Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

May 16 2018

Books, photography, albums, etc.

While it’s nice and all that my book Barbarian at the Gate: From the American Suburbs to the Taiwanese Army has been listed on Taiwaneseamerican.org’s 50 Books for Your Taiwanese American Library, their description of the book’s content is not quite accurate. But I suppose I’ll let any potential readers out there find that out for themselves. Coincidentally, also listed as well as shown in the lead image of the page is Francie Lin’s The Foreigner, which features one of my photographs as the cover art.

It’s hot and muggy out; everyone is waiting for the plum rains, but the weather just doesn’t seem interested this year. As the water flowing under the Bitan bridge assumes more of a coffee hue from the lack of rain, no doubt drought will be announced soon. I’ve been scanning old negatives at home while listening to podcasts, and am constantly amazed at how poorly the original photo labs printed these shots, cropping out significant portions of the photos and seemingly making exposure decisions at random. I’ve also been busy with my photography course, leading students around various part of northern Taiwan and covering material in the classroom, as well as planning for the upcoming BME street photography workshop in San Francisco that I’m teaching along with Andy Kochanowski. I’m looking forward to seeing the SF crowd again…if I make it into the country that is; I’ve successfully applied for the visa waiver program, but I’ve still got my fingers crossed that I’ll get a decent immigration officer. The Muddy Basin Ramblers’ third album is slowly coming to fruition; the two riverside listening tests we’ve held so far have been promising. Other members of the band have predicted that this one’s going to be big…we’ll see. I’m just enjoying the ride, and regardless of how well it’s received, I’m happy to have been part of it.

Riverside testing our new album.

The catchword for 2018 so far has been “surreal”…everything feels like a loaded plate balanced at the very edge of a table, and half of us just want to see it fall. The transition from winter to summer is usually the most volatile, atmospherically speaking. China has increased its efforts to erase Taiwan from everyone’s awareness, and for all of their crowing about democracy and freedom, businesses, governments and media all around the world seem perfectly happy to go along with the charade. For our part, our precious leadership here in Taiwan, which has become infamous for the many things it hasn’t done since it came to power, has decided that screwing up our air quality is no big deal as long as they don’t have to face any criticism from raising our laughably low utility prices. And the U.S. is…well, you know. Plate. Table. Shrug.

But hey, happy thoughts! I should remember that I have a great deal to be grateful for, many opportunities in the four+ decades I’ve been on this particular rock. I’m lucky enough to have a great place to live, a good employment situation, health and friends. So, as the great Joe Walsh once said, “I can’t complain (but sometimes I still do).”

posted by Poagao at 11:34 am  
Jun 02 2017

Day 100 on Katagelan

It’s been a long day for quite a few people in this town.

Today is the 100th day of the indigenous land rights protest site on Katagelan Blvd. Over the last three months and change, a lovely little village developed on the sidewalk and part of the wide boulevard, led mainly by Panai, Nabu and Mayao. A long, orderly row of tents grew on the sidewalk, with larger pavilions for gatherings, a kitchen with a stove and tables, shelves of food, books and music, and all decorated with aboriginal themed art. Towers of bamboo adorned the space, and the Sun Moon Lake tribe donated two lovely wooden canoes. Educational talks and symposia were held, as well as a wide variety of musical performances. Panai even recorded a very nice album there, with my friend and fellow musician David Chen contributing his guitar skills to the mix.

I’ve been spending a bit of time there as well, whenever I get some time…sometimes talking with people, sometimes helping out with this or that, and sometimes just sitting quietly. It’s been a quiet, friendly space when I needed it over the past few months, and I’ve learned a bit about a few things and made a few new friends there. I showed my friend and old classmate DJ Hatfield around it just yesterday, which was great because he’s been spending his summers in Dulan for the last few years, has learned the Amis language, and is well-liked among the people there.

Today I was planning to go over to spend Day 100 at the village and see how they were dealing with the record downpour that was causing all kinds of flooding in northern Taiwan, but before I’d departed work, a terse Facebook alert from Mayao appeared on my screen: “They’re tearing it all down.” Another friend’s live feed showed hundreds of police officers swarming the village and beginning to tear things down. Mayao and Banai were overcome by dozens of officers, and Nabu wheeled away in his wheelchair (he has difficulty walking). Mayao just had cataract surgery; police attacks were probably not what the doctor ordered.

When I rushed out of my office to walk over to Katagelan, the skies were dumping rain at an alarming rate. Even though I had my big-ass umbrella, my shoes and pants were soaked instantly. The news was full of reports of flash flooding all around the city. Just how, I wondered, could the police spare hundreds of officers to dismantle a completely peaceful protest site under such circumstances?

But it was true, I saw when arrived. Literally hundreds of officers swarmed over the site. All the protesters had been physically removed, and heavy cranes were violently tearing down all the tents, towers, shelters…everything. All of the kitchen supplies, the artwork, the furniture, even a large portrait of President Tsai was dumped into a heap on the pavement, crushed, shoveled with a loader into the back of a large truck and hauled away as we watched helplessly from behind the barriers and police, who had set up a large megaphone system that was spewing patent nonsense like “There is low visibility due to the rain! For your safety, please leave the area!” The atmosphere felt like it was straight out of mainland China. The most bizarre thing was the presence of Environmental Protection Department officials. In a nation notorious for morally bankrupt factories spewing hazardous pollution into the air and the rivers, the EPA always claims that it is understaffed, underfunded and unable to monitor these blatant breaches of law. Yet they apparently have plenty of time and personnel to dismantle a peaceful protest that is completely green and sustainable.

Mayao was standing on a stool continuing his live broadcast as the destruction continued, while Panai and Nabu sat forlornly on the corner in front of the Taipei Guesthouse gate. I circled around the scene, switching between my Leica M6 and my phone depending on the circumstances. Fortunately the Samsung S7 I use is water resistant, and the Leica is virtually indestructible. I missed my Sony, but it’s in the shop yet again being fixed, so I had to make due with what I had.

Just about everything had been hauled away when a New Power Party legislator showed up, followed by another one I recognized, Freddy Lim. By that point the destruction of the village had been going on for several hours, and I wondered what took them so damn long to get there. Still, nobody from either the DPP nor the KMT showed up at all, so there’s that. The legislators had a furious chat with the police on the site, who refused to yield, so the legislators held a little press conference in which they criticized the police’s actions. I guess that’s all they could do.

As darkness fell, the police removed the barriers and opened the street up to traffic again. The rain, which had lessened around sunset, returned as the cops formed lines around the area. Some of them surrounded Panai and Nabu, still in his wheelchair, and shouted insults, not letting them move, and when they did, following them around. The police chief came over and started issuing orders: “If they set up any tents, take them down!” he shouted. “No cars are allowed to stop in this area, period!” It was as if he had decided he was a mini legislature of his own, spewing out laws at a whim. I thought of all the people in the city in need of police assistance, wondering where all the cops had gone. When some people brought over folding chairs for some of the older protesters, who were huddled under umbrellas on the wet sidewalk, the police started pointing and shouting, saying “Those aren’t allowed! Those are illegal!”

It was past dinner time, and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I’d also run out of film and my phone was dying, so I left the site in the evening, soaked and tired, but still in better shape than most of the protesters, who are still, as far as I know, huddled on that corner under the pouring rain, surrounded by shouting, sneering police.

I hope they can bounce back from this. I don’t know if Day 100 was their target day to remove the protest site once and for all, or if they decided to take advantage of the extreme weather to do it. In either case, I have to say it was an extremely shitty thing to do. I’ve been disappointed that the government has managed to ignore this issue this long, but going to these lengths smacks of tactics this administration really should know better than to engage in.

