Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Some Thoughts on News Surrounding 228

There is a lot to say about the commemoration of this year's 228 Massacre - as can be expected given that it's the 70th anniversary of the tragedy - that I feel ought to be more broadly disseminated. So, while it's rare for me to do this, I've put together a summary of various 228-related news and thoughts.

My friends and I had planned to spend the morning at the Nylon Deng Liberty Museum near MRT Zhongshan Junior High School. I had wanted to go on April 7th, which will be the 28th anniversary of Nylon's self-immolation, but others were not available. 228 is also a suitable day, as much of Nylon's work revolved around appropriately recognizing and commemorating the 228 Massacre. Deng is almost a mythical figure and hero among activists and the socially and politically engaged, but remains somewhat unknown in mainstream society - I have many students who have never heard of him, and I had been in Taiwan for several years before I learned of his work and sacrifice.

It's a quieter sort of reflection, away from the speeches, music and even protests. I strongly recommend going - it's a small museum but a very emotional experience - I'll post a few photos later. The office where he set the fire, preserved in its charred state, is hard to look at straight on, to be honest. I also recommend watching the longer, 50-minute film (English subtitles available on request, and you can buy a DVD of the film for a reasonable price). Be warned: you will cry, especially if you care about Taiwan, but even if you are not so attached to this country.

Downtown, participants in the Gongsheng music festival (a 228 commemorative event) and members of one of the most conservative - and geriatric - factions of the KMT clashed before the two sides were separated by the police. A full piece will be out later on this (here it is!), but I'll go out on a limb and say the old folks started it.

I may be wrong, but it seems like these sort of scuffles are more common this year than in the past (perhaps in the past I didn't notice as much, but it really feels like an escalation). Skirmishes not only took place between the pro-KMT folks out waving their ROC flags - a few days ago pro-unificationists attacked a 228-related book signing.

If my impression is correct, all I can say is this: when a privileged minority with outdated views starts losing their privileged position in a society and with it their ability to dominate the cultural narrative of that society, they tend to react angrily. Finding that your views are not only no longer mainstream but that people are not letting you manipulate what your collective society stands for tends to cause people to lash out. Nobody likes having their power taken away, and nobody likes being faced with the cognitive dissonance of realizing society now believes that the party or ideology they've supported is not only outmoded but in fact morally wrong, or even requiring justice to rectify wrongs that you never thought were actually wrong. We've seen it recently in other countries - I mean, look at where I'm from - so it's no surprise that the Huang Fu-xing (a far-right chapter of the KMT consisting mostly of Nationalist veterans of advanced age) would be acting this way.

As we continue to strip them of their privilege and cultural power both in general society and through specific acts of transitional justice, expect them to lash out more. Be vigilant, as well: we know they are in the minority, and we know they are behind the times and reacting out of anger that they are no longer in control. However, if recent events in the country of my birth prove anything, it's that you can never be sure that they won't strike back hard enough to actually win even as it seems that their beliefs are (literally) dying out.

On the other side of the ideological divide, Chiang Kai-shek Dead Dictator Memorial Hall was closed for the day, which is the first year I remember that happening. The reason given by the Ministry of Culture was that it was out of respect and to 'memorialize the dead'. What many socially aware people are saying, however, is that it was closed to preemptively stop vandalism of the hall or the statue within it. Other statues have apparently been vandalized, and there has been renewed call to remove the statue altogether and repurpose the hall into something other than, well, a memorial to a brutal dictator and murderer.

Regardless of the reason, I would say that closing the hall even for a day is the right thing to do. It is an insult to the dead to have a large memorial complex celebrating the man who is ultimately responsible for their deaths. However, it doesn't go far enough. That statue ought to have been removed years ago (as I once said in a TV interview back when it was renamed Freedom Square, only to have my words purposely mistranslated into "everyone has their opinion, I think we should all be able to hold different views", which I never said). The entire place ought to be repurposed (I find it visually appealing enough, but really can't stand that it memorializes a deeply evil man). The memorial hall has said that they will stop selling CKS-related merchandise and other things that show him in a positive light, but until it is truly Freedom Square - or perhaps the new building for the Legislative Yuan - it still doesn't go far enough.

