Taipei’s skyline has long been dominated by one building, Taipei 101, one of the world’s tallest buildings. Nowadays, it still is but it’s got company in the form of the Nan Shan Plaza and at least another skyscraper is under construction in the area. The best way to get an up-close view of Taipei 101 and its surroundings is Xiangshan (Elephant Hill), a small nearby mountain. There is a popular spot consisting of several boulders that is ideal for selfies but there are more than one vantage point. Besides Taipei 101, you can get sweeping views of the city as well as the northern hills.
When you travel a lot, whether as a tourist or an expat returning home, airports become a familiar place. In Asia, there are a lot of modern, large, and sleek airports. It’s even better when they are attractive or have interesting features, like the ones below.
Taiwan’s Taoyuan Airport might be small but the slanted latticed roof of Terminal 1’s immigration hall is a very attractive and welcoming sight for visitors, especially with the reflection on the floor. Every time I see this roof, I never fail to be impressed.
I’ve passed through Hong Kong’s airport, one of the largest in Asia, so many times but it’s still one of the best I’ve been too. The Terminal One departure gates as well as the newer and smaller Terminal Two check-in hall are attractive, especially the wavy ceiling of the latter.
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport is another large and attractive one in the region. But despite the throwback metal shed-like appearance of the check-in hall, the departure gate area is another story.
Beijing’s airport is one of the largest in the world but even then, it isn’t as modern as Hong Kong’s airport, as sleek as Bangkok’s, or welcoming as Taipei’s. As with a lot of things in China, size and grandeur take priority over actual convenience and warmth. It does have a cool red ceiling with a layer of stripes below it.
A couple of weeks ago, a major expat website released a survey of the best countries for expats to live in. You know which country topped it? Taiwan. On the InterNations Expat Insider Survey, Taiwan placed first due to quality of life and personal finances (affordability), both areas of life that it is very strong in.
In contrast, Hong Kong and mainland China dropped down the rankings, with HK falling 18 places to 44th. That certainly looks dire, but it is not that surprising given all the issues that HK has been coping with.
So did I make the wrong choice to move to Hong Kong to work? Well, no.
Because while it’s great to see Taiwan holding down the top spot on that survey, that doesn’t mean Taiwan is ideal to live and work in. To live in, yes, but to work in, not quite. Of course, one can’t discount the possibility that most of the respondents to this survey may be well-to-do professionals who get nice expat packages such as housing subsidies and so on. In that case, Taiwan would be great to work in. However, as an expat in a more regular job with slightly higher-than-average salaries and the same benefit packages as locals, working in Taiwan isn’t that good.
First though, why is living in Taiwan so good? The reasons are many – an affordable and accessible health system that covers everything from doctors to dentists to surgery, public safety, low cost of living especially in transportation, food and the aforementioned health system, and very polite and helpful people. Expats, even those who can’t speak Mandarin, can live relatively comfortable lives, save money, and enjoy good food and so on. The local health insurance system is extremely affordable (monthly premiums being roughly US$40) and provides coverage for both private (not all) and public hospitals and clinics and even Chinese medicine clinics. There is no need for foreigners to get expensive private medical insurance because as long as they are working in Taiwan, they are covered by the health insurance.
All of this is why I’ve said several times to people who asked, Taiwan is a comfortable and convenient place to live, especially compared to China and even Hong Kong.
However, when it comes to work, there are several factors that mitigate how great Taiwan is. Salaries are extremely low, the job market is limited, and so are opportunities to rise in companies. In addition, Taiwan is not a very international place, though Taipei is quite decent, and there is a very local mindset and not much knowledge or awareness of the wider world that constrains how Taiwanese companies operate.
Salaries haven’t budged much from many years ago, and fresh university graduates can earn starting salaries even less than those from 17 years ago. Things are somewhat better for expats, who by law have to receive at least about NT$48,000, which is still only roughly US$1,600 (and my first job’s wages didn’t even reach that). Fortunately, aspects of daily life like eating out and transit and apartment rents, even in Taipei, can be ridiculously cheap, especially again, compared to Hong Kong.