EDIT: The police apparently executed their own law and bodily forced people to leave the area early Saturday morning, shouting “We’re doing this for your protection!” Not a single peep from the presidential office.

posted by Poagao at 9:23 pm  
Dec 27 2016

Separate but not equal

2016 has sucked. And Christmas 2016…wasn’t wonderful. I’m going to leave it at that, just as an explanation why I found myself lying awake in bed at 5 a.m. on December 26th with no urge to do anything but distract myself. The day just happened to be the very day that the marriage equality bills were set for review in the Legislature, and two large protests, for and against, were set to begin in the vicinity that morning. So I decided to go take a look before heading into work.

I took the subway to NTU Hospital Station (I would have named the station after the park but I’m weird like that), so I approached the Legislature, as I usually had during the Sunflower protest, from the west. This meant I first encountered the anti-equality protest site. As before, they were doing their best to resemble a Klu Klux Klan rally, uniformly dressed in white, mostly wearing masks and sunglasses, and reluctant to be photographed. I couldn’t help but wonder what the point of showing up was if you didn’t want anyone to see you: The shame’s baked right in! I decided to make my way into the crowd to see if there was anything interesting or (especially) bizarre. I could feel disapproving stares, but thankfully nobody stopped me, and I didn’t speak to anyone. The guy on stage was spouting anti-democratic rhetoric, lies, insults and outright slander that I won’t bother repeating. A man in red was talking with police, and another man, tall and bearded, silently lifted sandbags into a truck alongside the sweaty driver. I had no idea at the time what the sandbags were for.

Members of the Christian clergy were again quite visible among the leadership; men holding inaccurate pie charts that would make a statistician wince talked to the media (no, 50.75% is not actually 3/4 of the pie). The crowd, while mostly middle-aged people, seemed to be seething like an angry toddler. A couple of protesters, bizarrely, wore aboriginal garb, the only note of color in the scene besides the man in red.

The police had formed an empty no-man’s land between the protests, so I had to walk around the block and up Linsen to get into the pro-equality protest site, which had only one entrance (the anti-equality site was open at one end). The mood there couldn’t have been more different from the first site; young, spirited, optimistic, creative. Never have I seen such a clear distinguishment between Taiwan’s sordid, authoritarian past and its democratic, diverse future. The broadcasts of the speeches on stage included a sign-language interpretation. Nobody wore masks, unless you counted the guy dressed in an animal costume. It was a welcoming scene.

defenseBehind the stage, facing the no-man’s land where only a handful of police stood in the street, a group of mostly bears stood three-deep, the first row standing at parade rest, the two lines behind them seated. Every so often they would rotate the lines. When I asked, one of them told me that they were all volunteers, to be on hand in case the anti-equality mob decided to attack. They would be there as long as they had to be, they said.

Such fears were not unjustified; as I left the area to go to work (bumping into Larry Tsung, an old co-worker from my newspaper days in the subway), the anti-equality crowd began an assault on the Legislature, throwing smoke bombs and rushing the wall, attacking police in the process. I saw photos on the news sites of both the man in red and the tall, bearded man leading the charge. Over a hundred people were detained, most of them incredulous at the reaction. “The law means nothing to me!” one middle-aged woman protested, “I only answer to God!” I wonder if she would like what she saw if she Googled that.

When I got back to the area in the afternoon after work, the subway station was flooded with pro-equality protesters heading home. When I reached the site, I was told that the bills had passed the readings in the Legislature, and the next step would be in April. They’d won the day, it seemed, and everyone seemed very happy at the news. I wondered what the reaction was at the anti-equality camp, and decided to walk west along Zhongxiao to take a look. A group of organizers at the subway exit were advising against this. “Please take the subway from here,” they were telling protesters, the message being: It isn’t safe. Those people are dangerous and will hurt you.

When I got to the anti-equality site, hardly anyone was around. It was a bit dystopian; the loudspeaker was playing sounds of an outraged crowd, but the sound was cutting in and out like a recording left on too long. Large screens glowered down on empty asphalt littered with trash. Someone got on the PA and said, “We will fight this to the end! Everyone, head to the Presidential Office!” I texted my friend J. Michael Cole, telling him where they were headed.

“I’m already here,” he texted back. Of course he was.

I had to leave, but the videos and stories that have made their way out of the protest in front of the Presidential Office have been dismaying; actual media reporters and other observers have been harassed, harangued, assaulted, and removed “for their safety”. The crowd seems to squarely blame the DPP for their loss, oblivious to the fact that some of the bills and support come from the KMT and KMT legislators. Then again, I would have liked to have seen more condemnation on the DPP side of the DPP legislators who have made attempts to thwart the process with their bogus “separate but equal” propositions. That aspect goes both ways, but there is clearly no moral equivalence here.

In any case, we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Of course there are larger issues at hand, both in Taiwan and worldwide. But it seems to me that this is a watershed moment, a tipping point. What we do next is important, because odds are that we won’t be coming back from whichever road we take from here.

posted by Poagao at 7:02 am  
Dec 11 2016

Of Rights and Rambles

This weekend has gone non-stop. It started Friday night when I piled my instruments onto the 650 bus to Liuzhangli so I could make a gig with the ramblers at Bob’s. And not just the Muddy Basin Ramblers, but famed bluesman Rambling Steve Gardner as well, who flew in from Tokyo for the Tiger Mountain Ramble on Saturday. We met Steve at the Yokohama Jug Band Festival a couple of years back, and we’ve stayed in touch, always prodding him to make a trip over. The gig was a riot, and Kat served up tasty meat pies, potatoes and pizza afterwards.

After hauling my ass out of bed Saturday morning, I put on some Rambler-approved clothes and again hauled my instruments out and took the subway to Ximen, where I stashed them so that I could proceed unhindered to the Marriage Equality event on Ketagalan Blvd. Even though it was just starting, huge streams of people were joining from all directions. It was difficult to get into the crowd; I haven’t seen that many people there since the Sunflower protest, so I mostly just walked around the periphery. Suming gave a short speech and sang, and there were other performers with the MCs on the stage.

It was heartening to see so much love, hope and idealism, a real contrast from the previous anti-marriage-equality protests, which were mostly driven by hate and spite as well as stacks of cash from American Christian groups. For one thing, the anti-equality protests were much smaller than reported, even though the churches bussed entire congregations up to Taipei, and populated mostly by middle-aged people; so many of them were dressed in white and wearing masks that it was alarmingly similar to a Klan rally in all but name; “Straight Power” was pretty much the theme, and people there would throw their hands up in front of their masked faces when I raised my camera to take a shot. A good 10-20% of the protesters were actual Christian clergy, priests and nuns in full garb. One tall Western priest stood by one of the “praying” priests, and I managed to not enunciate my hope that he would get deported for taking part in the protest.

But that would never have happened, as the Christians (who claim homosexuality is a “foreign influence, oblivious to the fact that Christianity is much more of a foreign influence than homosexuality ever was), carted in an Australian woman who has some kind of personal vendetta against her parents, Katy Faust, to actually address the Legislature on what she clearly knows nothing about. The appropriately named Faust has no expertise on either homosexuality or Taiwan, yet not a single lawmaker saw the obvious violations of the actual law that her visit incurred. The media hasn’t really been on board with Reality either, e.g. articles like this from Focus Taiwan, which calls the event a “concert” that only “thousands” attended, even though official estimates run from a quarter million and up, and highlights claims of “bullying” of Christians on the subject.

