be arguing that any discussion of Hanyu Pinyin MUST be centered on politics and not linguistics, which to me is an utterly absurd position.

As for the false information I mentioned, the MOE said Taiwan’s street and place names are spelled using Hanyu Pinyin on maps and atlases published by most countries and international organizations. This is not true, since the international community generally goes by the guideline of naming a person or a place after its original name.

There are hardly any countries or international organizations that use Hanyu Pinyin to spell places in Taiwan except maps published by China.

This, however, is correct. Of course, with romanization in Taiwan being so unstable, foreigners often have no idea which system they should be using.

TT: The main reason given by the government to adopt Hanyu Pinyin was to bring Taiwan in line with international standards.

Yu: If that was the real reason behind the policy shift, the government should have replaced the traditional characters used exclusively in Taiwan with simplified characters, because more than 95 percent of the [Chinese-speaking] population worldwide uses simplified characters.

He’s really mixing apples and oranges here. While it is kind of true that making all language policy decisions on the basis of international standards would lead to the adoption of simplified Chinese, Yu is being very disingenuous about the logic as it applies here. While traditional written Chinese is used in Taiwan as the national and official language and the medium of instruction for all Taiwanese, Pinyin in any form is used ONLY for the benefit of foreigners. Most Taiwanese simply do not learn Pinyin, whether Tongyong, Hanyu, or Wade-Giles. The argument that a supplemental writing system which is used only to accomodate foreigners should follow international standards should in no way mean that the primary writing system, used for the primary Taiwanese national language by its citizens, should also be changed.

Adopting Tongyong Pinyin will not pose difficulties for foreigners.

For foreigners who do not understand Mandarin, whether a road sign is spelled in Hanyu Pinyin or Tongyong Pinyin makes no difference, not to mention that Tongyong is more friendly to English speakers than Hanyu in terms of pronunciation.

The primary differences between the two systems are that Tongyong uses “s,” “c” and “jh,” which corresponds more to English spelling, instead of “x,” “q” and “zh” as used in Hanyu Pinyin, which English speakers without Mandarin skills do not usually know how to pronounce. There wouldn’t be a problem as long as street signs an maps were spelled consistently everywhere.

This is largely true. Consistency is the most important thing such a writing system, but why is consistency between the spelling of identical place names or syllables in Taiwan and the rest of the Chinese-speaking world a bad thing?

The Hanyu Pinyin system is not entirely suitable for Taiwan given the fact that not every Chinese character is pronounced in Taiwan as it is in China.

Maybe something is lost in translation here, but this sentence simply makes no sense. While some characters do have a different common pronunciation in Beijing-accented Mandarin or Taiwan-accented Mandarin, Taiwanese Mandarin uses exactly 0 sounds that do not exist in Hanyu Pinyin. I have a Chinese dictionary from Taiwan in which it notes-in Hanyu Pinyin-both pronounciatins where they differ.

Immediately after Hanyu Pinyin was adopted by the government in September, the MOE promulgated guidelines for using Hanyu Pinyin to Romanize Hakka, replacing the application of Tongyong Pinyin for teaching Hakka.

As Tongyong has been used for the Romanization of Hakka, even some KMT lawmakers were against the new guidelines. They said that it would make learning Hakka more difficult because Hanyu Pinyin did not accommodate sounds in the language.

This is getting into a more complicated area, but it is easily avoided. Hanyu Pinyin is a romanization system for Mandarin. Hakka, while a related language, is not Mandarin, and should have its own romanization system designed for it with no consideration for the romanization system used for other languages. While I am generally supportive of the move to use Hanyu Pinyin for Mandarin despite it being partly based on a political agenda, extending Hanyu Pinyin to other Chinese languages (or dialects, as they are known by Chinese nationalists) is a purely political choice that makes no sense from a linguistic, educational, or practical perspective.

The most serious problem is how our names are to be Romanized.

Although the Hanyu Pinyin guidelines allow individuals to decide the spelling of their name, it suggested using the format of surname first, followed by given name without a hyphen between the syllables … If my name were that way, my initials would be [Y.] B. instead of [Y.] B.C. in Tongyong Pinyin … How can the government ignore the fact that Taiwanese people have used a hyphen in their given name … for about 20 to 30 years?

No one has the right to arbitrarily decide what other people’s names should be. By the same token, Taiwan has every right to decide its proper names.

We should not give up autonomy over this as it is a representation of our sovereignty.

No real arguments here. People should be free to write personal names as they wish, but that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a recommended orthography. One thing that isn’t addressed even here is while for most Taiwanese (aside from ethnic aborigines) primarily write their name in the same Chinese characters, their primary language may be Mandarin, Taiwanese (Hoklo), or Hakka. Shouldn’t they be able to choose to romanize their name for international use in the system of their primary spoken tongue, and not based only on Mandarin?

