Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hukou Old Street: A Photo Essay

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To get my mind off of the tragedy that is the Taipei MRT stabbing, and the less-surprising-yet-still-saddening Santa Barbara shooting (hey, let's make it legal for misogynist assholes to legally buy guns! Nothing could possibly go wrong there!), I decided to post some photos from a recent day trip to Hukou Old Street.

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The good things about Hukou Old Street: the train station for it is on the local line (not far from Hsinchu) from Taipei, meaning it's easy to get to the town. It is not quite as 'discovered' yet, with far more people inviting you into their traditional homes-cum-shops to peruse antiques than stores selling soap, camphor balm, brown sugar cake and plastic children's toys (they still have those things, but they are far smaller in number). The street never gets fully crowded even on a kinda-sunny Sunday. The buildings and their decorations are remarkably well-preserved. The area has a lot of down-at-heel local color and friendly folks.

The annoying things about Hukou Old Street: first, it's not that close to anything else. Second, while it's easy to take a taxi there from Hukou train station, it is not within easy walking distance and the bus between the two comes rarely. There are not taxis lining up to take you back to the train station or wherever. If you don't have your own transportation, I suggest getting the phone number of whichever taxi took you so you aren't calling taxi companies from a Hi Life when you're ready to go back, hoping one will have a car they can send your way. Because, uhh, I wouldn't know anything about that, no sir.

This is one drawback of living in Taiwan: it's a developed country and as such has an urban metro system, in Taipei and (slowly but surely) in Kaohsiung, worthy of the first world. And yet, much of Taiwan remains rural: it's not "poor" enough that there needs to be public transportation for a populace that can't afford cars, but not "rich" enough that it has the excellent public transit infrastructure of, say, Japan.

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But once there, the old street and surrounding town is a great way to spend some time - I recommend, to the best of your ability, tacking it onto something else - not sure what, as it's not near anything, but something. Including time spent eating you could spend a morning or an afternoon here, but not a whole day.

Which may be why it's not packed to the gills with tourist junk and the tourists who buy it like other old streets, so perhaps that's a blessing in disguise.

(Don't get me wrong, I like some of the tourist junk. I use the camphor balm and love brown sugar cake, it's just...I've seen it all. I'm happy to see that Dihua Street is going more traditional+upscale galleries and Hukou is maintaining its traditional flavor).

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At one end of the street there's a church - worth a quick look. At the other, a temple (beyond the temple there are some rural farmhousey-type areas you could walk around in, although beware unfriendly local dogs).

One woman invited us to enjoy some tea in the loft/top floor of her house - the first floor was full of antiques - most for sale. The seating area and tea set:

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Not bad, eh?

She doesn't invite everyone up, so don't push her...but you may be pleasantly surprised!

Another friendly old fellow with a clip-on mic and megaphone invited everyone in to see his collection of...things, which seems to have taken a Hoarders level of dedication to amass. For example, this thing is not creepy at all:

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This guy had a huge obsession with the KMT, wearing a fake KMT politician vest (he was not a politician) and collecting various Party bric-a-brac which was interspersed with photos of him shaking hands with KMT dignitaries, Hello Kitty piggy banks, Three Wise Men on camels, Ronald McDonald figurines and horrifying light-up faces in faux tree trunks. Also, clowns.

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All in all, it was pretty enjoyable, even if we really stretched out our mealtimes to make the trip all the way out to Hukou worth it.

If you're into old streets and Japanese-era architecture - and I am - and you're willing to go out of the way for a bit more authenticity, Hukou's a good choice.

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I mean, it doesn't get more authentic than that, does it?

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Loved the decorations on the traditional buildings.

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Another nice family invited us to the back of the house to see their antique brass bed.

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The temple is a pretty basic temple, nothing you can't see elsewhere, but it has a nice atmosphere...very peaceful, no scaffolding or corrugated tin roofs. And a few nice surprises like this little elephant hiding in the ceiling beams:

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And this gorgeous black-and-white tiger painting:

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There are a few restaurants, the most famous of which is in the old theater (the food is pretty good - not life-changing, but good enough), and plenty of snacks. We also got ginger tofu pudding (薑汁豆花) - honestly, not as good as what you can get in Sanxia at the much busier Old Street.