As I was wandering around the East Gate and up the road toward the Presidential Office, it occurred to me that these people, not just the people at the marriage-equality protest, but other similar groups like the Sunflowers, et al, are the very people who were targeted by government forces during the White Terror period. Forward-looking people, people with inspiration and ideas for the future. In the awful times after 2/28, all of us would have been on those lists.

And who would have been writing those lists? The people who showed up in white robes and masks to protest equal rights.

I would have liked to have stayed longer, but I had to go retrieve my instruments and head over to the Tiger Mountain Ramble, where we were playing in the late afternoon. The mountain road was apparently so difficult to navigate that my cabbie shushed me when I tried to tell him where the place was. “Don’t talk to me!” he said. “I’m trying to concentrate on these GPS coordinates!” He found the place despite this.

The ramble was a little behind schedule when I got there, putting my stuff away and greeting friends. The cloudy skies threatened rain, and someone had started a bonfire. Steve presented me with a lovely gift: His photobook, from his days as a photojournalist on the theme of the American South, specifically the people of Mississippi, entitled Rambling Mind. It is a beautifully printed, large-sized book, one of only a handful left from the print run. The photos inside are wonderful as well…it’s a real treat, and I’m so happy to be able to add it to my collection.

It started to rain as we climbed the metal steps of the mobile stage and began our gig. It was a raucous affair, and most everything went right. There was much dancing in spite of the rain, which got heavier as we played. Afterwards we had to slog through the mud to get back to the storeroom, and everyone was huddled around the former temple for shelter. I was tired after a day of walking around as well as the show, so I packed up and headed down the mountain on foot, pulling my cart behind me. I met one of the other bands on the way, and they said some very nice things about our show, and I returned their compliments.

This morning (Sunday) I had to head out again, this time to lead my photography students on a walk around Keelung. We met up in front of the train station at 10 a.m. to find a large gathering of Indonesians, including dancers, martial artists and singers, as well as stalls selling food and attire, and a stage. It was all very festive; I bought three nice new hats, but we couldn’t stay long; we had to catch a train to Keelung.

Of course it was raining, because Keelung. We got off at the brand-new train station, which is worlds nicer than the awful old station, which itself was…much more awful than the old Japanese station. Some people were a bit peckish, so we had some food at a breakfast shop where the owner told us how to get to the big KEELUNG sign at the top of the hill. “You go up,” he said helpfully.

So we went up, following alleys, complimenting one household in particular on their delicious-smelling curry rice and dodging the scooters that would occasionally charge up the steep slope. One of these was a Gogoro electric scooter, with no less than two people on it. Impressive.

We paused at the big KEELUNG and then proceeded up to the platform at the top of the hill, caught our breath, and then went back down again, this time taking a different, more circuitous route. Eventually we found ourselves back to the main road behind the station. We crossed over the old blue pedestrian bridge that’s been there forever, and walked towards the Miaokou market, where vendors were hauling their stalls out into the rainy streets. It’s always difficult to lead these photowalks because I remain a firm believer in the benefits of solitary ventures. “I’m just showing you this place and some of the possibilities,” I often find myself saying. “You can come back on your own sometime and really see it!” It might seem odd for me to be telling this to native Taiwanese people, but they almost always have never really been to the places I take them, or, even if they have, they never really noticed what was there. I think it works; several of them have come a really long way in their photography, which makes me happy. And after this rather fucked-up year, I appreciate such things more than ever.

posted by Poagao at 9:39 pm  
May 19 2016

History Eve

I walked over to the Presidential Office today after work. Tomorrow is the Big Event, the presidential inauguration of Tsai Ying-wen, so today was the full rehearsal, minus Tsai herself. Or maybe she was there in disguise, watching everything from the safety of a giant gecko costume or something. That’s what I would do, anyway.

They’re really pulling out all the stops. Huge Macy-esque balloon figures floated around the square, including an aborigine, a Han Chinese complete with a rather puffy conical hat, and George MacKay, complete with a giant inflatable tooth he presumably just pulled from the giant balloon aborigine. The military was on hand with actual cannons that actually fired, military jets flew overhead smoking red white and blue smoke, and a host of bands, including my friends Lin Sheng-xiang and Toru Hayakawa, played Charge Forward, the theme to Rookie’s Journal, and of course Island Sunrise, which gave me goosebumps. The Sunflowers got their own float, portraying a large, headband-wearing student vaulting over little barbed-wire barriers. Even the Wild Lily Protest was commemorated with a large flower, though not quite as large as the original. “Those are two famous protests that were significant in Taiwan’s history,” an elderly man who said he was from Kaohsiung told me as the parade rehearsal proceeded past us. We’d been chatting a bit as we watched the spectacle.

“I know, I was at both of them,” I said. He gaped, then recovered. “Do you know what Tsai is going to say in her speech tomorrow?” This was a strange question. How could I possibly know that? And, were I in the position to know, how could I be so careless as to blab it to a total stranger?

“And, you know, China is threatening to attack if they don’t like what Tsai says tomorrow,” he continued when I didn’t answer. Now I was beginning to wonder if he was really from Kaohsiung.

“Yes, and they threatened to attack if Lee Teng-hui was elected in 1996,” I said. “I remember because I was in boot camp at the time.”

His subsequent gaping was interrupted by the approach of another elderly man, one who spoke a mixture of Mandarin, Minnan and Japanese. The first elderly man retreated, and I walked around taking photos. It was all very surreal, not just the exchange but the entire scene. I tried to gather my thoughts while I had a bite to eat at the Restricted Mos Burger up the street. I call it that because it’s the only Mos Burger in the restricted section around the Presidential Office, and I had lunch there often during the Sunflower Protests, on my way to or from the Legislature when the military police had blocked the streets off.


This inauguration is not only different from all those before it by its very nature, being the first DPP president who has also won the Legislature…it will be fundamentally different from all of those before it in its content as well. For one thing, never have I seen such a diverse representation of Taiwan’s various cultures. But that won’t be the only difference: At one point, in the distance, I saw what looked to be performers dressed up as Chinese soldiers. “Those…those aren’t old PLA uniforms, are they?” I squinted as I asked a squat policeman who was lazily waving his hands in an attempt to direct imaginary traffic.

“No, those are old Nationalist uniforms!” he said, chuckling.

“Ah,” I said, watching as the people dressed as Chinese soldiers went through the motions of executing a line of civilians, shooting them dead while images of 2/28 flashed across the massive screen in front of the stage. The performers writhed on the asphalt.

This is different, I thought. Only two years ago students took over the Legislature. Over a quarter century ago we camped out at CKS Hall. Tomorrow…

San Taizi figures strode around waving their arms alongside barefoot Bunun aborigines. Arabian horses were being led down trailer ramps by men dressed in Ming Dynasty regalia and sunglasses. The dual-language announcers seemed to take a particular glee in reading the words “President Tsai” and “Ex-president Ma” when going through the exchange ceremony script.

If the rehearsal is anything to go by, the main event should be amazing, moving, memorable. As it should be. I couldn’t help but feel a little overcome by all the references I saw, not only to Taiwan’s history but also to my life up to this point, all in the same place for once. It will be historic. Of course, the cynic in me can’t help but wonder if the hard part is just beginning, but I suppose we’ll just have to find out.