Honestly speaking, beyond 228 - for which Chiang was, in fact, responsible - when I look at Taiwanese history post-1945, at every turn (every fucking turn!) the person most responsible, almost singlehandedly responsible, for fucking over Taiwan. He completely fucked the whole country (fuck!), and yet there's a creepy-ass personality cult monument to him taking up prime real estate downtown. Fuck him - it's time for that to change.

Of course, not everyone understands the role that Chiang did play in 228.

Along those lines, a "revelation" (it wasn't really) of great interest was also made public this month: some scholars have long suspected that Chiang Kai-shek was ultimately responsible for the 228 Massacre, despite one of the accepted narratives being that he was in China at the time and could not have been responsible for the actions of Chen Yi. Now, we have proof that he was, in fact, responsible. Correspondence between Chen and Chiang in which the former asks for troops (which were granted) has been found and published, giving clear proof that Chiang was aware of the situation in Taiwan and authorized troops to be sent. It isn't hard, if you understand how the wheels of history work, to figure out that he must have known how those troops were going to be used.

In any case, an excellent run-down of the document and its significance (and a strong case for why it shows that Chiang is ultimately responsible for the massacre) can be found here. I won't repeat what has already been said so well.

Moving on from that into shallower waters, apparently there's some dumb kerfuffle over Pizza Hut offering promotions over the long weekend, because other countries commemorate tragedies in an appropriately solemn atmosphere. The example given is September 11 in the United States.

First, I do need to say that what Pizza Hut did was insensitive and stupid. My issue is not that the ad was fine; it wasn't. (I did not realize at first that they changed it from "Killer Deals!" to something less horrifying. "Killer deals!" is never okay.) I just think focusing on this takes up time and discourse over things of greater importance.

That said, regarding September 11, I can't speak for every public holiday surrounding a tragedy worldwide, but September 11 in the US is not a public holiday, whereas 228 in Taiwan is. The only closely analogous holidays that are actually days off (well, for some people) in the US are perhaps Veteran's Day and Memorial Day. And, let's be honest, in terms of how those are actually celebrated, we may as well rename them Mattress Discounters Day or Raymour & Flanagan Super Blowout Sale Day or whatever. Come on. Are people taking trips or visiting relatives rather than attending commemorative events? Some are, but given how little free time and how few holidays Taiwanese get, can you really blame them? I have no patience for this line of criticism.

Let me be clear - I do not think it is appropriate for Pizza Hut to offer promotions on 228, especially if they reference the massacre in particular. I just want to point out that plenty of public holidays are commodified or commercialized around the world, even the ostensibly solemn ones. This isn't some isolated incident of corporate apathy (Big Business is always apathetic, this is nothing new. That's why I don't get my moral code from Pizza Hut. Or my pizza...)

Finally, being the 70th anniversary of the massacre, and also a politically charged year as the "opposition" (they're not anymore) has control of both the legislature and the presidency for the first time in Taiwan's history, it is understandable that there are more media offerings on the legacy of the tragedy of 228. The Duty of 228 is a touching video, which feels more like flipping through an interactive scrapbook than a traditional 'video' and is worth a watch. The New York Times has a pretty solid article on the massacre, although I take exception to the assertion that, when the Nationalists arrived in Taiwan, that Taiwanese as a whole were overjoyed or particularly welcomed them.

That is, of course, the prevailing narrative and it is true that the streets were lined with "supporters" as the soldiers arrived. However, I question the degree to which they were really happy to be "liberated" from Japanese colonial rule (Japanese rule itself being a complex topic that I will not tackle here). Everything I've read on the topic - which admittedly isn't much - points out that many Taiwanese were disappointed to see how small and ragged these 'liberators' really were. One credible acquaintance points out that many of the "supporters" on the street were children who were told by their teachers to be there - if you're told to go outside and cheer, you don't count as a "supporter". I have also read that the crowd of "supporters" (scare quotes included) when Chiang and his wife appeared in the Presidential Office was, well, there - but it wasn't clear how much they really "supported" the KMT's taking over.