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But, of course, a visit to an Old Street is incomplete without a piece of plastic junk. I thought this happy green poop-shaped container holding Smartee-like poop candies was a good choice. He sits on my desk now.

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From there, we weren't hungry enough to head out to Miaoli for a good Hakka dinner. It wasn't exactly convenient to get to Hsinchu or Zhubei, although we considered stopping in Zhubei for Titty Tea's tasty brownies and good beer before heading back to Taipei from there (I know a place in Hsinchu city that does shabu shabu with congee broth, but we weren't hungry enough to eat that soon and I didn't have their information readily available). In the end we just went back to Taipei (after *cough* waiting at a Hi Life for a taxi to finally come get us) and had dinner there - we got back in plenty of time.

Just to show you how friendly and open people can be in Taiwan, I mentioned the taxi kerfuffle to some Hsinchu Science Park students and two of them were all "you should have called me! I would have given you guys a ride, no problem!" (Hukou is about a 20-minute highway trip from Zhubei). Awww.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Updated Post: Atmospheric Coffeeshops in Taipei

I've updated with several new spots in Zhongshan, Dihua Street, Heping East Road and even inside a few temples!

As usual they all make it in for different reasons, which doesn't necessarily mean they offer the best coffee in Taipei. Some are in vintage or historic buildings, some have interesting decor, some have great architecture or a great view, some feature art galleries or small shops, and some just have cats, because cats!

we are all tiny humans

I want to say something about the tragic subway attack in the greater Taipei area yesterday, but...while I have a lot of thoughts and feelings, there isn't much to say. I stayed home last night - feeling tired + having an in-home class + torrential rains = just not going to bother going out - and watched my Facebook feed explode with the news. It felt like Taipei was a city besieged yesterday, between the typhoon-like rains (at least it'll fill up our reservoirs?), the earthquake in the morning, and the absolutely-unheard-of-how-could-this-happen stabbing last night. At that point, I didn't want to go out.

It's not that I felt unsafe: I didn't. It was just a feeling of listlessness, and like a child, craving familiarity and certainty when unexpected terrors come out.

First thought: this doesn't happen. Except it did. Taipei is one of the safest cities in Asia. The murder rate is remarkably low, and of the murders that do occur, the vast majority are between people who have a quarrel with each other: random murder, strangers-on-strangers, is virtually unheard of. I use the present tense because I refuse to believe that this is the start of any sort of trend. No. This is the exception that proves the rule.

And I know this. Taiwan is safe. This is the exception that proves the rule. But I couldn't help but feel stressed last night, and listless again today. I did not feel unsafe, I just felt upset.

Why? In the USA I can't imagine I'd be so upset about this sort of thing happening (of course, I would be upset, but not quite in the same way). I hate to say it, but I almost expect it from the USA, or at least, it happens so often that when it inevitably happens again - "where now? Elementary school? Movie theater? Post office? Government building? Okay" - I just feel like...'Murica. It could be because I live in Taipei, so this hits closer to home - that could've been me and all - but even when I lived in the USA I felt that all us tiny humans waiting for our tiny lives to be snuffed out in a chaotic universe of order and entropy faced that danger daily. For eight years in Taiwan, I never felt like I faced any. I felt like more than a tiny human: I felt like a human who wouldn't be naive for being shocked, rather than inured to, violence.

But when you live in a country where this just doesn't happen - I mean it, even though it happened, it just doesn't happen - when it happens, it shocks the bejesus out of you. You get used to a better life, a life where you are not always fearing for your safety, so when random violence happens, it hits deep.

I do not want inurement to violence to be a shibboleth that separates us 'MURICANS from Taiwanese, but it seems that, to some extent, it is.

And I don't think I'm the only one. When I did go out today (and took the MRT - there is no reason to be scared) it felt like a pallor had fallen on the whole city. Everyone looked upset, frustrated, wary or just plain tired. Like they wanted to occupy something, but occupying things wasn't producing any more results than not occupying things because nobody important ever listens. Nobody listens to the tiny humans peeping and cricketing. Like they wanted to reassure themselves that their country is safe (and it is!).