For now, we celebrate.

posted by Poagao at 8:57 pm  
Oct 26 2015

New developments

Things have been busy since I got back from my trip to the states; the main thing has been preparing for and teaching my photography course at the Zhongzheng Community College. I’ve never really taught before, so it has taken some getting used to. Over the past couple of months, however, I’ve gotten into the swing of it, and of course Chenbl has been a tremendous help in organizing things. I’ve been purposely avoiding telling students how and what to shoot, preferring instead to give them the confidence and tools to find what they’re looking for, photographically speaking. Having been wrung through the Taiwanese educational system, however, most students feel the need to be told every little thing and what it means, whereas I’ve mostly been emphasizing the importance of intent, of communicating one’s personal truths by telling them what others have done and how, showing them quality work and analyzing it together. And I’ve been incorporating photo walks along the way, which have been pretty successful. Most of them have responded positively to this kind of instruction. But it’s a little difficult to overcome the feeling that being a teacher means that one must know everything and be right all the time, which of course is BS. Teacher Xu warned me about this when we were talking about teaching Tai-chi. Now I can see what he was talking about.

Speaking of Teacher Xu: He’s back, back in the park and teaching again. Everyone is happy about this, and a lot of old faces have been showing up in the park, as well as some new students.  Practicing tuishou is different with everyone, and it’s always refreshing to switch styles. I’ve stopped updating the tuishou blog, by the way; I’m planning to incorporate all of my various blogs (although I’m not entirely sure how to do this in WP…importing? Exporting? I have no idea) once I can get my website updated, somehow. Finding someone to do this has been a challenge, so for now I’m continuing with my antediluvian design. It’s not as if people still read blogs anyway.

I noticed that a large temple procession was taking place in front of the Presidential Office by the park as I practiced on Sunday, so afterwards I went over to take a look. It was for the Chenghuang Temple, and involved seemingly hundreds of palanquins, costumed dancers, flags, trucks, fireworks, etc. After that I decided to walk over to the CKS Hall MRT station, but on the way I found myself in the midst of a large Retrocession Day activity in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where I used to work. Well, when I say “large” I mean the preparations were large-scale, but there weren’t many people there, and the ones who were were rather old. The only young people there were police and completely obvious plainclothes officers, as well as brigades of black-shirted young men who wouldn’t have seemed out of place standing in the background while jets and sharks danced with each other. New Party banners waved over the small crowd, and the “military” brigade posed for photos by the East Gate. I’d actually forgotten that Sunday was Retrocession Day, and I imagine that most of the country had as well. A for-hire military band stood in front of the stage, and policemen ringed the barriers, standing outside the yellow police tape and checking the bags of people who wanted in. They weren’t very busy. 

Curious, I went in just as President Ma took the stage to give a speech on the Potsdam and Cairo declarations. After a few minutes I felt a prod on my shoulder. It was my old college roomie, Yao Fu-wen, who has worked for the Kuomintang for many years. We chatted for a bit; he seemed a bit discouraged; the whole thing was really kind of sad. The production felt cheap, and the regurgitation of references to ancient Japanese aggression felt as old and tired as the audience. It’s hard to believe that the KMT doesn’t know how out-of-touch they seem these days. Chu’s initial refusal to run for president, followed by Hung Hsiu-chu’s bizarre nomination and subsequent hard-core unificationist rants, resulting in the party’s realization that they’d not only lose the presidency but also the Legislature if this shit continued, and their dumping of Hung in favor of a still-reluctant Chu, all point to a party that has lost its way. It’s almost a certainty that Tsai Ying-wen will win the presidency; the KMT must know this; the only thing they can hope for is to maintain a majority in the Legislature, otherwise they wouldn’t have even bothered to replace Hung as their candidate, but it seems that internal bickering has taken priority over the actual reform they so desperately need. I guess we’ll see what happens, but it seems to me that if the KMT were willing to focus on the future of Taiwan rather than the past of other countries, it might stand a better chance.

Leaving the Retrocession event, I walked over to CKS Hall, where huge crowds of people were watching military-themed demonstrations, including hand-to-hand combat, paratrooper “training” rides, tanks and other equipment, all under a Discovery Channel banner. It seems that the uniforms have changed again, to a grayer, more “digital” design from the camos that we wore in our time. Hopefully this will result in higher recruitment rates for the volunteer military, because the numbers have been disappointing so far.

Behind all this, right in front of the CKS Memorial, was a “Chinese Culture” exhibition, including wood carvings and people in ancient costumes, and a female choir singing on the stage. Only a handful of people sat in the hundreds of chairs set out for an audience. I could only hope that this was a rehearsal and not the actual performance, because, well, damn that would have been embarrassing.

The weather’s been strange lately, quick successions of wet and dry that we’d expect in Spring rather than Fall, and the water in Bitan is still a murky yellow from the typhoons. It might be a while before we once again see that beautiful jade-colored expanse again. In any case, it seems that change is on the way.


posted by Poagao at 11:04 am  
Apr 14 2015

How not to be a good president

I was thinking the other day: If I were the president, due to step down in the near-ish future and with little hope of my party winning, I’d just start doing whatever the hell I thought was a good idea but never pushed before due to lack of public acceptance or local politics. What can you lose at this point? You’re already sunk. Why not throw shit at the wall and see what sticks? Of course, I’d probably be the most unpopular president Taiwan has ever had (and that, my friends, is saying something), but who knows? A few years down the road people might wise up and see that some of those stupid things might have actually been a good idea. Like when Chiang Ching-kuo was promoting an eight-lane north-south freeway but was forced to cut it down to four lanes due to opposition from such people as Hsu Hsin-liang. Now, of course, we all wonder why the first highway was so small, and we’ve spent billions trying to fix it. Oh, those were wacky times!

So let’s rant! Here for your fantastic whimsical consideration are some awful ideas that would make me not only un-electable but probably the target for an angry, pitchfork-waving mob or two, but which I think might just make things better down the road:

1. I might levy a heavy tax on ghost money, but I would probably just outright ban the stuff. Modern ghosts probably don’t use the stuff anyway, and we’re losing all of our god-damn trees as well as creating pollution. Ghosts probably use the Internet anyway. Go make your offerings on guipal.com if you feel the need, but don’t fuck up our air based on your superstitions. Moderate amounts of incense would be tolerable, but the ghost money thing…that’s right out.

2. Romanization: Hanyu Pinyin. Everywhere. For everything, including company names, personal names on passports, pet names, etc. Existing major city names would stay as is, and maybe include a hyphen between the given name characters, but otherwise, the spelling would all be according to Hanyu Pinyin. Your name is your fucking name, you don’t get to change it around on a whim. There’s a process for that. Include a system for romanizing Aboriginal names as well, of course, but for Chinese names, Hanyu Pinyin or GTFO.

3. Pump up the electric scooter infrastructure (get it? Pump up….oh forget it), allow imports to compete on the market, and ban two-stroke scooters outright. If you have a two-stroke scooter, you get a discount on your new electric scooter. Congratulations.

4. Hello service industry people! Tired of hiding behind the counter whenever someone of a different race walks in because you fear they might speak another language? I’m here to solve your problem: From now on, no matter who your customer is, the first words out of your mouth will be in a local language. If they complain, tell them I said it was ok. If said customer fails to understand that, then figure something out. I guarantee you it won’t be as much of a problem as you think it will be, and even when it is, it’s not your problem, it’s theirs. Speak your own fucking language; they’re the visitors here, not you. To our police friends: If the white dude on the scooter without a license doesn’t understand you, again: Not your problem. You got his info, you issue a ticket. After that it’s his problem. Have some fucking self respect.

