Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

I felt compelled to respond to an article, The hidden minority, which appeared in Sunday's Taipei Times.

In his article, Mr. Momphard defined “The hidden minority”, as those born in Taiwan, but raised in the United States, or born in the United States to Taiwanese parents. He continues by committing a common misnomer by referring to them as “American Born Chinese” or ABC. I find it puzzling that these overseas Taiwanese are so often called ABCs. Shouldn’t they more aptly be called American Born Taiwanese or ABTs? It is a simple label that clearly denotes one’s country of origin. Many Taiwanese or overseas Taiwanese still use the terms Chinese and Taiwanese interchangeably because of the confusion between national and ethnic identity. Or perhaps the lines have been blurred by mixed marriages.

As someone born in the United States of America to Taiwanese parents, I proudly identify myself as a Taiwanese American, not a Chinese American. My parents were not raised in China, nor do they reside in China.

Mr. Momphard’s depiction of “the hidden minority” in Taiwan proliferates the stereotypes of Taiwanese born and raised overseas as spoiled, rich kids. It is unfair to categorize a group along narrow characteristics. There are many deeply personal reasons that ABTs have chosen to return to Taiwan- which Mr. Momphard alludes to, but does not delve into.

Though Mr. Momphard didn’t report on any major discrimination experienced by the hidden minority, there is discrimination, in subtle forms: when one is chided for speaking Mandarin Chinese or Holo Taiwanese with a funny accent or constantly questioned as to why can’t they speak Chinese as flawlessly as any native Taiwanese person. Discrimination occurs when members of the hidden minority, who are native English speakers in their own right, are paid less per hour for teaching English than other visually obvious foreigners, and discrimination occurs when Taiwanese employers refuse to apply for work permits for the hidden minority; employers expect ABTs to have an ROC ID which entitles them to work in Taiwan, but other foreign educated English speakers would most likely not meet such resistance from potential employers. Certainly ABTs might be able to score the top jobs due to their foreign education and strong grasp of Chinese language skills, but their experiences are not without hidden discrimination.
When will we ever feel safe again? Without a doubt the world changed forever after 9-11... terrorism, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden became common speak, then the Bali bombing and no one, no where seemed safe.

American has been on a heightened state of alert. There have been armed guards in high visibility in New York and increasing concerns of possible bioterrorist attacks.

I thought that by being in Taiwan that I could somewhat escape the constant threat of terrorism in the U.S. that the media was beating into the American public. But now the War on Iraq has begun and it's impossible to ignore and feel the grimness of world news. The war has induced instability and global rifts in opinion. Anti-American sentiments are running high. And the outcome and aftermath of this war threatens to change the world order in some extreme fashion, how remains to be seen, according to an editorial written by Jeffrey Sachs.

Closer to home for me, there has been a recent outbreak of SARS in the Asia region. SARS is an illness that is as contagious as the common cold, and has claimed the lives of its victims in an alarmingly short period of time, less than a week. It began with news of cases in Hong Kong, then Southern China, Taiwan and Singapore. There's been a lot of finger pointing... at China from which the illness is suspected of originating (were it not for China's infamous censorship of facts the illness could have been contained earlier), at the WHO for not offering immediate assistance to Taiwan upon the discovery of SARS cases in Taiwan, and at the WHO's classification of Taiwan as a province of China which outraged officials in Taiwan.

Clinics, and schools with suspected cases of SARS have been closed in Hong Kong and Singapore. Passengers with suspicous symptoms have quarantined in several airports throughout Asia.

Taipei is on the alert. Stores have sold out of the carbon/surgical masks which have been recommended to protect people from contracting SARS. Clinics that have treated SARS patients have closed. The MRT and buses are being disinfected.

People are being cautioned to avoid close contact with others displaying symptoms. They are being urged to wear masks, wash their hands, to stay out of enclosed public spaces such as shopping malls, public transportation, movie theaters, and to avoid air travel, especially to HK and China. People are paranoid over SARS. It's front page news in all of the papers, and the leading story on the evening news. It's all that people can talk about.

When will it ever be safe to leave home again?

Monday, March 17, 2003

Today I was enjoying one of my regular quiet workouts at my gym. Usually there are less than 10 people there at a time, so there's never any waiting for treadmills, ellipticals, bikes, stairmasters or nautilus equipment. The gym is located on the 40th floor; three rows of cardiovascular equipment face the wall-to-wall windows overlooking downtown Kaohsiung, so I often look forward to the lovely view. There's something soothing and motivating about looking out into the clear blue sky and watching the movement of clouds while running on the treadmill and staring out to see birds flying about in "V" formation. As I did my 30 minutes on the elliptical machine, I heard what I initially thought were intermittent voices coming from the jumpy volume of the television sets placed throughout the gym. No, that couldn't be it... it sounded more like someone with Tourette's syndrome. I heard loud random hollers and an occasional yell, then energetic exclamations, Yeah! Woo! Woo! punctuated the air. I looked behind me and saw no one was there. I looked in front of me at the two women chatting and pedaling leisurely on stationary bikes. No, the voice I had heard had been a male one. In the front row of treadmills, directly in front of the windows, I spotted a thin man jogging gingerly while sporting a headset. Again the sporadic, disjointed calls: Oh! Oh! Yeah! The two women looked at each other then at the jogging man and giggled quietly. Apparently the lone jogger was singing or responding to music that he was listening to over his headset and was oblivious to the confusion and amusement that he had aroused.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Anyone who's lived in or been to Taiwan recently could confirm the glaring prevalence of stray dogs roaming around. This is a problem that's persisted for over 15 years or more. It's one of the things that I noticed during my first trip to Taiwan as a high school student. At first glance these beasts seem wild, untamed, and diseased. Naturally, passersbys, unaware of the origin of these ghastly creatures, would likely approach them with trepidation, or just turn and run the other way. Take another look and you'll see the lackluster coats, downtrodden postures, and limp tails of these poor, sick dogs. And you'll see that they are probably more scared of humans than anything else and more deserving of pity than apprehension. Most of these dogs are the product of abandonment, hasty decisions and a lack of committment (sounds like excuses for failed marriages!) on the part of dog owners. It is a well known occurence that anyone living in Taiwan can confirm. It really is a sad, troubling sight to see these limping ghosts of a dog, limping along on three good legs, dragging along a useless long injured fourth leg, or worse yet, dogs with only three legs, dogs sprawled on the side of a road, on a sidewalk, dogs wandering about into the middle of a busy road- but amazingly I've never seen one hit or run over. Despite the manic driving habits of the motorists (cars, scooter, motorcyles, bicyclists, etc.) in Taiwan, they do manage circumvent a lot of collisions.