Japan, where two different Romanization systems have been used since 1954, could serve as an example.

In 1954, Japan’s Cabinet announced a program including the Hepburn and the nippon-shiki [“Japan-style”] systems, under which the Hepburn Romanization system devised by an American is employed in overseas Japanese-language teaching materials, while the nippon-shiki system is used to transliterate local names and for domestic education.

Japan’s experience proves that the adoption of two Romanization systems does not hurt a country’s competitiveness. In addition, [there is] compatibility between the Tongyong and Hanyu Pinyin systems.

This is sort of true, but the nippon-shiki (actually the modernized version is Kunrei-shiki) serves almost no function. It is largely the same as the far more common Hepburn standard, much in the same way that Tongyong and Hanyu are largely the same, but has several minor differences which serve only to confuse. Even in Japan pretty much nobody actually uses anything but Hepburn romanization, and when he says “Japan’s experience proves that the adoption of two Romanization systems does not hurt a country’s competitiveness.” he should really be saying “Japan’s experience proves that the adoption of two Romanization systems is inconvenient, and everybody not legally required to use the less popular system will gravitate over time to the more popular one.”

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

Schizophrenia in the baked goods section

I recently came back from my first trip to Taiwan, and while there are a lot of profound things which I will someday have to say about the country, the first thing I want to share with MFT is an image of a bakery which can’t decide whether it’s German or French.

Taipei 042
The German French bakery by joejones on Zooomr

(It’s located in Danshui [淡水], just north of Taipei.)

Architectural preservation and history in Taiwan updates

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed three stories in the Taipei Times on the topic of preserving notable or historical architecture in Taiwan.

  1. Taipei County looks to rebuild site of weird UFO houses – I had actually written that I wanted to stop by this area and see the UFO houses before my trip to Taiwan last summer, but just couldn’t find the time. Alas, they may be completely gone by the time I next visit Taiwan.
  2. Taipei to preserve historical Japanese-era buildings – I have previously discussed the many Japanese houses that can be found all over Taiwan in stages of repair ranging all the way from crumbling ruin to well preserved monument. Here is a gallery of photographs I took at one ruin in Taichung, and here and here are photographs of the one behind my apartment building in Taipei. Although Taipei is not proposing a general preservation rule for such historical buildings, which might be nice, they are designating an area near the intersection of Zhongxiao E Road and Jinshan S Road, which contains a cluster of 10 surviving houses built for Japanese civil servants – reportedly the largest single cluster in Taipei – as a special historical zone.
  3. Miaoli officials caught in a lie – Another piece of grim news. Apparently officials in the Miaoli County actually pretended to hold a meeting to discuss the historical preservation of the last three surviving kilns in what was a center of the pottery industry during the Japanese colonial period, but in fact never even convened the meeting. The claim that the kilns had “no historic or cultural value” sounds shaky at best, and it seems that they likely violated the Cultural Heritage Protection Act [文化資產保護法] to make way for an industrial development. Angry preservationists are filing lawsuits against the officials who cleared the kilns for distruction.

There were also three other stories of note related to historical topics I have discussed on this blog before.

  1. Chiang Kai-shek plaque to return to memorial hall – “Rectification of names” continues in Taiwan. I have discussed this phenomenon several times in the past, as committed by Chen Shui-bian’s DPP administration here and here, who was replacing China-centric names with Taiwan-centric ones, and then with the reveral of Chen’s Taiwanization moves by Ma Ying-Jiu’s KMT administration here and here. As of January 22, Democracy Hall nee Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is now once again Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. However, the new KMT administration has magnanimously decided to preserve the renaming of the area surrounding CKS Hall to “Liberty Square”.
  2. Descendents of ‘Orphan Army’ dream of home – I previously discussed the KMT/ROC army remnant of Southeast Asia here, noting in particular their fascinating historical association with the SE Asian drug trade, and the unlikely direct connection forged with 1970s Harlem druglord Frank Lucas, as portratyed in the film American Gangster starring Denzel Washington. As descendants of KMT soldiers, there are actually a fair number of “overseas Chinese” from Burma or Thailand who have gone to Taiwan to study using fake documentation, and although they are apparently not deported from Taiwan due to the tricky historical ROC links, they also find it difficult to obtain proper documentation that would allow them to travel back and forth. I imagine there is some sort of process by which they can apply for legal status, but it may very well require geneological or other documentation that is hard to come by. This is a story well worth checking into more.
  3. Study backs findings on Polynesian origins – Linguistic, genetic and archaeological research in the past has suggested that the entire Polynesian/Austronesian group of peoples, ranging from the Malays of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines to the Maori of New Zealand and the native Hawaiians, are all descended from seafaring explorers that set out from Taiwan thousands of years ago. Although only about 2-3% of Taiwan’s current population officially belongs to these “aborigine” tribes whose ancestors were also the ancestors of the Polynesians, a much, much larger percentage of “ethnic Chinese” Taiwanese are actually at least partially descended from aborigines who became culturally Sinicized generations ago. This is of particular pride to proponents of Taiwanese independence who use it as evidence that Taiwan is not inherently Chinese. It is actually a popular theory (if not fact) that much of the “Han” population of southern China is actually descended from natives who became culturally Sinicized in a similar way hundreds or thousands of years ago, and have a noticably distinct genetic history from the northern Han Chinese.
  4. Descendants of victims mark ‘Taiping’ tragedy – Not specifically related to anything I have written about before, but the story of how over 1000 immigrants from China to Taiwan died in a shipwreck near Shanghai in 1949 is new to me, and well worth knowing. I am a bit skeptical of how one can wring out a 20-episode drama from this story though. James Cameron’s Titanic was long enough for me.