What's more, as much as anti-Taiwan, pro-China voices claim otherwise, there was in fact a Taiwanese autonomy/independence movement in existence at that time, and George Kerr even makes reference to Taiwanese who want autonomy. (I also have trouble believing that the ideologies and thought processes behind the formation of the Formosa League for Re-Emancipation, which was founded in 1948, were birthed in their entirety by the events of 228. I find it very hard to believe that there were no smaller groups around before that talking about Taiwanese independence. Furthermore, he and others were quite clear that plenty of political elites in China worried about how the ROC was going to approach the governance of an island full of people so different from the rest of China - in great part because most of them grew up under the Japanese. It is inconceivable to me that Taiwanese did not, to some extent, share similar worries.

In any case, the article is pretty good, the video is lovely, and although I haven't read it yet, I am sure Tsai's speech will be of interest (almost the least interesting thing to have happened surrounding 228 this year, although I would also like to hear what the first DPP president since Chen Shui-bian has to say).

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Archaeology of a Protester


I was born in autumn, at a liminal time between more distinct seasons. My birthday was technically in the summer but not quite summer. In New York it would be cool at night, and the school year would have started, but not really started - I had hardly had time to get to know my new classmates when my birthday rolled around.

Not to wax too poetic on this point, but that "what season is my birthday even really in?" feeling seems to have transposed from general childhood anxiety about who would come to my parties (when I had them, they were lightly attended because my old classmates were making new friends and my new ones didn't know me. Also, I was a huge dweeb but let's not talk about that) to generally feeling more comfortable in liminal spaces. I get a little nutty if the space I inhabit is defined too clearly.

People deride expats for going abroad because they like feeling like they don't belong, which seems to be taken as a symptom of being generally socially incompetent or a failure in your native country. This is especially assumed of the ones who went abroad by themselves and have never enjoyed a cushy expat corporate or government package. I see where that stereotype comes from but I'm OK with it. I get it. Charitably, it might describe me, though I was doing fine in the US and have had a thriving social life ever since society decided dweebs were okay.

Ten years later, here I am. I've been trying, sincerely, to get more involved in activism aimed at the US: Indivisible, protesting the direction the Republicans are taking America in (I do pin blame on Trump, but jellyfish Republicans are letting him do it and I harbor no sympathy), generally raising a ruckus. I've been feeling slightly 'meh' about it, though, despite being deeply against the new administration and horrified and upset about pretty much every news alert on my phone. Something isn't clicking. I have that familiar old grade school feeling of wanting to do something, seeing the goal, but for no clear reason, lacking the motivation to get started.

One could assume that my ambivalence was due to distance: there's not that much that a long-term expat in Taiwan can even do vis-a-vis issues in the US. Letters, I suppose, to newspapers. Calling one's elected representatives at hours when one really ought to be sleeping. Gaining political awareness through reading. I like that last part, but have been immersed recently in books on Taiwan, having realized that I am poorly-read, practically unlettered, in a subject I ostensibly know quite a bit about. It's the Taiwan books that are holding my interest. But all in all, the work that can be done from Taiwan doesn't seem like particularly effective work (it doesn't help that the biggest group doing the same thing meets in the evening, exactly when I am rarely free). Perhaps as I push ahead, I'll gain a different perspective and be heartened. I'm not sure though. Deep down I don't think it's the distance, or at least not only that.

So what is it, then?

Just yesterday, I unearthed - I mean, from my closet - my box full of all the flags, headbands, stickers and other paraphernalia I've been given at every protest, rally and parade or march over the past 8 years. It's all there: Furious, UN for Taiwan, Pride, marriage equality, the Sunflowers (I was there for the Hong Zhongqiu outcry too, but gave my headband to a student who wanted it) and more. It's like a time capsule of 8 years of showing up. More importantly, of caring enough to show up.