I'm angry at that kid. We're all angry at that kid. He wanted to "do something big" - well fuck him. He took the easy way. He didn't learn, or strive, or work, or apply himself, to do this. He just took life, made four families miss their loved ones for no good reason, for his own tiny goals, played a god I don't believe in, because that was easier than making something of himself. We all want to "do something big". I want to "do something big". If you want to "do something big" you work for it. You learn for it. You strive for it. Killing four people and injuring dozens more isn't "something big" - it is something very black and small. He did something small. Any idiot - any loser - can take out a knife and start slashing. He is a tiny human with a tiny heart and no morality whatsoever.

At the same time, I feel sad for that kid. Empathy, even.  We can only speculate on why he did this, but I can't seem to stop speculating (I know....) He wanted to feel "big", and I suppose playing god is a way to trick yourself into that. That meant he probably felt tiny. A college kid, looking at a 22k future, wondering how on earth he could do something big in a world that seemed so determined to keep him tiny through power structures built in order to keep powerful people happy while everyone else begs for that 22k and is told to feel happy they get even that. He may have felt hopelessness, he may have felt anger. Perhaps entitlement. Perhaps he felt that he had to be the second or third biggest asshole in Taiwan for a year (Ma Ying-jiu and his puppeteer might qualify for assholes #1 and 2) in order to make any mark at all.

Well, we all feel that way. Some of us are afraid to admit that we might see some of ourselves in him, whatever his motives:

If this murderer was from a single-parent family, we close the case and we start to review the mechanisms of single-parent family counseling - ethics groups might come out and say "love is loyalty for life, oppose divorce!" People will believe that children from Taiwanese single-parent families are more likely to become problem children and commit these crimes.

Similarly, if he were a homeless murderer, or he was gay, or he only had a junior high school education or was from a lower-income family, if the murderer came from the east (ed: I don't understand this part), the murderer has depression or chews betel nuts or had ADD/ADHD, we can all close the case because it's easy to attribute the causes to these reasons. Followed by a variety of experts to discuss how we can come out with "counseling", "change", "care" of these people. Then the media, pundits, and education continues to fuel these "social problems". The stigma would continue to replicate indefinitely.

We are accustomed to stories in film, on TV and in comics, instilling a duality into our thinking: that there are good guys and bad guys in the world. Those who do bad things must be the bad guys, and they must be bad for a reason, he is not the same as me, so he is a bad person. So everyone becomes a detective, changes the reasoning of experts and thinks they can read minds. We cannot understand, but also refuse to accept that these things can be done by our hands, from our side - from people like us.

So you will not see someone saying, "because the murderer is from a heterosexual family, is an adult dependent on his parents, so..." Noone would say , "because the killer is in Taipei, so ... ", " because the murderer was a man, so ...", " because the murderer has a Facebook account, so ... ". Obviously these conditions are true, but you will not note them as factors - that would be stupid. But why label other stigma (single-parent families, homosexuality, depression, mental illness) even if they exist, unless we want to say that everything is an influence?

We are constantly looking at those people with distinctive labels, just because we are afraid that we are the same as them, we are afraid to face the fact that we received the same education and grew up and were educated in similar environments. Our fear is that there are not only good people and bad in the world.


That's yet another reason why this has affected me so much - because there is not, and possibly should not be, a "reason" or a "label" to put on him that we can then stigmatize or use as a rallying point to further our own pet causes or prejudices. That he's a kid, just a kid, and he's not as unlike the rest of us as we want to believe.

That this is the game of thrones (after a fashion), and winter is coming, and there are far more in-between people than good or bad, and we are among those in-between people. That people just like us can go on a stabbing spree in the MRT because he felt he couldn't be "big" in any other way, that someone not so different from us did do this.

That we are all specks of dust caught between order and entropy, that there is no grand plan for us. That we are all dust motes on a pale blue dot, dust motes on a dust mote, and we all want to do something big...but we can't, because something that small can't do something terribly big.

Even within our own little pale blue petri dish, where what one speck of dust does can affect the whole, where we can, in our own little enclosed environment, do something "big", deep down we know this:

We all have 22k futures.

Most of us are not built into the power structure, and if you are, you were born into it. I was born more into it than others because of my passport, my education and the color of my skin. It's designed to be hard to change, even as we are told, ad nauseam, that with a little bootstrappin', we can change it. That if we want to, we can really do something big. Take that 22k, hon, and like it! Work hard, give us more, chase that carrot on a stick, that robot rabbit on a racetrack, and trust us. You can do it!

