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.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Thorn In My Side

Every semester, actually every academic year, there's always at least one class that's a poses a particular challenge to teach. Naturally, I could just feel frustrated about my students and chalk it up to lack of motivation and discipline- which, at my particular school, to some extent is true.

I teach at a private college. In Taiwan the national, public colleges and universities receive more funding from the government, which in turn affects the quality of teaching staff (i.e. non-PhDs) and calibre of students attracted. So here the cliche is a private school of students from wealthy families- who can afford the higher tuition, students didn't have the grades to enter a national college, who haven't had to work very hard for the life of privilege that they've had.

Sometimes its so discouraging, hopeless, exhausting- when your students are not motivated to learn, unenthusiastic about class, or unable to follow or comprehend what's being taught. It's like pullling teeth and what does one do if your students won't talk in an English conversation class?! It takes its toll and is enough to send a teacher into a feeling of apathy. This is a feeling that was recently shared and confirmed by one of my colleagues in the English department. But I never resign myself over these challenging situations.

After the first few weeks of pushing and pulling, there usually comes a point in the semester, a point at which I need to reassess the situation. With patience and understanding, I usually discover the root of the problem and things get better. Some classes require extra attention and I inevitably need to just sit down and organize myself and re-adjust my teaching strategy or methods. Usually, I've become so wrapped up in my other outside projects or priorities that I haven't taken the time to be mindful of a particular class's needs.

Sometimes it's simply about making the class interesting and relevant to the students. Sometimes its about teaching at the students' level which in some cases might be lower than required for the textbook they are using. Sometimes its about positive reinforcement and encouragement- creating a safe environment for them to practice speaking English. Sometimes its about providing structure and clarity of the course goals.

I'm happy to say I've found a way to remove this semester's "thorn in my side." The little light bulb has been switched on, my students are starting to get it. They see where I'm going with the direction of this class. This class is a particular challenge because I'm trying to get my students to work in groups. A group project requires group discussion (i.e. self-initiated conversation), expressing of their personal opinions and independent work outside of class- all in English.

I insist on a 100% English speaking classroom and teach my classes completely in English. Since English is a foreign language, the language barrier often masks difficulties or manifests itself in different forms- boredom or defiance (by students who zone out or can't understand what is being said or taught in class), shyness (by students who are unable to express themselves as they normally would in their mother tongue). I've seen this happen to students who are normally gregarious and outgoing- transformed into uncertain, tentative speakers.

I think many people who learn a foreign language and are then suddenly immersed into that language's speaking environment experience this transformation and frustration.

Monday, March 28, 2005

I know I said that I was tired and frustrated by politics in Taiwan, and it's true. I'm truly exhausted by the state of things... especially now that I've finally updated my blog! But, I somehow feel the need to document certain political developments while I'm still here in Taiwan. Perhaps it's just a diversion from writing about my own uneventful life...
Taiwanese Americans protest China's "Anti-Secession" Law

From the Washington Post
March 27, 2005

Hundreds Rally for Separate Taiwan

By Bill Broadway
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 27, 2005; Page C03

Chanting "Taiwan? Yes! China? No!" several hundred demonstrators gathered near the Capitol Reflecting Pool yesterday to protest a law that would allow the Chinese government to use military force against Taiwan if the island moved toward formal independence.

The anti-secession law, passed March 14 by China's National People's Congress, reignited passions over the status of the 14,000-square-mile island 100 miles off China's southeastern coast.

The communist-run government of Chinese President Hu Jintao has restated its position that Taiwan is a province of China, while the democratic government of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian asserts that Taiwan has never been a part of China. Chen says it is time for Taiwan to be recognized as an independent nation.

"Taiwan has a right to pursue freedom," said Judy Yeh, 56, who emigrated from Taiwan 29 years ago and works for a federal agency in Philadelphia. "We are not Chinese and never have been Chinese," she said in a refrain repeated in speeches and printed on signs.

"One Taiwan One China" read a green-and-white banner held by Tzong Shi, 35, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, and his wife, Chiung Pei, 28, a doctoral student in medical nutrition services at Boston University.

The color green -- ubiquitous at the rally on signs, flags, even hair -- represents one of two major political parties in Taiwan, Chen's Democratic Progressive Party, said the couple, who came on a charter bus with 50 others from the Boston area. Other demonstrators said they came from Georgia, Michigan, Tennessee, Illinois, New Jersey and elsewhere.