5. Ships. Hey, did you know that we’re on an ISLAND? With lots of rivers? Look at any map from the Japanese era, and you’ll see a spaghetti plate of lines connecting Taiwan to lots of other places. Kind of sad that everyone’s so afraid of water that we’re all hiding behind huge concrete walls with soldiers and barbed wire on top, isn’t it? So STOP IT! Coming soon: Not only mandatory swimming classes in schools, but also ferry services between Taipei, Ilan, Hualien, Taitung, Kaohsiung, and Kending. Actual ferries across the Danshui/Dahan/Xindian river system. A new flood-containment system that doesn’t require huge concrete barriers. Let the river be part of the city again. You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.

6. Old buildings. Work out a system of reimbursement for historical structures so that the owners won’t be left with a rotting hulk on their hands, lest they tear the things down in the dark of night and exclaim in mock surprise the next morning: “Oh my, I wonder what happened to my house?” We will prepare a pool holding all the discarded alligators from Da-an Park just for you.

7. New buildings. Residences can only stay empty for a certain amount of time, whereupon Mr. Tax man will be visiting. Want to fend him off? Cut your losses and sell it for cheap. You can’t guarantee you’ll be able to sell most of the apartments in that building you’re building? Perhaps you should have taken a clue from the seven completely empty buildings next door. *WHOMP goes the stamp* Denied.

8. Bar-free windows. If you insist on barring up your windows, that nice, strapping Fireman will not be able to rescue your sorry ass from the fire you started when you were trying to burn ghost money in your god-damn hallway. Enjoy the view, and stop worrying that thieves will make away with your moldy black sofa. The thing’s awful to sit on anyway.

9. Inspectors get changed out. Inspectors, no matter how honest they may start out, will inevitably be co-opted into the corrupt system. Change them out every so often to avoid this.

10. Politicians clean up their messes: Stepping down to “take responsibility” for something won’t be acceptable. You want to step down? Fine. FIX YOUR SHIT and then leave. We’ll be happy to show you the door after you stop the streets of your city from exploding. Thank you very much, and by the way, once you step down, you stay the fuck down. We don’t want to see your name on the ballot next month. Or ever.

11. The military. Sure, the draft is ending, but if you want a real professional military, changes are going to have to be made.  You can’t run a volunteer army the way you ran a conscript army, and you’re working against decades of bad memories for most of the people here. The first step is to pay a decent wage, make it a viable career, etc. But you need to market yourself to people who are into this kind of thing, by which I mean actual soldiering, not just lazy students or whomever you’re trying to impress with comfy barracks with Hello Kitty wifi spots or whatever the hell you’re offering. Offer adventure. Offer challenges. Leave out the amenities.

12. Chinese tourists. Hey, don’t we all love Chinese tourists? Or at least their money? But you know what? There are other countries in the world! Instead of participating in a race to the bottom, I think you’ll find that, with the above policies, people from other countries might just want to visit as well!

13. Freedom of speech. You hear a lot about how “free” Taiwan is. But there are a few niggling problems with that. The public insult laws need to go. Slander and libel are of course actual Things, but public insult is just a fact of life, and if you can’t handle being given the finger in traffic, you need to STFU and deal.

14. Public photography. In a decade or two, if things keep going the way they’re going, the only way we’ll ever know that places like Hungary exist will be reading questionable Wikipedia texts. Taiwan is ALREADY practically invisible in the international scene, and you want to prohibit photographers from showing it to the world? Fuck that. If you’re in a public place with no reasonable expectation of privacy, we don’t care if someone shot you picking your nose or scratching your ass.

15. Actual fucking media. This is becoming a problem worldwide, but it’s pretty awful here as well. In order to call yourself a news source, you will need to offer real, actual journalism. You start in with this 24-hour “infotainment” shit and you’re out. You mix your op/ed with your actual news? There’s the door. You opine on shit you have no right to opine on? Good-bye. On your way out, feel free to look up Walter Fucking Cronkite and school your ignorant ass.

16.  The street is the street. It is not your living room. We will paint a line where the street goes, and another where the sidewalk goes. You will not put your shit in the street. You put it there, and it becomes ours. Or a deserving charity’s. But not yours.

17. Intersections. Automatic bollards will pop up at red lights. Emergency vehicles will be able to disable them, but your gas pedal will not. You want to run a red light? Talk to the bollard. Anyone injured by running into a properly functioning bollard will be required to take all the responsibility for all the damage caused.

18. Marijuana. Allow it, regulate it. There’s no real reason not to. America may have a stick up its ass about this, but the opium wars ended a long time ago. Sure, it’s a drug, but we allow tobacco and alcohol, under certain conditions.

19. Marriage equality. Again, no reason not to. Many reasons to do it. We’ll be in the spotlight as a bastion of human rights in a region where such things are rare. There’s literally no downside to it. You even get to piss off crazy right-wing Christian hypocrites, which is just gravy.

20. Immigration: Create a reasonable system of immigration that treats everyone the same. You don’t want foreigners to be allowed to keep their other citizenship, Mr. ABC? Fine, then you’ll have to do it too. Same rules for everyone, regardless of race.

21. Judges will be selected by a rigorous examination after decades of experience in the legal system, not as a graduation present from mommy and daddy along with a fake Versace bag from a night market. The bag is more convincing.

22. Stop worshiping English. No, the whole world doesn’t speak it. It’s not a sign of how “fashion” you are. Sure, if your job involves negotiating government treaties face-to-face with U.S. congressmen, then of course you need to possess a good command of the English language. If you run a bubble tea shop and are worried that some day you might be tasked with negotiating government treaties, I’d say don’t worry so much about the English lessons and more about the shit chemicals people are trying to put in your tea.

23. You put poison into food? You go to jail for a long time. People die or get sick from the shit you put in your food? You get tried for murder and/or attempted murder. In any case, your company disappears.

24. Raise utility prices. “Hmm, we have to somehow restrict usage on these valuable items, but everyone is using them because they’re so cheap? WHO CAN SOLVE THIS UNSOLVABLE CONUNDRUM?” Yeah, you could write some hokey slogans about being a good citizen and saving these precious resources out of the goodness of your precious widdle heart. Or you could do something effective, like raises water and electricity rates to levels that aren’t some of the cheapest in the entire world. It’s crazy, but it just might work!

25. Language schools (and everyone else, but especially language schools): Don’t want to hire someone because of their race? Sure, go ahead! And then go to fucking jail, because that shit is lame.

I guess that’s it for now. I didn’t put a great deal of thought into these, but go ahead and sharpen those pitchforks, because everyone knows that some random blog post is legally binding and everyone will be forced to think exactly the same way as I do.


posted by Poagao at 12:14 pm  
Apr 13 2014

Flowers in the sun

On the evening of March 18, 2014, an extraordinary thing happened: Students took over Taiwan’s national parliament building, the Legislative Yuan.

If this had occurred in, say, American, Great Britain, Japan or any number of other countries, including China, it would have been instant worldwide headline news. Students take over Congress? Parliament? The Diet? The National People’s Congress? Impossible! Incredible! Of course, something similar happened in Wisconsin, in the publicly accessible part of the building, but that was huge news at the time, and any students making such an attempt on the governmental bodies in many if not all of those countries’ national capitals would likely be attacked and sent to prison, if not worse.

But here in Taiwan, they did it. But there was barely a ripple in the international media, as we’re talking about the 24/7 blackout that is Taiwan. We had the world’s tallest building for months before anyone noticed, and even when they did, the mentions were wrapped in language implying that it didn’t matter as buildings are built all the time, and something taller would be along soon. Correspondingly, it took weeks for the media to respond to this story, and even then it was of course stuck firmly below the fold.