However, if low salaries can be bearable, there are not that many different type of jobs available for foreigners with English teaching, technical writing, and marketing making up the vast majority. Meanwhile, in the workplace, it is difficult for foreigners to get promoted, because of language and local working culture. There is no corporate ladder for expats to climb in local companies. Many Taiwan companies that operate in overseas markets are focused on China to a very heavy extent. Even at larger companies that are very active in many international markets, like a networking company I worked in, there were roughly 10 expats and only two, including my boss, were managers, and even then it was only one level above.
Taiwan could do much better when it comes to being more internationalized and attracting more expats.
Improving relevant work and immigration policies for foreign professionals would be a good start.
Unfortunately, Taiwan seems to continue to want to do things on the cheap. One proposed measure to attract more expat white-collar workers is to lower the requirements, including scrapping the NT$48,000 minimum salary. Now while this might sound like it will be easier for companies to hire foreigners, the question is why would expats be lured by even lower salaries than those being offered now? Perhaps those from less developed countries like the Philippines or India might be ok with low salaries, and this would indeed be beneficial to Taiwan. Though I’m not sure that engineers or IT specialists, for example, from those countries would indeed be satisfied and willing to relocate to Taiwan for salaries less than US$1,600. Even a government minister said earlier this year salaries were too low to attract expats, though the unspoken question is what is the point of lowering the salary requirement in the first place.
Companies also need to consider other markets beyond the local one and China, and with the government’s new “going south” policy which supports firms in expanding into Southeast Asia and India, there may be a greater need for expats and hence, more jobs.
It is good that Taiwan got some recognition for being a great place for expats but it’s still got some ways to go.Still, getting more expats to come to Taiwan would be beneficial. Taiwan itself is not a very diverse society, and neither is the expat community, which is mostly Western and male. In this sense, Beijing and Shanghai have much bigger and broader expat communities. So yes, Taiwan is very convenient and rather pleasant for expats, but it isn’t the land of honey that being termed the best place in the world for expats might cause one to think it is.
When I moved to Hong Kong in March, I said goodbye to Taipei for a second time. But unlike the first time when I moved to Beijing, my move this time happened abruptly and deliberately because I’d been job-searching from Taiwan and decided to move once I’d gotten an offer. Coincidentally I’m writing this from Taipei, which I went back to for the Labor Day weekend. But whether it’s because I only left only two months later, or because Hong Kong is close to Taipei and arguably more developed, I don’t feel as much relief or gladness to be back. Taipei seems very quiet (admittedly it was rainy and I stay in a peaceful residential area) and a bit dreary compared to noisy, crowded Hong Kong.
Anyways, before I left for Hong Kong, I went to a few places I hadn’t been to.
A monument to one of Taiwan’s worst tragedies, the 228 Peace Memorial Park occupies a spot right in the middle of Taipei, next to the NTU Hospital and near Taipei Train Station. The 228 incident in 1947 resulted in several thousand, perhaps even over 10,000 as the actual death toll is not known, civilians were killed by ROC soldiers in an effort to contain disturbances sparked by a riot over a vendor being arrested and beaten. The mass killing was covered up for decades until finally the government publicly addressed it in the nineties and later declared a public holiday to commemorate it. The monument features a steel sculpture of two mounted cubes mounted on their edges and fused together facing a large concrete structure featuring two blocks also fused together crowned by a towering steel spire. In the midst of the concrete structure is an underground fountain that flows downward.
See further down for Ximending and Huashan Creative Park.
This is a busy shopping and entertainment area that is popular with young people. I don’t usually come here (the last time being when I was a university student visiting Taiwan) but I had to go to the nearby Immigration Department for paperwork so I decided to go here out of curiosity. The area features the Red House, a renovated historic building that is full of artist shops.
Art for this age- a statue of two youngsters taking selfies. It’d be meta to take a selfie in front of it.
Huashan 1914 Creative Park
This art park used to be a winery that was built in the early 20th century. It’s got theaters, galleries, shops and an upside-down house, which you can see for yourself below.
Taipei is normally one of the safest cities in the world, whether in the daytime or night, but it was shook by a horrifying murder took place earlier this week in broad daylight. A four-year-old girl, riding a bike alongside her mother on her way to meet up with her siblings and a grandparent Monday, was suddenly attacked by a deranged man with a cleaver, chopped, and decapitated.
That is not an exaggeration or a typo.