This excavation also churned around some fertile brain matter. I have cared enough to walk for hours, plop my ass down at Jingfu Gate with 200,000-400,000 other people to stand (or sit) for what I believe in, wave a flag in the air, tie ribbons to my head, arm and purse straps. I have been willing to physically be there for all sorts of issues in Taiwan (and I did attend rallies and protests in the US before I moved there, but more rarely). I tend to prefer non-party-affiliated single-issue protests - I am aching to get back out on the street for marriage equality, but was ambivalent about Furious. Yet clearly, I care about something.

Archaeology of a protester

But that something seems to increasingly be Taiwan - or rather it has been for awhile, but I'm just really noticing it now. It's not that I don't care about the US. I do. I'm horrified and disgusted. I'm somewhat ashamed to have a passport from there (and ashamed of the privilege that entails, and the privilege to even feel ashamed). At the end of the day that is the country I have spent 24.5 of my 36 years in, the country I was born in, the country of my citizenship.

I have to admit, though, that the visceral sincerity just isn't there. It's a shame, because being a citizen of the US, I have more standing to be active. In Taiwan, I do show up (boy do I show up), but I never get too close. I never get too involved. I don't organize. I keep my distance because I'm aware that this is not the country of my birth, I am not a citizen, and Taiwanese history and culture is not my history and culture. To do more than show up would feel inappropriate - my voice isn't the voice that should be elevated. I don't mean to bring in identity politics - I don't think it's wrong for me to speak up. I wouldn't have a blog about Taiwan if I didn't think that. I live here, things that happen here affect me, and I have the right to talk about that. Familiarity and impact on daily life do breed loyalty even when the passport doesn't match.

However, it's important when joining the struggle of another group to be aware of one's privilege and perhaps listen before one speaks. By dint of being born white and American, I have the privilege of having the voice that, in the past, as not only taken precedence (that is, the white Western voice) but drowned out other voices (anyone who was not white). I do feel it's crucial to understand that, and I feel more comfortable simply being supportive than trying to take any sort of organizational or leadership position. I'll have my voice, but I won't allow it to drown out people who could more appropriately lead.

Except not really. Yet I took the picture anyway (forgive me). 

This is perhaps the source of my annoyance when a friend said, not long ago, that I could "occupy Trump's office". Sure, I could try. I could fly back and get arrested or shot attempting it. I am a citizen of that country after all. The annoyance came from the assumption that, being originally American, that I would primarily care about American issues, or that my loyalties would be to the US.

That, right there, is what I mean about being in a liminal space, belonging where I don't belong. I am not Taiwanese, Taiwanese history is not my history. I'm not even a citizen. Yet I am loyal to Taiwan, at least, more so than to the US. I feel I belong here, even as I know I don't fully belong. There are limits on the appropriacy of my activism, perhaps, but ultimately this is my home, and I feel that full-throttle sincerity when advocating for Taiwanese issues that I don't feel when advocating for American ones, even though that is the country of my citizenship.

I have no clear answers to any of this, I just thought I'd put it out there. If other people feel this way too, comments or thoughts would be most welcome.

The Tourism Paradox

Taiwan, have a look in the mirror. You are just as worthy of tourism as Vietnam.

Brendan and I spent lunar new year in Vietnam - as anyone who has lived in Taiwan knows, if you don't have family to visit, it's about as boring as Christmas Day must be for foreigners in the US with nowhere to go. We usually skip town, and have only avoided Vietnam so far because we were worried that it would be more difficult to visit because they also have a lunar new year holiday (Tet, which you know if you've heard of the Tet Offensive, which I hope you have). There were some Tet-related crowds and complications, however, overall I'd say our fears were unfounded.