But we can't.

We are all tiny humans.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Silver Stream Cave and Waterfall (銀河洞越嶺步道)

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This short hike (more like hellishly steep, but short, stair climb in nature) is quite well known, covered in Taipei Escapes, Taipei Day Trips, and blogged by David on Formosa. I hadn't done it before, though, so I thought I'd add a few photos. It begins in Xindian (or Maokong if you are so inclined), snakes up (or down) a stair-trail through the mountains and takes in a slender silver waterfall backed by a cave, into which a retro little temple has been built.

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It will also get its own entry under "easy day hikes in Taipei for lazy people" (updated!) as you can easily begin this hike around or even after lunch time and arrive in Maokong with a comfortable amount of daylight remaining. Its fairly unchallenging nature - unless you hate stairs (and I do) - proximity and short duration are perfect for those who want to do something but didn't get up until 10am.

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I like this hike because it connects two disparate parts of the greater Taipei area: Maokong/Muzha and Xindian. You go up the long, ridge-like Maokong mountain, stop at a waterfall and temple on the way, pass a short trail to the summit (you can head up there if you like - but there's no view) and then come down to the road across the street from Maokong's cable car station. Straight up and straight down.

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There are buses and such you can take to get there; you can take any bus headed along Beiyi Road (Highway 9 or 北宜公路) towards Pinglin and get off at Yinhe Road (銀河路), hiking up from there.  However, it's only about NT155 to take a taxi from MRT Xindian to the trail entrance (tell any driver you want to go to 銀河洞越嶺步道 on Yinhe Road), so why not just do that?

Or you can go the other way - take the gondola to the top of Maokong, and directly across the street start hiking up the hill past the temple under renovation, turning behind a house (should be marked), past an old stone house, and up some more on a concrete path until you hit the woods again. Past the summit and then down, down, down to the waterfall and Xindian, and catch a bus on Beiyi Road back to the MRT. This way involves less uphill hiking and few, if any, uphill stairs.

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But we went the hard way, and ended up in Maokong at a great time for tea and snacks, hanging out until sunset and dinnertime. We went to my favorite teahouse on Maokong, 山中茶 - I like their fried sweet potato and their lemon diced chicken (檸檬雞丁).

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This trail is very much discovered - solo hikers (it's very safe) and large groups, often with dogs, meander along it, stopping for lunch near the temple. The temple itself was built sometime after the KMT landed in Taiwan, and tiles painted with a story in Chinese marking this fact, plus the obvious non-fact that "everyone in Taiwan celebrated Retrocession Day" (uh, NO THEY DIDN'T) and a list of temple donors.

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 You can walk behind the waterfall up a path just beyond the cave - the path continues, but it's better to take the path up to the right of the temple for a quicker ascent to Maokong.  photo IMG_5387.jpg

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Keep Her on the Pole

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I'm sure some of you have heard of the just-common-enough-to-be-noticeable practice of hiring dancing girls or strippers (or both) at certain functions in Taiwan: notably weddings, funerals (yes, funerals) and temple festivals.

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Well, I came across some at the Baosheng Cultural Festival this weekend, and it got me thinking about an old topic that I thought I'd written about but actually haven't: is Taiwan as "conservative", or at least as sexually conservative, as people think?

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There's no clear answer to this but I would put my bets on "no". Not just because of the "pole dancers for the gods" driving around Taipei on the back of retrofitted Jeeps, but for a number of reasons.

My New Life in Asia covered this awhile ago, and his post is worth reading. However, I feel it only covers one aspect of Taiwan's (lack of) sexual conservatism, at least compared to the rest of Asia. Which is good - keeping focus and all - but there's more to explore.

He focused mostly on women leveraging their sex appeal for financial gain, and businesses and marketing doing the same. And there's certainly truth to that: between booth babes, beer girls, betel nut beauties and the blatant hiring favoritism of attractive women over unattractive ones or, in some industries, over men (even attractive men), there's definitely less taboo centered around leveraging female sex appeal in Taiwan - to the point that it sometimes makes my feminist skin crawl.

And the pole dancing girls definitely fit that aspect of Taiwan's relative progressiveness, so I'll talk about them first.