The couple said they have lived in the United States for a year and believe "that America and Taiwan are totally the same country," meaning they enjoy the same freedoms in Taiwan that they enjoy here -- including the ability to criticize government officials without reprisals.

The phrase reflects the rally organizers' belief that Taiwan and China are separate entities -- a repudiation of the "One China" policy that states that Taiwan is part of China, which countries must agree to if they want to establish diplomatic relations. The United States acknowledges the One China policy but is friendly with Taiwan.

At times yesterday, the rally took on a distinctively U.S. feel, with demonstrators singing "We Shall Overcome," a young man walking around dressed like Uncle Sam and six Taiwanese Americans marching in front of the stage holding large U.S. flags.

"We are American citizens trying to help Taiwan become independent," said Ing-Hour Lin, 58, of North Potomac, who was one of the flag-bearers. Taiwan wants peace and freedom and "can't be taken by force," said Lin, an engineer with the U.S. Patent Office.

Taiwan was inhabited before it was found in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers, who called it Ilha Formosa, or Beautiful Island. For four centuries it was governed by a succession of European and Asian rulers before being taken over in 1949 by Gen. Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist Party.

Chiang and his followers fled to Taiwan from communist-controlled mainland China and imposed martial law until the late 1980s. Since then, Taiwan has been run as a democracy, said Wen-Yen Chen, executive director of the Washington-based Formosan Association for Public Affairs, one of the rally's organizers.

Speakers and individuals applauded a resolution passed March 16 by the U.S. Congress condemning the law, saying it "provides a legal justification for the use of force against Taiwan, altering the status quo in the region, and thus is of grave concern to the United States."

The rally near the Capitol was part of an international effort called by Chen to gain support for Taiwan's policies and show solidarity with the Taiwanese. Other rallies took place in such cities as New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Houston.

In the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, in one of the largest demonstrations in Taiwan's history, about a million people marched through the capital yesterday to protest the law.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

On March 26, about a million people in Taipei, Taiwan protested China's "Anti-Secession Law"

From the New York Times
March 26, 2005

Hundreds of Thousands Stage Mass Rally in Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan, March 26 - Hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese marched on Saturday afternoon to denounce Beijing in one of the largest political demonstrations ever here, the clearest sign yet of how China’s anti-secession legislation has poisoned relations across the Taiwan Strait.

The size of the demonstration showed how much the political landscape has changed since the Communist Party-controlled National People’s Congress in Beijing approved a law on March 14 calling for the use of "non-peaceful means" to halt any Taiwanese attempt to declare independence from the mainland. Even some supporters of the opposition Nationalist Party here, which backs closer relations with the mainland, joined the march, although the party’s leaders did not.

"In the past, I didn’t understand the emerging situation across the Taiwan Strait - it seems that war across the Taiwan Strait will happen at any time," said Sue Rong-yin, a 24-year-old pharmacology student who described herself as a staunch Nationalist Party supporter who had never joined a political demonstration until Saturday.

Organizers said they had met their goal of attracting a million protesters, though the police put the crowd at more than 500,000. Most politicians and analysts are not nearly so pessimistic as Ms. Sue about the actual prospects for conflict. But passage of the anti-secession law has brought an abrupt halt to the honeymoon that Taiwan and China had enjoyed over the winter, with both sides now back to denouncing each other almost every day.

Beijing’s official New China News Agency denounced the march before it started, carrying a prominent story on Saturday morning contending that Taiwanese advocates of independence "malevolently distorted" the anti-secession law.

Mainland lawyers drafted the law last summer, in response to fears that President Chen Shui-bian might declare Taiwan’s independence from the mainland. But then the Nationalist Party did unexpectedly well in legislative elections in December.

President Chen responded to those elections by making a series of unexpected overtures to Beijing. Over Chinese New Year in late January and early February, Taiwan and China allowed the first direct charter flights between them since the Nationalists retreated here after losing China’s civil war in 1949.

On Feb. 24, President Chen concluded a surprise political alliance with the most pro-Beijing party here, the People First Party, prompting a half dozen of his more strongly pro-independence advisers to quit. The pact helped the president increase his influence in the legislature, but polls showed a sharp decline in support for both parties and a steep rise in the number of voters who said they were not attracted to any of the parties.