When I walked over to the Legislature in Taipei, I found the front-facing courtyard on Zhongshan South Road to the west was the site of a largely hard-core pro-independence faction of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) rally, complete with the requisite green color, simulated “national anthems” being broadcast over a portable loudspeaker, and other independence paraphernalia lined up before a gaggle of policemen protecting the door to the building. On the south side of the Legislature, another line of police and several hundred meters of barbed wire-covered barriers provided a backdrop for a protest site for various concerns on Jinan Road. People spoke to the crowd on the street about other concerns such as the nuclear waste storage problem and aboriginal rights, before coming back to the subject at hand, i.e. why the students had taken over the Legislature in the first place.

There are many other sources for details on this, but in a nutshell, the ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT), and the main opposition party, the DPP, had been going through the Trade in Services Agreement with China that the government hopes to implement. The pact was actually signed on July 21st of last year, but the DPP was fighting the KMT at each pass, using every tactic to block the agreement from being reviewed, and the KMT had simply declared the review “over.” Putting the bill to a vote in the Legislature would have been more or less equal to passing it due to the KMT’s superior numbers there. Proponents say economic integration is necessary to keep Taiwan from being isolated, while others fear that giving China too much leverage in such matters would erode Taiwan’s economic independence and eventually our political status as well.

The students who had been protesting the trade pact outside the Legislature at the time were enraged, and as news of the action spread on Facebook and other social media, many more converged on the Legislature and took it over. The handful of police guarding the building were quickly surprised and overwhelmed as the students jumped over the surrounding walls, infiltrated the building, and after a brief bit of fighting and a few injuries, blockaded themselves inside the Legislative Chambers of the nation.

I walked to the Northeast gate of the Legislature, where another crowd of protesters occupied the parking lot and the sidewalk. The weather was fine, warm and sunny. Though I was able to walk into the parking lot with no problem, right up to the front door of the building, where a line of police stood, I was still hesitant. I hadn’t planned to enter, but I was both curious and amazed at what was going on. According to Taiwan’s laws, foreign visitors participating in protests could be in danger of deportation as a result of “not doing what their visa says they’re here for” or something similar, but as I have been a Taiwanese citizen for over two decades, I wasn’t concerned with deportation. Arrest, of course, was another matter; I’d heard reports that some documentarians had already been taken in for questioning for their activities in recording the actions.  But things looked safe enough for the moment, so I continued, keeping an eye out for disturbances, and taking photos of the protesters and the groups of policemen who were standing quietly behind shields.

“Want to go up?” one of the protesters asked as I stared at the ladder they were using to climb up to the roof of the portico over the entrance. I nodded and hauled myself up after the student, one of their well-organized system of gatekeepers, gave the ok. On the portico roof, I climbed up another ladder to another rooftop and observed the crowd below. Beyond this was yet another ladder over the gap between the portico and the Legislature’s second-floor windows. This was apparently how many of the students accessed the place. It wasn’t the best day to have brought my badminton equipment, which hindered my climbing the next ladder over the gap and squeezing into the open window as Republic of China Flags flew upside-down overhead. Inside the breezeway, I put my stuff down and walked over to see the makeshift “press rooms”, full of students staring at laptops and discussing strategies. Beyond were stairwells crammed with furniture, including chairs and tables, huge portraits of Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen, topped with a black bust of Sun Yat-sen staring down the stairs at any approaching invaders. Some of the students played drums while sitting on the coat check counter, and a few reporters sat on the balcony. At one point I thought I saw lawyer Robin Winkler, a former American who became a Taiwanese citizen a few years ago, giving an interview at the end of the second-story hallway.

The students had firm control of the upper floor of the Legislature as well as the chamber, so I was a little surprised when I ventured down the staircase after squeezing past the barrier to find the lobby full of police. Many lounged around on chairs, glancing at me without curiosity before returning to their phone screens, but a unit stood in formation in the middle of the lobby, between the outer doors and the doors to the chamber, which were blocked from within. They took little notice of me, and I walked over to the one accessible door on the south side of the chambers, guarded by students, and into the chambers itself.

Of course I’d seen it before, though I’d never been inside. It was, after all, the site of many a televised Legislative fight that is to many people the face of Taiwanese politics as well as the butt of many a joke. The scene was changed now, however, the podium and desks draped with the students’ signs and placards, slogans and a large sign declaring how many hours they’d been in control of the Legislature. People were speaking on the floor, student leaders as well as political figures from the DPP and sympathetic professors, while students texted, lay asleep in the corners, or guarded the huge piles of furniture piled in front of all the other doors. Up on the second-floor balcony a couple of cameras watched and provided a live feed to the outside world in the hopes that someone would realize what was happening.

“Are you concerned about losing any focus on your message by including so many different topics, that you’re risking losing support you might otherwise have by pushing less popular matters?” I asked a DPP legislator, Hsu Tain-tsai, who had just handed me his card. He might have thought I was a foreign reporter, and I did nothing to dissuade him of that notion. He shook his head.

“We want to include all kinds of subjects, it’s a healthy discussion,” he told me. He’d started the conversation in Taiwanese, but switched to Mandarin not long afterwards. Afterward, I walked around, taking photos, chatting with students.

It was all rather familiar. Twenty-four years before, almost to the day, I’d attended another student protest in Taipei. I was a student at Tunghai University in Taichung at the time, and I had traveled up to the capital with some of my fellow students, all Taiwanese, for the Wild Lily Protest of 1990. It was just a few months after Tiananmen, and the crumbling remains of our school’s version of the Goddess of Democracy still adorned our campus. The square in front of CKS Hall, between the opera house and the music hall, had been filled with two distinct protests: In front of the music hall was the protest of the fledgling DPP, while the students occupied the area in front of the opera hall. I stayed there for days, sleeping on the rough stones and eating wax apples donated by local farmers, taking photos with my Pentax K1000 and listening to speeches haranguing then-premier Hau Bei-tsun and the National Assembly and calling for direct elections.  It was a great opportunity to better understand Taiwan’s political situation as well as its people and its spirit.

Some of the leaders from the Wild Lily Protest went on to become major government players, such as Lin Chia-lung, Duan Yi-kang and others, and it was entirely possible that some of the students leaders from the Legislature Occupation could do so as well in the future; they were quite well organized, and, though festooned with slogans and littered with sleeping figures, the Legislature had seen more violence from actual legislators than from the students this time around. These students had never lived under martial law; most of them were born after I arrived in Taiwan a quarter century ago. Perhaps every generation needs something like this, I thought, but as the first generation to never have experienced martial law, and with the end of military conscription approaching, serious changes in Taiwanese society are inevitable.

The crowds of protesters swelled even further that night, overflowing the surrounding streets. I heard stories of threatening motorcyclists brandishing weapons and curses, but I didn’t see this myself.

The weather the next day was wet and cold, no doubt making things more comfortable inside the chambers, where they were relying on the sporadic use of electric fans to cool themselves, but the number of protesters dropped. The police didn’t fail to notice this, adjusting their numbers appropriately. Students handed bags of garbage out the second-story windows to police on the first floor, who handed it to other students to dispose of. The entire scene was orderly, if not exactly neat.

When I approached the ladder the next day, I wasn’t invited up. The guards had a list of people they would let in, and a long line of young people wanting to enter snaked through the courtyard. I had no journalist accreditation, but I did have a small book of my photography, so I handed it to the woman guarding the ladder, saying, “I’m a photographer, and I’d like to get some shots to record what’s going on inside.” She thumbed through the book, called over another student on the roof, who looked through as well. They then let me climb up.

