Monthly Archives: March 2015


Last night my landlord send me a message on line informing me there’d be no water every weekend starting in April. Wondering if I’d misinterpreted the message and trying to find the reason water might be shut off, I took to the internet.
Much of Northern Taiwan’s water comes from the Shihmen reservoir and the persistent drought has been detrimental on its supply.
In response, the government has cycled through two phases of water rationing in an effort to preserve what water is left in the  reservoir through restricting water supplied to industries in nine counties and cities in Taiwan to five percent.  Despite their efforts, the reservoirs depletion continues at an alarming rate. As Channel News Asia reports, the reservoir has reached new lows and “now has less than 44 million tons of water, which could run out in 40 days without rain.”

Starting April, there Taiwanese government will be taking further steps to ration water, limiting water usage in Taoyuan and other northern counties on weekends.  While some may argue the government is taking drastic steps to preserve the water, others disagree and argue the government is not doing enough.

“Delta Electronics Chairman Yancey Hai said: ‘The price of water price is too low. People don’t feel the pinch of paying for it. If the price is higher to a certain extent, then people will pay more attention to it, just like electricity.'”

In addition to the inexpensive water, costing about 30 US cents a ton, Taiwan also suffers from aging infrastructure. Observers say “the aging pipelines are responsible for more than 700 million tons of water lost last year, which was about 20% of Taiwan’s total water supply.”


WTNLOT: “Hong Kong and Taiwan: Evolving Identities”

Pulled from the Diplomatist. 

With 2014 marked by unprecedented protests in both Taiwan and Hong Kong and continued demonstrations

Image Credit: Hong Kong protests image via Lewis Tse Pui Lung /

in Hong Kong earlier this month, media and analysts alike point to a disconcerting trend for Beijing: an increasingly localized sense of identity among residents in both locales that correlates with a decreasing sense of a national “Chinese” identity.

Perhaps most significant is that this shift has occurred alongside unparalleled growth in cross-strait economic ties, which mainland Chinese leadership had anticipated would have just the opposite effect on Taiwan residents’ sense of identity. And Taiwan’s local elections last November seemed to further reinforce this point, with voters delivering a resounding defeat to the very party that had made increased cross-strait ties the mainstay of its current policy since it regained the presidency in 2008. The trends toward localized “Hongkonger” and “Taiwanese” identities, in other words, do not bode well for mainland China, which seems to be losing ground in this battle of identities with each passing day.

…one’s self-identity and that of an entire society is a complicated amalgamation of numerous factors, and economic growth on its own may not be sufficient for restoring a sense of “Chinese” identity to those in Hong Kong and Taiwan. As Western analysts and media frequently point out, the political system that governs a locale and the correlating political values its people hold is another significant component in identity formation….Regardless of the merits or disadvantages of an autocratic or a democratic system, the reality is that the shift from autocracy to democracy in Taiwan is one that residents are distinctly proud of and cherish, arguably even more than people in the United States, because many of those in Taiwan — unlike most Americans — have known what it is like to live under both systems. More importantly, few people in Taiwan, if any, would prefer to return to the previous autocratic political system.

In essence, although no one can be sure whether the many factors that contribute to determining identities will work for or against Beijing, one certainty does exist: there’s no going backwards. It would be unfathomable for Hong Kong or Taiwan to return to a point of lesser economic development — like that which mainland residents experienced more recently or even are currently undergoing — in a way that would help narrow the differences created by economic growth. It is equally unimaginable that residents in either Hong Kong or Taiwan — especially those in Taiwan — would willingly accept a less democratic system that could effectively bridge this current political disconnect with their mainland counterparts.

Want more (older) news? Here’s another interesting article to read. This one outlines the implications of the Taiwanese governments’ decision to indict 118 students involved in the Sunflower movement. The students, and civic groups, involved in the movement were opposed to expanded economic relations with China outlined in the Cross-Strait Service Agreement. More on the agreement can be found here.
Last month, Amnesty international wrote a report on the lack of independent oversight and the  excessive use of police force involved in monitoring the movement.

Through the Mountains

“You guys okay?” he asked, attempting to tie a miniature Taiwanese flag to a stick he’d picked up from the side of the road.
“Yeah, we’ll be fine.”

“Great, see you in Wushe!”, L walked away with his usual cheerful swagger. “Remember,” he called back at us. “Suns up, thumbs up.” That was his shortened way of telling us that cheerful hitchhikers were more likely to be picked up.

We stood on the side of the street leading from the mountains to Taroko Gorge for about five minutes before a red van pulled over. Clambering out of it and setting about moving various items around in the back, the driver asked us where we planned on going.

“Wushe,” I said.She turned around with a grin on her face, her moon earrings swinging to and fro.  “Well, I’m headed that way, so get in.”

We rode in the car with her for half the day. Conscious of the opportunity at hand, I chose to sit in the front so I could learn more about the person kind enough to pick up three strangers. Unfortunately for her, my sitting in front meant she would be subject to a near endless stream of questions.