As a result, it's common to see many mongrels and strange looking crossbreeds. Even more oddly, is that by a large, many of these dogs look like a cross between a dachshund and an Irish settler, German shepard, Labrador retriever- you name it. The long, extended body and disproportionately short legs characteristic of dachshunds are unmistakable. It's quite freaky to see various breeds of dogs with the physique of a dachshund. Very freaky because I haven't see many dachsunds running about in Taiwan. Or is there something more sinister going on that I haven't thought of? Like some madman deliriously crossbreading dachsunds with every other possible breed of dog...

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Here's quote that I just had to post, from my wise, ever encouraging friend A who was recently in Taiwan for a visit:

"Women are sometimes embarassed by their own beauty."
A Return to Kaohsiung
February 22, 2003

There's always a feeling of separation anxiety when I leave New York. Never enough time... a wistfulness... a feeling of unfinished business... The day before I left New York I met with my friend J and reflected on my second visit to New York in a month. She commented that she didn't know how I kept up with everyone and arranging my days around meeting and catching up with friends.

"I don't know how you keep up with everybody and arranging to meet them. If I were you, I'd be exhausted. You must be exhausted."

"Well, I am on vacation after all and that's all I have to do, that's why I'm here, to catch up with friends and spend time with them," I said realizing how precious my time in New York always seems and how fortunate I am to be in a position that allows me to take these long breaks for visits, but at the same time realizing that it sometimes feels like a stop gap measure.

Then, putting down my barrriers of being Ms. Super Graciousness, I sighed and said to J:

"Yeah, damn it, it is hard work sometimes. There are so many people I would like to see... I don't have a cell phone, so the onus is on me to get in touch with people, and track them down, call them back... everyone has busy schedules, I'll run around across town, uptown, downtown to meet several people in one day. It's the only way I get to see everyone, well almost everyone, even then there are people I haven't been able to see."

There's a true friend -one who sympathizes with your "problems" of exhaustion due to a too busy social calendar.

Leaving New York and my return to Taiwan.... something had changed. For one thing, I viewed it as a return, not an arrival. Stepping out of the plane into the warm, inviting air, the sun shining down on everything as if just polished with a silver polish cloth. I felt the casual southern hospitality of the simple, straight talking, warm taxi cab drivers at the airport. OK, perhaps some of the sentiment was because I had just emerged from the East Coast blizzard just a few days earlier. But I think that it was more than just that. As I rode in the taxi from the airport back home to my apartment in Kaohsiung, there was a sense of calm familiarity, relaxation, and gentle anticipation. I admired the wide roads lined with palm trees and watched the familiar landscape roll in front of my eyes. It's the same route that I ride home on the bus from the college where I teach, so it's one that I'm especially acquainted with. I didn't feel pressured or anxious about the new incoming students- somehow the Spring semester is always easier for me.

I'm looking forward to pressing forward with more of my personal goals this year. I realize that being in Taiwan has allowed me to uncomplicate my life, to prioritize, explore and develop. I'm very thankful for the lifestyle I have now. It allows me to make these discoveries, but there's another kind of pressure brewing as I try to assess how much longer I want to stay in Taiwan, what I hope to accomplish in that finite amount of time, what, where, when and how I'll make my transition back to the United States.
Sometimes I wonder if the intensity of a romantic relationship (especially at the outset) is inversely related to the longevity of the relationship. In other words, the more intense a relationship starts out, the more quickly it's likely to crash and burn. Maybe it's that being the humans that we are, we can only sustain such heady, intense relationships for so long. It can be crippling, exhausting, mind numbing and consuming to be involved in a relationship that requires it's own babysitter for the hours long conversations, moment by moment drama and intrigue. Once the chase is over and the mystique has been unveiled, reality sets in and if there's nothing left to stand on, the relationship dissolves. Or perhaps it's just too draining and people go through relationship burn out... or it's the way of the universe in equalizing things. Relationships are hard work and if we want one that lasts we must be able to endure and put effort into working on it over a span of time, but if we spend so much time and energy on a relationship in the beginning perhaps we've met our quota for a lifetime. Ever feel like a short, intense relationship took a chunk of time out of your life- one that's more than you're willing to admit? Looking back on it can seem like an embarassing waste of time and energy, but I'd rather see it as a personal experience that has contributed to who a person is and where they are today.