The furor over the anti-secession law and the march on Saturday have allowed President Chen to woo back many angry independence advocates, including several of the advisers who had resigned.

In an event that showed President Chen Shui-bian’s talent for political theater, demonstrators were encouraged to bring pets and children on Saturday as they marched under light clouds down 10 routes to converge in front of the Presidential Palace. President Chen and his staff wrote a song for the occasion, set to the tune of Bob Dylan’s "Blowing in the Wind" and with lyrics in the local dialect like, "How many rocky roads must the people of Taiwan walk, before really achieving democracy?"

President Chen himself joined the march, breaking a long tradition here of sitting presidents not participating in political demonstrations. A 15-foot-tall red balloon resembling a pincushion, and meant to show Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan, was deflated at the end of the demonstration, while a similar-sized round white balloon, labeled "peace," was left standing. Alex Tsai, a senior Nationalist Party lawmaker, dismissed the rally, saying it "really looks like a carnival or festival; it’s not really a political rally."

Mr. Tsai said his party would press on with plans to send a delegation to Beijing on Tuesday. The Nationalists are preparing for their chairman, Lien Chan, to visit the mainland this summer, which would make him the first Nationalist leader to do so since the end of the civil war.

But that strategy carries political risks. Another student in the crowd, Mickey Shi, a 23-year-old Nationalist Party supporter who also had never been to a political demonstration before, said that he thought his party’s leaders should have joined the march. "If you think you are a party of the Taiwan people, you should stand up for them," he said.

Lai I-chung, a foreign policy analyst at the Taiwan Think Tank, a research group here, said polls were showing that over 90 percent of the Taiwanese people disliked the anti-secession law’s mention of using "non-peaceful means" to regain the island.

North Korea’s claim last month that it had produced nuclear weapons has prompted fears of a race by other countries like Taiwan to develop their own if they felt threatened. Foreign Minister Chen Tan-sun said in an interview that Taiwan had the scientific capability to manufacture nuclear weapons but no intention of doing so despite the recent threats from the mainland.

The United States, which guarantees Taiwan’s security, has forcefully and repeatedly warned Taiwan against developing nuclear weapons, and forced the island to dismantle a secret nuclear program in the 1970’s after the Central Intelligence Agency learned of it.

Monday, March 21, 2005

This weekend in Taipei was a nonstop one- constantly following my mother and uncle around to their various daily appointments. We were there to share my uncle's last weekend in Taipei before he returns to Canada.

There were fascinating discussions on heady topics:

Whether Taiwan is a U.S. territory and what that could mean for the sovereignty of Taiwan? For more on this argument click here .

Brainstorming ideas for a documentary film project focused Taiwan, but also bringing Canada into the fold of the story (Put your money where your mouth is: funding for this pending project is expected to come from Canada, but first a concept and proposal need to be drawn up)

The next generation of rising Taiwanese women human rights activists


A silent protest of China's "Anti-Secession Law"

The protest was initiated by one of Taiwan's oldest independence activists, the author of "400 Years of Taiwan's History", 86 year old Su Ming. He and other like-minded supporters have been sitting in front of the main entrance of Tai Da University in Taipei daily, from 9:00am-12:00 midnight since Tuesday, March 15 and will continue until Saturday, March 26. For more about Su Ming you can check out his website (which is in Mandarin Chinese, but includes a link to an abridged English translation of the "400 Years of Taiwan's History").


Visits and dinners with family...

Some close and distant in relation, some frequently contacted, others seldom visited, but amazingly, with all of them I felt an instantly warm, unpretentious rapport... the kind where you tell it like it is, really speak your mind, laugh at yourselves, help yourself in the kitchen, and get down to the "good stuff"- like talking about what's up with those "bad apple" relatives who are such a disgrace to the family...


And of course amidst this flurry of activity I also found time for get togethers with some of my dear friends in Taipei- both old and new!

As we ran from one meeting to the next one at a SOGO department store, we got stuck in traffic. The SOGO department store we were headed for was right on the route of a protest that day, Saturday, March 19, 2005 - so we got an eyeful of the procession of protestors who passed by the front of the department store.