The murder was also completely random, adding to the senselessness of the crime. The killer, a 33-year-old unemployed man, had bought the cleaver earlier and was actually walking around the neighborhood before spotting the girl and attacking her, whilst pushing off the mother. The crime infuriated Taiwanese so much that a crowd gathered around a police station and attacked the killer as he was taken out to be transferred to another station.
The mother had to be severely traumatized to not only lost her daughter but actually see it happen in front of her, but incredibly she had the mental and emotional strength to issue a poignant plea for the government to deal with societal problems so that people like her child’s murderer would not exist, rather than issue any cries for vengeance.
Suspects in these kinds of random killings lose their minds temporarily, and no law can resolve this, the mother said, urging the government to address the problem at its roots.
“I hope that we can address family and education issues so that people like this will disappear from our society,” the mother said. “I hope our children and grandchildren will never see someone like this again.”
There is another dimension to this crime regarding the death penalty. Because the public has been so incensed by this murder, many people have started agitating for the death penalty, which Taiwan has, and a civil society organization is planning to hold a rally to push for enforcement of the death penalty later next week. I feel that mass outrage might cloud the issue and make Taiwanese, especially the media, fall into the trap of simplistic thinking without really understanding the bigger picture. Taiwanese media is notoriously sensationalistic and there is a risk they will over-sensationalize this crime.
What makes this terrible act more stunning is that it happened in my old area Neihu, a relatively well-off district in the north of Taipei with a mix of quiet residential neighborhoods and tech and business companies. It is incomprehensible that a street I had walked on many times was the scene of such a ghastly act. Being in Hong Kong now, there’s some distance between me and the crime scene but I’d feel worse if I was back in Taipei.
The senselessness of this crime didn’t just end with the murder because two supposedly copycat attacks took place the very next day, with a policeman getting stabbed on a subway station by a guy who was walking around with a steak knife in his hand and a maintenance worker slashed with a hacksaw by another guy. Then in 2014, there was a savage knife attack on the Taipei subway train when a guy stabbed four people to death and wounded 24 others.
What is frightening is that the attackers were all seriously disturbed individuals or suffering from mental illnesses, like the murderer who killed the little girl. These weren’t hardened criminals or gang members but people who were alienated and seething with rage. I’m certainly not defending them of course, but it is clear that more policing and harsher crime punishments is not exactly the only solution. Sentencing them to death may seem understandable and feel “good” to some people in terms of seeing justice done, and there might be a deterrence factor, but they may still not prevent future attacks by similar people. The mother of the poor little girl was right. What is needed is for the authorities to work on and support measures to improve society so that you won’t have men running around with hate and murderous intentions in their hearts and cleavers in their hands.
Taiwan suffered one of the world’s most memorable plane crashes this past week when a plane went down in Taipei soon after takeoff and plunged into a river. There were only 15 survivors, with 36 confirmed dead and the rest missing as of today (Saturday Taiwan time).
However, what was amazing is that the turboprop plane went down and chipped a bridge, which was captured by the dashcams of several cars that were ON the bridge, before it flew into the river. The pilot had enough presence of mind to manuever the diving plane away from the bridge and nearby apartment buildings and into the river, avoiding a high number of casualties in the buildings and allowing several lucky passengers on the plane to survive. However, an investigation has shown that a “professional error” might have been made as one engine had stopped working after takeoff but that the other engine was shut off instead.
This was yet another disaster for the airline TransAsia Airways, which also suffered a deadly plane crash last July landing on Penghu. The airline TransAsia Airways flies mainly short routes from Taiwan to outlying islands, mainland China, Japan and a few destinations in Southeast Asia. To have two deadly crashes with one year, and six accidents in the last years, is far too much for such an airline and I wonder if it may soon cease to exist.
Taipei’s new mayor Ko Wen-je caused some controversy in an interview when he stated that colonization made Singapore, HK, and Taiwan better than each other and China. In a quite blunt interview, while some of his remarks were a bit politically-incorrect, some of them also made sense. He spoke about much more than just culture and colonialism, as he talked about Taiwan, relations with the mainland, the Chinese Communist party.