I can't explain the "weddings and funerals" thing when it comes to hired dancing girls - and it doesn't happen all that often at either - but it's common enough at temple festivals that a few of my friends have come across it so far. Once at the Baosheng Cultural Festival, once at God Pig in Hsinchu - and I did see my share of scantily clad "baton girls" with marching bands at the Matsu pilgrimage kick-off.

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But why? To quote one of my students: "they do that to show respect to the god. That god probably wants people to have more and more babies and this...helps. And the god should enjoy it too."

And certainly nobody seemed to disapprove - men and boys watching obviously enjoyed the show, but notably, they were doing so right in front of their mothers, wives, grandmothers, daughters and sisters, who also didn't seem to mind (some were even cheering - even grandmas). The dancing took place in front of temples and nobody thought this was declasse or inappropriate (although certainly among Taiwanese who don't commonly watch temple parades for fun, you'll find folks who do think it's declasse). The women certainly didn't think they were doing anything wrong or shameful.

That's significant - there's truth to the idea that whether you approve of it or not, the female body and its appeal does move product. Sex sells.

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Until the human race evolves beyond finding sexualized marketing appealing, it's going to happen (just like any number of social ills: abortion, divorce, premarital sex etc.. There's no sense railing against it, because it's going to happen. You have to build your fight for a better world around accepting that fact). The pragmatism of just accepting that rather than wringing hands and clutching pearls, while bracing at times, can also be refreshing.

But there really is more to Taiwan's progressivism than that. So, here are a few reasons why I don't think Taiwan is as sexually conservative as people think, and is definitely not as sexually conservative as most of East Asia.

1.) Love motels -

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In the USA they're seen as gross, seedy places where all sorts of nastiness goes down. And certainly Taiwan must have a few grody love motels. But ask most locals and they'll say there's nothing wrong with pay-by-the-hour "rest" establishments, that they're a social necessity in a country where people often live with parents until they marry, and often afterwards as well, or share smaller spaces with multiple generations. Maybe it's a boyfriend and girlfriend looking for somewhere to go when they both live with their parents, or a married couple who needs to get away from Grandma and the Kids, or a truck driver and a prostitute, an extramarital affair or just some kids looking to party. Who knows, who cares, it's nobody else's business and people respect that. And I love it - no moralizing, no soapboxes, no bible-thumping, just not your business, stay out of it, sex is a thing people have.

Thanks to my Christian Guilt (I was not raised Catholic but the guilt thing is very real), the first time Brendan and I (unwittingly) stayed at a love motel, I was a bit embarrassed walking outside (we'd realized it was a love motel after we checked in). It felt like I was on a reality show, looking around shifty-eyed: Who's Judging Me Now? Once I realized nobody was, it made me wonder why this wasn't how things were everywhere else in the world.

And they're openly advertised as such, in ways that could ostensibly point to both male and female desires: Secret Love Motel (advertised with huge LED signs off the main road - nothing too secret about it, ey?), Eden Exotica (home of the Batman Room!), I Need Motel etc. and pictures of hearts or, in one establishment's case in Yonghe, a man and woman making out. The woman sure seems to be into it. The fact that the signs can get that racy at all means that there's just not much of a big deal surrounding them. I could see such a place in the USA being picketed by angry evangelicals.

2 - Prostitution exists (DUH) but it's less acceptable to be a john...not because sex is wrong, but because "decent guys" do it for love.

I feel like in a lot of other countries (*cough* China *cough*), it's still a social "thing" that a man can both be a "decent guy" in the eyes of society, and be someone who visits prostitutes and playboys it up, even when he is in a relationship (assuming it's not an open relationship). It's like, the fact that that guy blatantly cheats on his partner is utterly irrelevant to whether he's a good guy - perhaps because more people think that all men do it, so there's nothing wrong with it and it's women's job to accept and forgive.

Setting aside whether it's OK to visit prostitutes (I err on the side of "no" just because of all the exploitation of women that goes on in that industry, including, if not especially, in Asia, but I'm not against a woman choosing to enter sex work if she chooses to), I feel like while Taiwan has its share of prostitutes (I wouldn't, as My New Life In Asia calls it, say "Taipei is a city of lust" though - it's about as lustful as any other city or even group of humans who live together in a society, no more and no less), that if a man wants to be seen as a "decent guy", a 君子, in society, that man can't (openly, at least) sleep around when he's in a relationship or married.