One year after President Chen Shui-bian was shot, on the eve of Taiwan's 2004 Presdidential election, it was amazing to see the thousands of people who turned out in Taipei to protest the suspicious circumstances of the shooting and to question the legitimacy of President Chen's re-election.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Another blow to Taiwan...

In the Taipei Times today:

WTO diplomats under pressure

TITLE DISPUTE: The nation's WTO representatives may have to accept changes to their titles amid protests by China, the minister of foreign affairs said yesterday
By Melody Chen
Thursday, Mar 17, 2005,Page 3

Under tremendous pressure from China, Taiwan's permanent mission to the WTO may be forced to compromise on the two most important titles conferred on its diplomats by the Swiss government, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen said yesterday.

In a legislative question-and-answer session, Chen said Taiwan might agree to compromise on the titles of "ambassador" and "minister," which were respectively conferred on Yen Ching-chang, the country's permanent representative to the WTO, and John Deng, his deputy.

The WTO Secretariat, which is slated to publish a new directory this month, will possibly change the titles of top Taiwanese diplomats in the trade body.

The directory has not been updated for more than two years because of a row between Beijing and Taipei over how the Taiwanese mission and its diplomats should be addressed in the WTO.

Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator Lai Hsin-yuan asked the minister why he consented to compromise on the titles, noting it is valid for Taiwanese diplomats to use the titles because the country enjoys full membership in the WTO.

Over the past two years, Lai said, the WTO Secretariat, though facing great pressure from China, had not updated its directory.

"This is because Taiwan has communicated with other WTO member states on the issue. We have successfully lobbied them over the two years. Why can't we [continue] to do that?" she asked.

Lai, a former senior adviser at the National Security Council, was involved in handling the country's disputes with China over the titles of Taiwan's WTO diplomats.

Yen reportedly returned to Taipei several months ago seeking help over the row with China.

The legislator said US and EU officials told her Taiwan would not be able to hold its positions on many international occasions if it compromises on the title issue.

In response, Chen said the final version of the new directory has not been decided but stressed he has asked Yen to never compromise on the title "permanent representative."

"Yen's report pointed out that Taiwan's rights in the WTO would not be jeopardized even if we compromise on the titles of `ambassador' and `minister,'" Chen said.

"If I had a choice, I would not instruct [Yen] to compromise on the matter," the minister said. "The ministry has to face the reality in the international realm, while firmly guarding the rights Taiwan is entitled to enjoy in the international community."

Yen was not available for comment yesterday.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Basis for the Chen-Soong 10 point consensus is shaky if it's based on the ROC Constitution

In 1895, after China lost the Sino-Japanese war to Japan, China ceded Taiwan to Japan in perpetuity.

The ROC constitution was first drafted when the Republic of China was founded in 1912 after the fall of the Ching dynasty. The China that the Republic of China (ROC) constitution was drafted for clearly did not include the island of Taiwan, since Taiwan was Japanese territory at the time that the Republic of China was founded.

The Republic of China constitution should be considered null and void because it simply was not written for Taiwan nor did the China that it referred to include Taiwan.
It's happened. The president of Taiwan, President Chen Shui-bian has made a deal with the "devil."

On February 24, President Chen Shui-bian and his long time political rival, James Soong, chairman of the People's First Party (PFP) signed a 10 point consensus .

These two have been arch enemies for over 20 years.

Is James Soong a man to be trusted? Let’s look at some facts about the man’s political career:

James Soong started his political career within the Kuo Ming Tang (KMT) party. He served as Director General of the Government Information Office (GIO), from 1979-1984. At that time the GIO was responsible for tightly controlling the news media and "promotion of Chinese culture" versus other indigenous culture and cultural traditions in Taiwan. During his term at the GIO, there was aggressive media censorship, and excessive use of laws to silence protesters against the KMT, as evidenced by the Kaohsiung Incident, which refers to the culmination of the following events: after a police raid of Formosa Magazine, which criticized the KMT, a peaceful protest was organized in Kaohsiung on Human Rights Day, December 10, 1979. The police were heavy handed with the protesters and the scene turned violent. Soong made a public statement condemning the protesters. Interestingly, amongst the protestors was Annette Lu, the current Vice President, and the defense attorneys for the Kaohsiung Incident case included Chen Shui-bian, the current President, and Frank Hsieh, the current Premier.