Regarding his comment on how colonization made Singapore better than HK (both British colonies), HK better than Taiwan, and Taiwan (which was a Japanese colony during the early 20th century up until the mid-1940s) better than China, I think his point is not about colonization being good but more about the possible problems with Chinese society. Nevertheless there are some who have perceived Ko’s comments as supporting colonization and critiqued his interview. However, it is important that Ko was speaking about specifically the four Chinese-speaking places – China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Ko never said colonization was good for African nations or India, Burma or the Philippines.
Now one can argue HK and Singapore are both city-states while Taiwan is a small island, so it stands that the mainland would certainly be more disorganized and less developed. Also, Taiwan may have been colonized by the Japanese, who built highways and institutions such as its best university National Taiwan University, but the other good aspects of its society – democracy, free media, independent judiciary, universal health insurance system – were devised and undertaken by the Taiwanese themselves. However, one can also counter-argue that Taiwan is not as efficiently run as Singapore or Hong Kong, and that some of its much vaunted democracy have been eroded in recent times, such as corruption and the local media, whose poor quality is sneered at by both Taiwanese and expats.
Even so, there is no question that society in those three places are much more open, free, and “civilized” than the mainland’s. Answering another question, he made a hearty endorsement of the US, where he lived for one year, and its freedom.
He also said Vietnam had a better culture than China despite being much poorer. While I only have 10 days’ experience of being in Vietnam, I’d say society there seems much more laid-back, pleasant and less materialistic than China’s. Vietnam also seemed to have a more traditional society, which is not surprising given it is much smaller and more importantly, did not go through a Cultural Revolution, the period of madness when mainlanders were manipulated by the party into attacking each other and destroying many facets of Chinese culture. Of course, Vietnam also has similar problems like China – censored media, corruption and a fair share of hustlers.
Taipei, as much as I can criticize it, is a very decent city to live in, as confirmed by its placing 7th on this list of livable Asian cities done by a British consulting firm. Singapore is number one, followed by Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo and Yokohama. Hong Kong is in 6th place, while Seoul is 10th. Shanghai is 13th while Beijing is 18th. Globally, Taipei is 65th which is still alright given the firm looked at over 450 cities (Shanghai is 110th globally).
It was a murky day outside today in Beijing, making this probably the seventh or eight straight week with terrible smog days (minus the week APEC was in town) where the skies are dark gray, there’s a faint smoky smell in the air, and the air quality index is over 400.
First off, it might be just another smoggy day in Beijing but over in Taiwan, it’s a momentous occasion as the biggest local elections took place (11,000 city, district and village posts up for grabs!). In a major result, the capital Taipei will have an independent, a respected surgeon at a top hospital, become its new mayor. It might be an upset, but it wasn’t totally unexpected since the KMT candidate Sean Lien was rather mediocre and seen as out-of-touch due to his being the wealthy son of former premier Lien Chan, a sort of Taiwanese version of the “princelings” that you have in China.
Speaking of China, the loss of key cities such as Taipei and Taichung for the KMT will have an impact on cross-strait relations indirectly. The KMT will be weakened and this will have an impact on the next presidential election in 2016. This will make Beijing a bit nervous since the KMT is the party with the pro-mainland stance and has been facilitating increased relations with the mainland since 2008.
One stupid thing about the KMT’s campaign is this ad which showed South Korea coming out ahead of Taiwan in cards, alluding to South Korea’s signing of a free-trade agreement with China recently. The point of the ad was to claim that the DPP supports South Korea, which many Taiwanese see as their main competitor, due to its opposition against Taiwan signing an economic services agreement (which the Sunflower movement quashed by occupying the legislation back in April this year). The ad is an example of the anti-Korean sentiment and paranoia among some Taiwanese, which can be silly and unreasonable, and it’s gotten criticized in South Korea and even Japan.
Meanwhile, in the latest crackdown on the mainland, puns have become the latest thing to be banned. It joins foreign TV shows, pornography, selected Western media outlets and even inauspicious horoscope forecasts of the first lady’s zodiac sign as targets of recent crackdowns and censorship. Never mind that wordplay is a part of the Chinese language and popular, as the use of tones means a word’s meaning changes when it’s pronounced differently, but, according to the authorities, puns “breach the law” plus can mislead children. Of course, the real reason for this ridiculous seeming order is that regular Chinese sometimes use puns to allude to problems in the country, especially things that are banned such as the Tiananmen protest in 1989 or even censorship itself. For example, “hexie” literally means river crab but is a way of alluding to official censorship because it sounds similar to the word for harmony, which the authorities use to justify censorship.