Note: I'm not including men who sleep around or visit prostitutes when single in this analysis, because that's a different discussion.

I know, I know. Some of you are going to say "doesn't that mean Taiwan is more sexually conservative, not less?" No. To me, that's a sign of progressivism, not conservatism because it includes a feminist perspective into ideas about sex. Openly breaking your romantic promises if you're a man (but not a woman!) is actually a symptom of a sexually repressive society, not an open one. A society in which sex shouldn't be enjoyed by women, and is entirely the privilege of men. That's not openness, it's the opposite! In an open society, that sort of behavior tends to decline because people are more likely to form happy, healthy relationships in which both partners are satisfied.

Oh yeah, and male escorts exist too.

3 - There's been an uptick in using male sex appeal in advertisements and media -


OMG Takeshi.

I have heard that apparently 3G service slowed down significantly at Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT when this ad took up an entire wall, and that it was mostly due to women taking pictures of it and sending it to their friends or posting it on social media. That could be apocryphal, but I really hope it isn't. Because OMG Takeshi.

4 - Sex jokes are surprisingly acceptable, especially at weddings but even in other situations -
No really, you wanna hear about the time my friends got married and their friends stuck a banana between his legs and made her eat it? I don't really wanna talk about that time, but I can't imagine most people from a "conservative" country thinking it's OK to pull those stunts in front of someone's grandparents.

What's more, I've found that if I have had a student or group of students for a long time, and they make mistakes that sound hilariously dirty ("I asked her if she could do my English tutor", "I gave my wife a Wang Steak for Mother's Day", "My presentation is in three man parts", "Be careful or he'll knock you up" (they meant "knock you out"), "I like to take out my member to play on Friday night" (he meant he liked to go out with his team members), "My salary is too low, I think. My other friends have big packages but I have a small package", "We will have an oral contest next week to see who does the best oral" etc., I can usually just tell them why they can't say that, and it's wonderfully funny.

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Plus you can buy these t-shirts and much, much more in terms of horrible things on clothing.

5 - Sex ed advertisements and pamphlets are much more "open" here than in the USA -

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Some of you "enlightened topless Europeans" may disagree, but in the USA it's quite rare to see too many sex ed public service announcements, and how much of it you get in school differs by state. I know Taiwanese schools aren't great at this, but they seem to do a better job of it than any other country in Asia (correct me if I'm wrong), and I've definitely seen pamphlets like the above (nevermind the English - a workman must sharpen his tools if he is to do his work well indeed!) and TV ads on the MRT station TVs that show two cartoon lovers going to a motel, then the cartoon motel starts shaking, and there's an admonishment to wear protection.

Of course, there is a flip side to this - plenty of women don't seem to know how their anatomy even works ("if I wear a tampon, won't I lose my virginity? If I wear a tampon, won't I be unable to pee?") or think that sleeping in the same bed with a man carries a risk of pregnancy. This could definitely be improved.

6 - A majority of Taiwanese are either not opposed to, or actively support, marriage equality, family planning and reproductive freedom -

You don't really hear any objections to the use of contraception (except perhaps by in-laws who want grandchildren yesterday to carry on the Chen family name, because it's in danger of dying out or something), I've not really heard many people ever speak out against the legality of abortion (which is only covered by health insurance if done for certain reasons, but is legal) - at least, the dialogue never gets as vehement and sexist and downright hateful and shameful (on the part of certain conservatives) as it does in the USA, and recent surveys indicate widespread, even majority support for marriage equality.

I've never heard of a "conservative" society being mostly in favor of granting marriage rights to all.

Oh yeah, and support, at least in artistic form, for transgender people exists, too!

7 - There's been an uptick in PDA -

A lot of people writing about Taiwan write about how PDA just isn't done here, it's kind of rude to do that in public, whatever-whatever. I have to wonder what part of Taiwan they're in. Perhaps that's true in rural areas, but I see all sorts of PDA in Taipei - butt-touching on escalators, kissing, hugging, all that stuff. And then a few extreme examples that have attained national prominence, too, like this one, which produced some amazing viral meme material (known locally as "kuso", from a Japanese word), much of which you can find here, including the image above. Or the time a couple made the news for riding a scooter together, the woman sitting astride her boyfriend as he drove (clothes on) - can't find the link for that, but it happened.