And that's where my regular travel post about Vietnam ends, because frankly, you can read all you want to about it anywhere else. I actually want to talk about Taiwan, then show you some pictures from Vietnam for a related reason. In any case, Vietnam is entrenched on the tourist map, with hordes of visitors from around the world coming every day. You might even say Vietnam is the new Thailand (but hasn't quite reached the levels of "Foreigner Playland" that Thailand seems to have, or Bali, for that matter). That's not necessarily always a bad thing, but overall you don't need my input - though I'll say one thing anyway: skip the lots-of-hotels-and-so-so-beach by the highway at Nha Trang and find yourself a quieter beach (we really liked Jungle Beach, well to the north of Nha Trang). We transferred from our ride from Jungle Beach to the bus there, and even in that short glimpse I was deeply unimpressed with what was essentially a tourist drag on a strip of sand.

That's it, though. What I want to talk about is more closely related to Taiwan. It's nothing new - other people have made the same arguments - I possibly have as well, and simply forgotten - but I'll say it anyway. 

Tourists who go to Vietnam - and there are many, from every continent - are likely to come away thinking something along the lines of "wow, Vietnam is a great place in Asia for lively street life, great street food, architecture and interesting night markets! Such a cool country! Really some of the best Asia has to offer!"

The compliment would be warranted - Vietnam is truly great. We enjoyed ourselves immensely. But I couldn't help but think as these masses of folks of all different colors, creeds and national origins - though let's be honest, they were mostly white or Chinese - wandered through Hoi An's packed night market oohing and aahing over the food stalls and shopping opportunities - that Taiwan has these things too.

In fact, I think I may have exclaimed to no one in particular at some point, "hey! Taiwan has all of this too, but so few people come!"

OK, this is not entirely fair: Taiwan has a fairly bustling tourism industry, mostly made up of visitors from nearby Asian countries, and it has been on the rise since the dreaded Chinese tour groups finally, mercifully left. But it's really a small slice of the pie compared to the people pouring into Vietnam, and with noticeably fewer Westerners or anyone from any other continent. That feels so rare in Taiwan - Western backpackers - that even though I hosted one briefly (we knew each other from the old Lonely Planet Thorn Tree - remember that? I was channamasala), when I ran into some at Yonghe Soy Milk I was genuinely surprised. 

Few people not from the region come to Taiwan, so few can leave thinking "wow, Taiwan is so cool - lively street life, vibrant night markets, street food, old buildings, traditional culture - really a great destination!" All these distinctions that could be heaped on Taiwan are heaped on Vietnam.

I can basically see exactly this at a night market in Taiwan, but tourists are enchanted by brightly colored shaved ice street stalls in Vietnam, not here. 

I could go into the reasons why this is, but will keep it brief - in the end it comes down to China trying to erase Taiwan as a unique entity in the global consciousness, and the Taiwanese government doing a poor job of promoting tourism outside of Asia. I could write a lot more about this, but I'll save that for another post.

The central question, in fact, is this:

Part of me doesn't want this to change. I would very much like to keep Taiwan to myself. Possibly, because I am a curmudgeonly old git, I would see these backpackers I am now lamenting a dearth of, should they finally descend on Taiwan, and basically think GET OFF MY LAWN. I rather like living in an undiscovered gem of a country that isn't packed with the banana pancake set, or the wealthier set that includes their parents. I like that local culture is wonderfully uncommodified. I like that Lishan, my favorite mountain town, is a gritty little place where the most interesting things to do are read books and enjoy the view as you eat fresh fruit. All of the things that can make Taiwan annoying and inaccessible (like having to rent a car to go anywhere, and never being quite sure when temple festivals are) also make it wonderful and authentic.

It's uncharitable, but I must acknowledge that aspect of my thinking. If we did get all these tourists, we could expect every town of interest - Sanxia, Beipu, Daxi, Tainan, Lugang, Jiaoxi, Hualien, Kenting, Jiufen, Jinguashi and more - they'd all be exponentially more crowded than they already are (which is pretty damn crowded). This part is obvious, but what that means is that more businesses selling crap souvenirs - as though there aren't enough already - and other things aimed entirely at tourists will start opening, and soon enough what is now confined to a single awful lane in Jiufen will be found in every one of these towns. I do not relish that. I make no secret of my dislike for tour buses - I understand why people take them, but I always try to run ahead of the crowd of people about to be disgorged, and they do clog up the roads.