I liked Vietnam a lot when I went there last year, but I got to say it’s got major issues with animal treatment, such as its dog meat trade. I know it’s a cultural tradition for some Asians, such as China or Korea, to eat dogs, but the problem is the dog meat trade involves stealing dogs, fuelling lucrative black market smuggling, and mistreatment in how the dogs are kept before slaughter and the slaughter process itself, in which dogs may not be fully dead before they’re cooked. A person quoted in the article also says that Vietnam actually doesn’t have a history of eating dogs but that it started a few decades ago during famine after Chinese advisers suggested it. However, there are many Vietnamese who like owning dogs as pets, and the article mentions a couple of instances of dog thieves getting beaten and killed.
As the protesters continue to occupy Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan (legislature), the leaders have modified their demands from demanding a line-by-line review of the cross-strait trade pact to scrapping it completely. The leaders might also be set to meet president Ma Ying-jeou who extended an offer to them a few days ago. Meanwhile the police’s forced eviction of protesters who invaded the Executive Yuan Sunday has stunned some people due to the forceful way it was done. It’s not surprising given how naive some Taiwanese are, because sustained protests are often met with force around the world, whether it be in the US or India or Europe. Taiwan’s authorities have already been lenient with the Legislative Yuan occupation, so perhaps they decided it was necessary to draw a line with the Executive Yuan attempt.
The bigger question is what is the ultimate motivation driving the (mostly student) protesters. If you guessed anti-China concerns, you’d be right. The cross-strait trade pact will lead to closer economic ties, with mainland investors allowed to directly start and run businesses in Taiwan in dozens of sectors (as well as vice versa). There are many concerns, among them fears that mainland companies can come in and overwhelm smaller Taiwan businesses, that mainland businessmen will immigrate in large numbers, that economic dominance by mainland businesses would lead to the reduction of political rights. Some of these are groundless, while there’s the larger issue of why mainland companies would focus on Taiwan, whose population of 23 million, even if relatively wealthy, is still less than most of China’s provinces (Beijing and Shanghai both have over 15 million each). Therein lies the problem – the reasons against depend on various and nebulous reasoning and possibilities, and is guided by anti-China paranoia.
I previously said I admit the protesters (those who occupied the Legislative Yuan and the peaceful ones outside) showed some courage, especially as unlike a lot of their compatriots, they got off their asses and showed they care a bit about politics and the world around them. Their anger at the KMT’s attempt to rush through the trade pact (which owed a bit to the DPP’s refusals to engage in constructive debate in the legislature) and their attempts to distance themselves from the DPP are also understandable and laudable. If this is about trying to improve Taiwan’s democracy and stop the bullshit politics between the main parties, I think it’s a credible attempt. But going back to the main undercurrent of anti-mainland concerns, it is terribly misleading.
It’s no secret that Taiwan businesses operate and prosper on the mainland, as well as dominate certain sectors. Further to that, Taiwan professionals work, actors and musicians act and perform (some mainlanders struck back at certain Taiwan celebs), students study, and retirees are buying homes on the mainland. Taiwan has benefited from close ties with the mainland for a long time now, and there’s a certain amount of ignorance and hypocrisy to be so emotional about mainlanders being able to come to Taiwan to run businesses.
Going back to anti-China paranoia, it’s striking that a few Hong Kongers see fit to lend their paranoiac and xenophobic support to Taiwan.
The DPP, Taiwan’s main opposition party, shows yet again a pitiful example of how it contributes to Taiwan democracy. Go to the bottom for the best part:
“Before the interpellation started, DPP Legislator Chen Tan-sun (陳唐山) walked up to MOI Minister Chen Wei-zen, Wang and Lee, and said that he was recently denied entry to the Legislature by police, and that he was forced to scale the wall in order to get in.
“What have the police been doing? What have you been doing as minister?” the lawmaker asked.
“The public can discern right from wrong,” the minister said, to which the legislator replied, “You can eat shit.”
I wrote this over the weekend about the ongoing legislature occupation, but then last night, things got worse when other protesters rushed the Executive Yuan and tried to occupy it, before being kicked out by police. The protest seems to be evolving into unruliness and disorder, and if it stays this way, the authorities won’t be able to stand by.