8 - For every "using a hot girl to sell product" advertisement, there's another one either implying that their product will give you a big dong, or that guys with big dongs use that product -

I've been trying without success to find the link for some of these products - I don't exactly need them, seeing as I haven't got the organ in question, so hunting in English would be difficult enough. Can't find it at all hunting in Chinese.

But every time I take a taxi with a little TV in the back, there's this commercial where a guy in a blue shiny suit dances around happily until he goes to his girlfriend's house, and it's obvious what they're going to do. Then you see a cartoon blue bird wave at you before growing huge muscles - the product is basically some sort of male enhancement ("blue bird" is local slang for that particular appendage).

And let's not forget how readily available Chinese medicinal remedies are for men who need a little help.

9 - The Kaohsiung Sex cafe exists, yes, and even outside of it I have seen more depictions of sex organs (and underwear just dancing in the breeze, or worn outside by old guys) in Taiwan in 8 years than I saw in 24 years in the USA -

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Just not sure I believe many people in a "conservative" country would hang their underwear to dry on an old placard carved with Chinese Nationalist slogans. For women's unmentionables, scroll through here. 

10 - The slang. Oh, the slang.

Taiwanese swearing, when not referencing shit ("shit face", "shock you into shitting green", "Eat shit!"), references sex acts and sex organs far more than you'd think the language, even the dirty language, of a "conservative" country does. There's a slang term for "like throwing a sausage down a hallway" (the Taiwanese translates as "a stick of bamboo in the well"), the two worst insults out there are stinky (man parts) and stinky (woman parts), and an effective way to say that one is angry is to say "My dick is full of fire!", and of course the usual slew of slurs directed at one's mother, but that's true in every culture. I just don't see a "conservative" culture translating "I'm SO ANGRY" as "my dick is full of fire", I'm sorry.

11 - Well, as I said above, pole dancing for the gods. Not only is it totally normal, but the crowds in the street cheering on the pole dancers weren't just men of all ages, but women too. 

12 - Magazines in 7-11 and Zhu Geliang movies - 

Seriously, any kid or grandma can see this at the checkout at 7-11 (sometimes they put it in the magazine rack in back, sometimes they don't, or what's at the register is far racier). 

Brendan disagrees with me about Zhu Geliang, whom I have most recently seen on an advertisement on the side of a bus for his new movie while a woman, ostensibly measuring him for inseam length, is actually measuring his man bits. In another movie, someone kicks him in said man bits and the shot cuts to two eggs cracking over a frying pan.

from here

I say that's a sign that Taiwan is not that conservative. Brendan says "well, it's really no racier than old Benny Hill movies. You know, sex jokes for our grandparents." But for me, the fact that softcore pornographic magazines are not only sold in 7-11, but are right there on the checkout counter where every child and grandma can see them, boobs out and everything, seals the deal. Every country has porn, but "conservative" ones don't put it right at the cash register.

Oh, and one of those magazines is called "Sexy Nuts", which I think is hilarious.

13 - Reproductive health and contraception are all easy to come by, and for women, everything but contraception is free (contraception should be free, but that's another post) - 

"Conservative" countries don't provide free pap smears to women after age 30, nor do they make it extremely easy to buy condoms and birth control pills with no shame attached, no stealing about, no red faces.

* * *

Of course there's more work to be done. Abortion shouldn't only be covered for certain reasons, we need better education towards gender equality, contraception of all types should be available for all at an affordable price for all (see the comments of that post for more on that topic), sex ed in schools needs to be more comprehensive, and there are still folks out there who have old-fashioned ideas about what families should look like, who can be gay ("I don't care if some stranger is gay, but NOT MY SON!" is a common sentiment, but then that's true in the USA too), and how "pure" a woman should be before marriage (again, that's also common in the USA where slut-shaming is surprisingly common).

But overall, I would not say that I find Taiwan to be terribly conservative. I would not say I find it to have rigid, old-school morals. I'd say, if anything, it's the most progressive country in Asia vis-a-vis these issues and in some areas, can compete with the USA when it comes to open-mindedness.

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After all conservative societies don't have very many protesters who make signs like this, and have their message get so popular that someone makes a series of stickers based on it to pass out to the public. Which happened. I have one.