In 1981, Soong also revoked the press license of a reporter who violated the GIO's orders not to publish the autopsy results of Professor Chen Wen-cheng who died at National Taiwan University; his death was questionably called a suicide; there is evidence to suggest otherwise.

In 2000, Soong lost the presidential nomination for the KMT to Lien Chan, so he ran as an independent presidential candidate. At this time Soong was accused of embezzling KMT funds. After James Soong and Lien Chan lost the presidential election to Chen Shui-bian in 2000, Soong and his supporters protested in front of the KMT headquarters for days and eventually forced Lee Teng-hui (a former president) to step down as the KMT chairperson in favor of Lien Chan. A few months later, Soong and his supporters formed the People's First Party; Soong soon became Lien Chan's political enemy.

In 2004, just last year, Soong joined forces with his ex-political rival, Lien Chan, chairman of the Kuo Ming Tang. Soong and Lien ran on a joint ticket as vice presidential and presidential candidate against Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidates Chen Shui-bian and Annette Lu. After loosing the election by a narrow margin, Soong and Lien contested the election results due to the suspicious timing of the assassination attempt on President Chen Shui-bian and the narrow margin by which the DPP won. Soong and Lien led protesters to the front of the Presidential Office, where they remained for over a week contesting the election results. Soong has continued to question the legitimacy of President Chen's reelection, until he and President Chen signed the 10 point consensus on February 24, 2005.

The 10 point consensus may seem benign enough, but it's what it represents and the parties involved that makes it so unsettling.

Staunch supporters of the DPP and President Chen have been disillusioned. Particularly disturbing is point two of the consensus, in which President Chen has agreed not to create a new constitution, not to declare independence by constitutional amendment or referendum, and not to change the country's official name of Republic of China. It is doubtful that President Chen's campaign promise of a new constitution by 2006 and implementation by 2008 will happen.

Other articles offering analysis of the ten point consensus:

A Marriage of Political Convenience

President Chen Betrayed the Voters

Chen, Soong Affirmed "Middle Way"

Reactions to the ten point consensus:

Reactions from Taiwan's deep green DPP supporters

Presidential Advisors Threaten to Quit

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The buzz in Taiwan today was that the police have found the man believed to have attempted to assasinate President Chen Shui-bian almost a year ago- on March 19, 2005. For full details read for yourself here .

But of course there are a lot of questions and doubts and soon there will be conspiracy theories abound.
It's not that there hasn't been much to say about Taiwan lately...

While I was a way on a break from it all in the U.S., there were quite a few developments in Taiwan's everchanging political landscape, but I'm getting tired of it all. I'm so tired of explaining Taiwan's convoluted, self-sabotaging politicians and political situation. I'm tired of all of the back paddling that's been happening.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Just Another Sunday Afternoon in the Streets of Kaohsiung- A Protest of China's Anti-Secession Law

Here is a photo of one of the more spirited protesters seen that day... a translation/explanation of this sign is probably in order

For those of you who don't read Chinese, here's my attempt at a translation and explanation of the sign being held up by the protester in the photograph above:

First, let me begin by explaining the two Chinese characters for China (are read according to Hanyu Pin Ying as): zhong (first tone) guo (second tone). These two characters are literally translated to mean middle (zhong) country (guo), central country, or even middle kingdom, as in the middle or center of the world.

The sign in the photo above can be literally translated as: Taiwan does not equal "central dog."

The two characters on the right side of the sign are: zhong (first tone)- which means middle or central, guo (third tone)- which means dog. These two characters are a play on the two characters for China, in other words, the characters for "central dog" and "China" are like homonyms. The first Chinese character for "central dog" and China, is written and pronounced the same (zhong ), but second character guo- for dog and guo-for country sound similiar, but the tone used to pronounce the character guo for dog and country are different.

So in essence the sign is saying that Taiwan is not like those Chinese dogs, the central, "top dog" of dogs of the world. The Chinese nationalists dogs who fled to Taiwan from the Communist Chinese and enforced an authoritarian rule and now the dogs of the People's Republic of China, who continue to threaten and intimidate Taiwan. It amounts to the name calling that Taiwanese use to express how indecent, uncivilized, backward those Chinese dogs, or more specifically, the PRC are.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Scenes from this year's Lantern Festival along Kaohsiung's Love River