Who owns these bodies?

Interesting mini article from the Taipei Times a few days back.

WWII graves located

Taiwan’s representative office in Papua New Guinea has located graves that it believes to be those of Republic of China (ROC) soldiers who died in World War II while they were enslaved by the Japanese army on the Pacific island, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday. Lee Tsung-fen (李宗芬), deputy-head of the ministry’s Department of East Asia and Pacific Affairs, said that local Chinese compatriots said the graves at Rabaul were first discovered by an Australian pilot. It is thought that more than 1,600 ROC soldiers were captured by the Japanese and sent to Papua New Guinea camp during the war. Many of the soldiers reportedly either died in the camp or on the way to it. Lee yesterday said the Ministry of National Defense would send officials to the island to ascertain the identities of those in the graves, adding that the ministry would decide whether to transport the remains back to Taiwan after consulting with the relatives of the men.

The ROC is of course the official name of the government which now runs Taiwan and its accompanying islands, but during WW2 it was one of the two governments competing for mainland China, along with the CCP, while Taiwan was a Japanese colony. Presumably these soldiers were in fact soldiers from the ROC of that time, i.e. NOT Taiwan, were were fighting against Japan and then captured as POWs. Of course, this brings up the question of who should claim these bodies. Is it today’s ROC, i.e. “Taiwan”, or the PRC, i.e. “China”? While similar questions have come up in the past regarding property disputes between the two governments, this case is complicated by the fact that much of the surviving ROC military moved to Taiwan, along with many of their relatives. Should these remains be brought to:

A: Their place of origin (China, NOT Taiwan)

B: The place held by the successor to the military and government that they fought for (Taiwan, NOT China)

C: The location of their closest living relative (could very well be either Taiwan OR China)

IIjima Ai’s meaning to Taiwan

The mysterious death of former porn-star turned memoir author and TV celebrity IIjima Ai has been big news in Japan. I wouldn’t normally mention something like this due to lack of really caring much, but I was alerted to a rather interesting twist in a comment by Taiwanese TV Journalist Michella Jade Weng at Michael Turton’s blog. Weng linked to an a Mainichi article explaining that IIjima’s death has been unusually big news in Taiwan for a surprising and fascinating reason. I’ll give a translation of most of the article below.

Due to the import of adult videos starring Ms. IIjima in the early 90s when Taiwan was democratization and the opening of society were proceeding, Ms. Iijima became a “symbol” of freedom of expression and culture. The [December] 25th edition of China Times, one of Taiwan’s big four newspapers, had a front page article above the fold article which, along with showing a photograph of Ms. Iijima, stated that Iijima Ai “became the common shared sexual dream of Taiwanese men born in the 1960s to 1970s.”

Note that China Times now has a special feature section on their website, under the amusing folder name of “sexgirl.” UDN, another of the big four papers, also put together a special feature on Ms. Iijima, describing her as “a memory of all the men of Asia.”

Assistant Editor of China Times, Zhang Jing-wei, explained this treatment by saying “The period when Ms. Iijima was active overlapped with the period when Taiwanese politics and society were opened up. We were not trying to be funny at all, and decided that Ms. Iijima’s death has social significance.”

In 1987, Taiwan’s 38 year period of marital law ended, and restrictions on cultural expression such as newspaper publication and songs were lifted. The Japanese adult videos that began pouring into Taiwan in the 1990s were considered a symbol of social liberalization.

Weng also reports that her editor explained it in more direct terms. “In addition, she was the common link between nearly all men born in the 60’s and 70’s, because almost all of them hid in their bedroom and watched her videos at one point or another.” Including her editor.