The piles of furniture in the stairwells had grown, and I hoped no emergencies such as a fire or earthquake would necessitate a quick exit. The authorities had been exceedingly lenient, not only in not attacking the students, but even keeping the water and electricity on, if not the air conditioning. Someone at a very high level had instructed this to happen, I felt. Of course this person was the president of the Legislature, Wang Jin-pyng. Wang had a political score to settle with President Ma, and the student-occupied Legislature was just the ticket, it seemed.

“You can go down to the chambers, but unless there’s a legislator around to protect you, the police might attack you and stop you coming back up,” one of the students told me. He had been there since the beginning, and confirmed that they’d planned this all along, though some people had claimed that the students had never thought they’d get this far. “Who knows what will happen tonight? Tomorrow’s the deadline for the vote. The police will have to come at some point to clear us out so the lawmakers can vote.”

“If they come here at all. They might convene elsewhere and get it over with before anyone realizes it,” I said. They knew this. They also knew of Wang’s political scores and that they had his protection.

“Do you think President Ma will show up?” I asked. It was one of their demands, but the students laughed and shook their heads.

“There’s no way he’ll come.”

The second-floor balcony was now crowded with cameras, and many more reporters were roaming the floor of the chambers, which was festooned with even more slogans and caricatures of various politicians on the dais. The main figure in these was President Ma.

There was a commotion near one of the staircases. When I walked over, several students were handing the giant portraits of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek down from the pile to people downstairs. Apparently someone had asked them to do so, as the portraits are quite valuable, and they didn’t want them damaged. “Go find some tables or something to support the barrier,” one of the students ordered. Other students obeyed promptly; the chain of command seemed clear to everyone.

I ventured over the barrier just as a Western freelancer appeared, climbing through the window. I made my way downstairs though the texting policemen. Legislator Hsu was still on the floor, talking with people. More reports, more older people and activists had arrived since the day before. Speeches continued on the floor, calls for resistance. The more impassioned the speech, the better the response, but the speakers’ voices were growing hoarse.

I talked with some more students, who seemed impressed that I’d joined the Wild Lily Protest, which to them must have seemed like ancient history. They asked me about our relations with the police, with the then-fledgling DPP, etc.

“I don’t support the ROC at all,” one older man, obviously not a student, told me proudly in the chamber, later on. “I refuse to pay any taxes at all! I don’t pay my utilities either!”

When I left this time, I didn’t climb back up and out through the window, but instead surreptitiously joined a group of important-looking people who were passing through the hallway, and I managed to get out without any trouble. Not that the police looked like they would have given me any. Indeed, I wondered if the students were being lulled into a false sense of security by the constant presence of the lounging, texting officers.

March 21 was the deadline the students had set for the president and/or the Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng to show up and apologize. That day, Ma and Wang were supposed to get together to discuss how to deal with the issue, and I doubt meeting with the students was even on the agenda. However, Wang, whom Ma had tried to have thrown out of the party just months before, snubbed Ma’s calls. It must have felt good, I thought, to say, “Who’s that on the phone? Oh, the president? Tell him I’m five feet from the phone and can’t be bothered to talk to him.”

As if in response, barbed-wire barriers were being set up around the Presidential Office; there were rumors that the students would try to besiege it if their demands weren’t met. Policemen manned most corners. The weather was still cool, but at least it wasn’t raining. I could hear the shouting and speeches coming all the way from the Legislature, but when I approached this time, the scene was vastly different. Hundreds of grizzled old people, all wearing the same green vests, green headbands and holding travel bags and green folding chairs, had appeared, along with DPP stands and trucks, spreading from their original spot on Zhongshan North Road in towards the Legislature on both sides. The students had closed off the Legislature as so many DPP people wanted in, and were only letting medical people and accredited reporters inside. I also saw a lot more white Western men around than I had the past couple of days.

I considered trying to get inside again, but the change of the scene outside seemed more interesting, and there were already many capable photojournalists inside, including my friend and former co-worker Dave Smith. Outside, I could see people spray-painting Max Igan’s slogan: “When Tyranny Becomes Law, Rebellion Becomes Duty” in Chinese on the white tiles of the building. People were handing out sunflowers, which were coming to be known as the symbol of the Legislative occupation. “What is the deal with all of these sunflowers?” Dave texted me that afternoon. Phone reception was horrible due to the sheer amount of people in the area, all using their phones to communicate.

I skirted the Legislature, going around the west side and to the south as I took some photos of various protest activities. All of the various protests were now dominated by older DPP people, and none other than Su Zhen-chang was haranguing the crowd from a large truck on Jinan Road, warning them in his usual harsh tones how the KMT would beat them and play nasty tricks, and, incredibly, actually stumping for DPP candidates in the next election. I’d heard the speech before. The DPP’s rhetoric and that of the students seemed to diverge with respect to their different audiences: One older, having experienced the White Terror and martial law, less educated and not as enthusiastic these days, hoping to gain revenge for the serious wrongs done to them over the course of decades; and one younger, energetic, well educated and full of hopes to improving things for themselves and the nation in the future. From the start I feared that the students’ message would be overtaken by that of the DPP, but as is often said, the students are the future.

That night, sure enough, the student portion of the protest surged ahead as the older DPP supporters tired and got back on their buses home. I did as well, and spent a day away from the protests, though I kept the uStream feed on at home so I could keep up with what was going on. Premier Jiang Yi-hua met with the students at the Legislature, but he didn’t make much progress as Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting, the two leaders of the protest, played good cop/bad cop during the talks. More students were calling for the complete scrapping of the trade deal rather than simply insisting on due process, as they had before.

The next day I returned to the Legislature. The president had given a press conference in support of the trade deal, and basically brushed off the student’s demands. This came as a surprise to precisely no one. I kept wondering where Wang Jin-pyng was and what he was planning. Was he waiting for just the right moment, when everything looks bad, when he could appear and “save the day”?

Far fewer protesters surrounded the front courtyard on Zhongshan, where old men were leading the crowd in stretching exercises while the police looked on, smiling. The individual protests on Jinan Road were also far less populated than they had been. The speakers were telling the crowd, “They call us violent! Well, if they’re calling us that, then that’s what we should be!” The crowd seemed confused at the message, which didn’t make any sense to me. I wondered if the student leaders would have approved of that message, which I’d been hearing more and more over the last couple of days. A faction of the students outside the Legislature was increasingly unhappy with the lack of what they called “action” on the part of the occupiers.

At the Legislature itself, the nature of the crowd had changed as well. Many Western faces were apparent, including that of Lynn Miles, who famously burned his U.S. passport in front of AIT years back. Some of the foreigners were even wearing headbands and looking around quite seriously. Again, the speeches in the courtyard were more excited and filled with passion. There weren’t quite as many people sitting in the street as before, and I wondered where people had gone. The tone of the protest had changed, there was a strange vibe running through the atmosphere.

That evening, a group, led not by Lin or Chen, but instead by Wei Yang, who was one of the students dissatisfied with the occupiers’ lack of action, had gone over to the Executive Yuan, calling on people to join them in storming it. These protesters had taken it on themselves, and hadn’t even let the Legislature students in on their plan. I supposed it was natural; as the movement became more popular, more outside parties would want in on the action; I wouldn’t have been surprised if the student leaders were under a great deal of pressure to escalate matters. The Legislature was Wang Jin-pyng’s domain, but the Executive Yuan was another matter; Premier Jiang was solidly against the protesters, and his hard-core response to that could have influenced the response to the entire student movement. I even heard speculation that the Executive Yuan break-in might have been orchestrated for this very purpose.