Something crazy has been going on in Taiwan since last week. Several hundred college students rushed into the legislature last Tuesday, forcing legislators to stop proceedings, and have been occupying it 24 hours since then. Up to now, they’re still there inside the legislature. Why? The main reason was to stop the rushing through a bill that would open up sectors in Taiwan to the mainland and vice versa. The ruling party was trying to speed the bill through the review process, without doing a detailed review that they’d initially agreed to, to be voted on which would have seen it passed. Rallies have taken place outside the legislation, while the police gather outside, somewhat helpless. Even my Facebook feed has been taken up with links and posts about this event due to Taiwan friends. It seems to be turning into something really big, though of course invading and occupying the legislature is major in itself.
This took me by surprise especially as young people in Taiwan aren’t exactly the most politically active or aware. I’d even say Taiwan youngsters are probably among the most leisurely, sheltered, and narrow-minded in the world. I have to admit that these students’ action was quite ballsy, though foolish, and displayed a passion and awareness of politics, quite unlike the vast majority of their peers.
That said, I have little sympathy, whether for the protesters or the public. The truth is, I really have little hope or belief in Taiwan, but for this post, I’ll try to stick to the issue at hand and leave my extraneous biases for another time.
First, I think the action is foolhardy. I understand the strong opposition to the bill, and the improper way the ruling party tried to rush the bill to the voting stage. The way in which the students chose to stop the proceedings and try to press their demands is unreasonable, but if it was done for a set and short length of time, understandable. The problem is that the students have continued to occupy the legislature, whilst making greater demands that go beyond the original one of asking for the line-by-line review. It damages the very democracy that the students claim to uphold, by using physical force (rushing and occupying the legislature in numbers) and disrupting official processes by elected legislators in the very chamber that they work.
The length of the occupation demonstrates more the weakness of the authorities and the police rather than any strength of the students. In most other countries in the world, beatings, arrests and jail would have already been administered if students had dared to do this.
I also think it’s too little, too late. The ongoing occupation might have finally stirred up discussion and action by a lot of Taiwan people, allowing them to demonstrate in rallies or put up supportive posts on Facebook and other social media, but ultimately the malaise and apathy in Taiwan has been going on for a long time. The reasons why Taiwan’s economy has gotten so weak and has lost ground on its neighbors are varied, of which the mainland is just one factor. However, behind the direct reason for the occupation is an overarching issue.
The overarching issue is the mainland, specifically fear and worries about the mainland in Taiwan. Despite growing economic, logistical and tourism ties in recent ties, there’s been continuous resentment and fear by many Taiwanese about the mainland, such as being united with the mainland. Despite some of it being colored by irrational thoughts, paranoia and prejudice, these negative feelings have built up. Regarding this pact, the fact that Taiwan’s economy hasn’t been doing very well in the last few years has resulted in many Taiwanese fearing that an influx of mainland investment and businesses would swamp and hollow out the local economy. I’d have thought the opposite would be true. While I agree Taiwan businesses, especially small businesses, should be protected to an extent, I think the cross-strait act allows both for more opportunity, for Taiwan companies in the mainland, and for the domestic economy to be boosted.
Many Taiwanese have benefited significantly from doing business on the mainland. Taiwan corporations dominate certain sectors whether it be tech manufacturing (Hong Hai) or drinks and snacks (Tsing Yi). Lots of Taiwan companies and factories dot the landscape in the Pearl and Yangtze River deltas, China’s most developed regions. In addition, besides businessmen, lots of Taiwanese celebrities, academics, professionals, artists and even English-language teachers work and live on the mainland.
Those Taiwan students occupying the legislature and their supporters should really consider this fact. Taiwan has long exploited and benefited from economic ties with the mainland, on the mainland. Why shouldn’t these ties be more two-way?
One of the great things about Taipei is the amount of good hiking that’s possible because of the many hills and mountains that surround it. In the north, especially in Neihu where I used to live, there’re several hills/small mountains where you can enjoy splendid views. My favorite place in the city is the top of one of these hills actually – Jinmianshan. While it’s not very high, you can see all the way to Taipei 101 on the opposite side of the city, much of Neihu’s business district, as well as Dahu lake and Songshan airport.