This is also uncharitable of me: what makes me so special that I get to enjoy these experiences but other foreigners shouldn't be able to come for a short time to do so as well? Of course that is a logical dead-end, and I admit this. When friends and acquaintances visit, I am delighted to show them around and try to give them valuable cultural experiences, so it's a bit hypocritical of me to be okay with that but not with a greater volume of travelers.


However, rather like someone from Sesame Street might try to push Oscar the Grouch back in his trash can so he'll stop complaining for a minute, my better nature is telling the shouty old man who lives in my heart to quit it and think rationally.

Because, despite all of these issues, I do think it is worth braving the dreaded tour buses and banana pancakers that increased global (as in, beyond Asia) tourism would bring for the many benefits it could have.

We have gorgeous historic architecture too!
First and foremost, one of the reasons so many people around the world don't know much about Taiwan is that they've never even considered visiting. Not everyone will read the history section of their guidebook or listen to a tour guide talking about it, but enough will do so that perhaps, just perhaps, Taiwan might escape the purgatory of having the world think whatever China wants them to think about this lovely country, because they don't care enough to inquire more deeply (that's just human nature) and haven't thought to visit and see for themselves.

Secondly, I have to say Vietnam has great tourism infrastructure. Public transport within cities is lacking - and that is a problem if you want to leave the central areas of either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City - but no matter where you are, it is reasonably easy to arrange a ride to anything you can't walk to. For those looking to save money, they can take small group tours to, say, the mausoleums and temples outside of downtown Hue, or a group tour - some small, others not - to My Son, about an hour from Hoi An. For those willing to spend a bit more, no town is too small to not have xe om, or motorbike taxis, to take you where you need to go, and you can always arrange a car and driver (at least in the more touristy areas we visited). Hotels are not only happy to do this, they expect it. It's part of their job.


In Taiwan you might well find it impossible to see much of the scenic beauty of the country because, while you can usually get a bus to the general area of a place, to go beyond that you have to drive. There are often no taxis outside of the cities, and when there are, they are expensive to charter - not that it matters if you simply can't get one. Once in one of the smaller towns, including my perennial favorite place to get away (Lishan, in the far east of Taichung county - I refuse to call it Taichung city because it's not a city), you basically have to hike/walk/bike or depend on the kindness of locals to give you short rides. Otherwise, if you cannot or do not want to drive, you're basically screwed in much of the country. It's still one of my biggest complaints about Taiwan outside of Taipei. People defend it - oh you can just rent a scooter (not everyone can drive a scooter, nor wants to, and some foreigners have run into problems renting them without a specific scooter license) - but I'm sorry, it's really not okay and I do not accept feeble excuses. Don't even try, I'm not interested in hearing a weak-ass defense of Taiwan's crappy public transport at a local level (connections between cities are okay) outside of Taipei.

If we did start getting a larger volume of global tourists, I do think this would change. You'd have a lot of people who either couldn't or wouldn't want to drive, and suddenly people making money as hired drivers or running shuttle buses would start appearing in most places you might like to go. It wouldn't be complete, but it would be an improvement on a situation the government hasn't seen fit to improve otherwise. I'm not always a fan of the free market, but in this case it would probably fix the problem to have demand exist to facilitate the creation of supply. 


It would probably also lead to more of Taiwan's heritage architecture being restored, though I could see a good amount of it being turned into yet more souvenir shops and hotels. But refurbishing a Japanese colonial building into a boutique hotel is better than letting it moulder, no?

There are downsides of course - the poor east coast would suffer terribly, with much of the best seafront property taken up by hotels and resorts a la Sri Lanka and Vietnam. All of the above issues regarding crowding wouldn't exactly go away. More of the beautiful parts of Kenting would start to look like, well, the not-beautiful part of Kenting (Kenting town, which I avoid). More of Sun Moon Fucking Lake(tm) would start to look like the annoying part of Sun Moon Fucking Lake(tm) where hotels blot out the lake view. A lot of the best of Taiwan is, frankly, too small to accommodate that many tourists. It's not a big country and the old streets, buildings and small towns are also, well, not big. Imagine tour buses descending on Beipu. A nightmare!