Her parents were Presbyterian missionaries in Taiwan when she was born. She’s lived in Taiwan for years, though I can’t remember how many. I know she attended a British school and her father, a preacher, worked with different villages. The family left in ’76 shIMG_6390e told us. “We left when it started gettin’ real bad,” she said, referring to the White Terror or the twenty-some year period Taiwan was under martial law. Unfortunately, she didn’t clarify how they became worse. In fact, most think the situation in Taiwan improved following Chiang Kai-Shek’s death in 1975, though one might be inclined to think it could become worse after watching the beginnings of the suppression of the April 5th, 1976 student protests in China. Perhaps they thought the situation in Taiwan would deteriorate after the formation of the  World United Formosans for Independence, a group interested in the liberation of Taiwan and, who, in 1976 sent a letter bomb to then governor Shieh Tung-min[1].
Regardless, the family didn’t feel safe. Her father had been particularly outspoken in the past and now worried his frankness would lead to trouble.
“Y’know they always told my father he could say more because he was a foreigner and, boy, did he take advantage of that– everything they gave him he gave back twice as hard.” Being a rabble-rouser, as she called him, during martial law is not entirely safe, so the family settled in Bangladesh in 1976– this being only five years after Bangladeshi independence. Somehow they felt that would be safer, I guess. “How was that?” I asked her.

Establishing an independent country is difficult on its own, but in the last five years Bangladesh had also endured two cyclones that wiped out half the population. “In Bangladesh there was hardship everywhere,” she paused to lean over and grab an almond snickers from a small cavity on the dashboard. “The main occupation was chipping bricks for roads. The country wasn’t resource rich in stone, so they had to use bricks instead. They threw bricks through the American embassy– and the Russian one when they learned about Afghanistan– they couldn’t throw any stones– there were no stones.”  At this point her dog Snowy, who I had scooped into my lap, attempted to inspect the food his perch on my knees. Unsuccessful, he settled for me petting him instead. She smiled and I took that as a sign to continue asking questions about her life there. The people in Bangladesh were very poor, she told us. “They looked like the street dogs I saw in other countries”. She spent a few minutes describing starved people “in generally bad shape” to us before cutting herself off.

“Y’know, Bangladesh wasn’t always like that. My elementary teacher told me they were rich before the British came. They used to tile their roofs in gold.” She told us this all the while driving up winding mountain roads. Here and there she would pull off. “You gotta see this,” she’d say, pulling the brake of the old red van. We’d all jump out, Snowy included, and walk  around for a time. While we walked she’d tell us more about IMG_6434Taiwan’s geography and  ecology. “Here’s the IMG_6428hiking  trail five hundred meters up,” she said pointing across the ravine to a nearly hidden path between the green foilage growing on the side of vertigo mountain. “We played with knives up there once,” she said laughing.I asked if it had any safety features. “Sure, sure, but some people still fall off, you know.” I looked horrified and stepped back. Judging by the way Snowy was attempting to scramble his way back to the car, I wasn’t the only one in the party afraid of heights. We returned to the car and drove for a time, and we talked about Japanese control of Taiwan. “When Japan left to make way for the KMT, my teacher told me she had to get dressed up in her best clothes and go sing for them. She said she remembered the Japanese all lined up, looking clean cut in their uniforms. They thanked them for the performance and were so polite. They did the same thing for the KMT when they arrived and it was totally different. They had holes in their uniforms, they were dirty. Couldn’t even bothered to say hello or thank you, just where’s the food and get out of our way basically.”

We drove more, the sky darkened and clouds settled over the roads.IMG_6481“I think that’s where my mother got her PTSD,” C had told me earlier about Bangladesh in passing. For a while I let that statement go and we talked about other things– how she found her dog, Snowy; how strange she felt living in Kentucky in middle school; her studies of high elevation animals in Taiwan. Eventually I asked her about it. “My experience was very different from my mother’s experience,” she began, “and my brothers were very different from mine. My mother has nightmares– wakes up thinking people are watching her. Y’know, we had to go to a therapist after getting back from Bangladesh, the church wanted to make sure we were mentally sound and all that, and she told him about how people looked at her. I mean, people look everywhere. People look in Taiwan, too– not positively, not negatively– they just do. But there, there it was hostile.” Her mother, she seemed to believe, bore the brunt of the hostility. Sure, she startled when balloons popped, but her mother had once been swarmed by angry men when her father left her alone in the van to check on a ferry. “They didn’t like women being out alone,” she’d explained to us.Meanwhile, she disguised herself as a boy. “That was the only way I could have the run of the town,” she told us.

By the time we’d reached the apex of the mountain we’d talked about education, history and family. She’d shared favorite memories and I’d shared some of mine. Not long after we’d started our descent she pulled over again– we’d done so twice before to walk across suspension bridges and look for the stars, but she seemed particularly excited this time. She’d hoped to see the milky way at some point in the drive and occasionally, after several loud exclamations and some laughing, she’d pull over and tell us to get out. She’d sidle out as fast as she could, untangling Snowy’s leash and bringing him along with us. This time the car, perhaps indignant with the frequent stops, refused to brake. One of my companions pointed it out uncertainly, causing C to glance at it then decisively pull the car into reverse before adopting a carefree smile, laughing and walking to the side of the road. “That oughta stop it,” she’d said to my companion, who was doing his best to look reassured.

Now I know memory has a way of fooling you, and I’m not sure if it was the company, or the experience, or the knowing that I had pushed myself beyond my boundaries, but I remember that sky containing most brilliant collection of stars I’ve ever seen. On the highest peak in Taiwan, above the trees we stared greedily at the planets, and constellations that nested themselves in innumerable stars and breathing in the cold, crisp air, I suddenly felt completely reinvigorated.