I don't really want to see Taiwanese culture commodified, either. I like my all-night aboriginal festivals and do not want to watch the most popular form of engaging with indigenous culture to be one-hour dances downtown, the way Kathakali, water and shadow puppets and Kandyan dance are commodified and pruned to fit tourist tastes, for tourist consumption. I can tell you a fair amount, although I'm no expert, on pas'ta'ai. I can't tell you much at all about Kandyan dance although I packed myself into a theater to watch two hours of it with about 500 other tourists. I can only tell you slightly more about Kathakali because I attended a performance while studying in southern India. But the connection isn't there the way it is with going to the all-night real deal in the mountains. I would not want the Hsinchu pas'ta'ai to become similarly commodified and agree with a friend of mine that the way these 'cultural' or 'eco' experiences are packaged for travelers is hugely problematic.

To take another example, the one temple festival I was able to pin down a date for while my cousin was in Taiwan was in Sanxia, and was so crowded with tourists - mostly domestic, probably some Chinese - that while I wasn't able to be there, my sister reports there were so many people that you couldn't really see anything. I don't want that to be every temple parade: I like seeing one go down the street, grabbing a beer at 7-11 and then chilling out, watching it go by. Some of the most attractive parts of the countryside are already crowded enough - I don't want them to become more crowded.


On the other hand, consider Japan, where even the most rural destination usually offers some mode of transport, even if it's your hot spring hotel in the mountains picking you up from a bus station in a shuttle - and yet Japan does manage to have gorgeous countryside.

But, is it worth it to increase the international exposure of Taiwan, and get more people thinking about it as a unique place with its own unique culture and history rather than some country in Asia that they consider vaguely Chinese or confuse with Thailand? On a more secondary point, is it worth it to make the best of Taiwan more accessible to those who can't otherwise go?

Honestly - shut up Oscar - yes, I do think it is.

Not that we shouldn't do this carefully. I don't really want Taiwan to become another Thailand (as lovely as Thailand is, you have to admit, it's kind of a big-nose amusement park in some ways). I am heartened to see plenty of young, engaged Taiwanese grasping that simply swinging open the doors and offering "cultural experiences" devoid of depth to buses full of tourists is not going to be good for Taiwan. As it is now, to really appreciate and enjoy Taiwan, you have to dig. You have to do your homework. You have to know the history and cultural underpinnings to enjoy them. It's not as easy as taking a temple tour, grabbing a beer and going to the beach, the way it is in much of Southeast Asia.

I'd like to see Taiwan develop that way - if the main goal is to raise global understanding of Taiwan, then a travel experience that pushes travelers to learn more about it to appreciate it might be a good way to go (but of course would mean fewer people would come - plenty of folks do just want the easy vacation). A "you are welcome here, we have the infrastructure [please guys let's build the infrastructure, I hate having to rent cars] but we're not going to change for you" attitude, I think, is a good one to take. A "we have lots of history and historic sites, but you have to actually read the history to appreciate them" is one, too.

That may seem incompatible with attracting global tourists, but I do not think it is irreconcilable or impossible.

And now, please enjoy some photos from Vietnam.
















I will concede that outside of lantern festival in Taiwan, Vietnam has better lanterns. 


















But come on you can totally see cool tile floors and old dudes chillin' at desks in temples in Taiwan - not that most foreign tourists (outside of Asia) would know that, because they don't come. 









No really, skip Nha Trang. This is better. 

This is seriously the very first thing I saw in Ho Chi Minh City. 





There was also a purple pigeon, and I have no idea how either of them got that way. 


If you turn around and look the way Ho Chi Minh is facing, you'll see a grand boulevard full of profit-turning stores, which is kinda weird if you think about it.