Riot police were called in during the night, and they cleared out the protesters, who had cut phone lines and computer lines throughout the Executive Yuan’s offices and even stolen items from the offices, I was told by people who work there.  The press made a huge deal about the students eating the premier’s snacks, which became a national joke when a government official pointed to a picture of a sunflower and called it a bunch of bananas.

The riot police at the Executive Yuan, however, were no joke; tempers were running high on both sides, and they used brute force and water cannons. Many people were hurt in the process. It made me wonder if the students had thought the police standing by at the Legislature weren’t doing so because they’d been order to but out of the goodness of their hearts. If so, they’d certainly been disabused of that idea; the police do as they’re ordered, and while Wang Jin-pyng and Mayor Hau Lung-bin were on their side, they were relatively safe, as, luckily for the students, both had grudges against President Ma.

It wasn’t surprising that emotions ran high in light of the groups who had arrived later on the scene of the Legislature occupation and weren’t happy with the peaceful, organized nature of it all. In fact, people I knew were posting calls to action on Facebook, telling the students to embrace violence. For some reason, many of these people were foreigners and overseas Taiwanese, while my local Facebook friends were decidedly less strident.

There was certainly a larger foreign presence at the protests each day. When I went over on Monday night, a foreign man even handed me an advertisement for his tea house, telling me I could “learn about Chinese culture.” I later learned it was part of an elaborate scam.

Speakers on Jinan Road were calling out in Mandarin: “Go Students!”

“Go!” yelled the students.

“Go democracy!”


“Go Ma Ying-jeou!”

Silence, then some laughter.

“It seems that Ma Ying-jeou is out of fuel,” the speaker said (“Go!” in Chinese is “jia  you” or “add fuel”). “What does that make him? It makes him the Malaysian airplane, dead in the water!” There were some cheers, but I felt this to be in poor taste.

The pro-independence protest on Zhongshan Road was now sparsely attended. Only a few older men sat under the tents listening to the Taiwanese speeches. Around the corner and down on Qingdao Road, the Student Protest was largely unchanged. Again, I opted to stay out of the chambers, though I was becoming a little curious to see how things inside were going. “Don’t listen to the lies of the media!” one speaker was saying. “Ma must step down!” They were adding this to their demands more and more.

I walked to the Executive Yuan, which was barricaded off. Police strolled around among a few reporters.  People stared from inside passing buses on Zhongxiao East Road. The incident at the Executive Yuan wasn’t entirely beneficial to the students’ image, though it certainly didn’t help that of the authorities either.

Some DPP legislators got together and “passed” a resolution to send the agreement back for review, but the gesture was largely symbolic without the ruling party legislators. For its part, the KMT did say it would agree to a line-by-line review, but it insisted on the deal going down unaltered in the end, and that the protesters wanted a law requiring all such legislation be reviewed by a separate mechanism beforehand. Some wanted the premier to step down, as well as the president.

On Tuesday, President Ma agreed to talk with Lin Fei-fan, the leader of the students at the Legislature, supposedly without conditions, but they didn’t manage to actually meet. Things calmed down after the debacle at the Executive Yuan, while people blamed each other right and left. The student leaders kept an eagle eye on the news and responded quickly to all of the developments, positive and negative.

There were fewer people at the protest site on Wednesday afternoon. I walked across to the still-sparsely attended TI protest, and only then realized that they were located just across the street from the Children’s Hospital. I hoped that the constant speeches and music pouring out of the loudspeakers hadn’t affected the kids there.

There were plenty of children at the protests as well, many being looked after by their grandparents while their parents worked during the day. “His daddy will be here tonight after work,” one grandfather, sporting a yellow protest headband just like the one on his grandson’s head, told me. “Here, give uncle a kiss!” The little boy, too young to talk or have any comprehension of what was going on there, kissed me on the cheek. He then made a fist in the style of the TI protesters.

The Legislature courtyard was easily accessed now, much more easily than it had been since I’d started going there a week before, on the first full day of the occupation. Access was still controlled, and protesters were singing in front of the police line, which seemed diminished and almost perfunctory. The ground was covered with cardboard protesters had sat on, and piles of blankets were stacked on the sidewalks. “These generators were made and imported from Germany!” one speaker was shouting.

That night, some of the crowd returned to the courtyard, but not in the numbers they’d had before. The speakers were calling out the same slogans and even messing them up once or twice. “Send back democracy!” occasionally replaced “Save democracy!” The protesters responded, but not as enthusiastically. It is difficult to keep people engaged for such a long time.

I wanted to ask about entering the Chambers on Thursday at lunchtime, but the student representatives that had been attending the ladder spot weren’t around, so I asked one of the plentiful Presbyterian Church people, who at least acted like they were in charge, what was up. The Presbyterians have long been allies of the DPP, so their presence was no surprise. They told me the air was going bad inside, and they were keeping numbers down. Indeed, I saw that large orange hoses had been connected to the upper-floor windows.

There was a much larger Presbyterian presence than there had been previously. Or else, someone was handing out Presbyterian vests to everyone, but in the heat it didn’t seem a particularly comfortable item to wear. I walked around the parking lot, which was much emptier again at noon, and then around to the Jinan Road protest, which was the same. I saw several photographers positioning sunflowers on the barricades for pictures. One was even adjusting one in front of a sleeping student protester. I took a shot of him doing so, and he grinned sheepishly.

The speeches in both places were becoming rather repetitive, necessarily. The Presidential Office had said repeatedly that the president was willing to meet with the students, with the media present and recording the meeting. The students I talked to now seemed less welcoming, less enthusiastic, more wary and cynical. The protest was taking its toll, but on the other hand they seemed more pragmatic and mature than they had just a week ago. Many of the students in the parking lot had never actually been inside the chamber.

It had been over a week now. The Wild Lily protest only lasted six days.

There were even fewer people in and around the protest site when I visited on Friday afternoon.  No one was making speeches on Jinan Road, and I didn’t even see many Presbyterians, though a couple of priests were still sitting on the arcade outside the Legislature. Upon seeing people wearing the “Anti-Trade Pact” T-shirts, I repressed an urge to reach inside their collars to see if they were made in China. I was certain they weren’t; that would have been too much. The TI speakers were still going on Zhongshan. What is it with trend of DPP speakers having raspy voices? I wondered. It must be all that shouting, that has to take its toll.

“It’s been quiet these past couple of days,” one of the student protest organizers told me as we sat in front of where the ladder would be if anyone came outside from the chambers. “People are bored, and we’re showing movies at night on the big screens, with the sound off, of course; people have been complaining about the noise.” I wondered if anyone was complaining about the smoke from the burning of books authored by Premier Jiang. Book burning in general is not something I agree with, but burning things is a common theme on Taiwan’s streets, with the burning of everything from oil for two-stroke scooter engines to metallic-edged paper to appease ghosts twice a month.

I asked about the increasing appearance of foreigners at the protest. “Yes, some of them wanted to get inside, but when we told them it wasn’t possible until people came out, they got angry and cursed at us. We felt awful because we couldn’t communicate well enough in English. One of them called us pieces of shit for not letting him in right away.”  She pointed at a fragile-looking trellis on the adjourning building. “Some people were trying to climb up that, but it’s really dangerous; those pieces are hollow, so we covered it up.”

She said that they’d also caught some plainclothes policemen trying to get in. “We opened up one guy’s bag, and he had wiretapping equipment and badges and everything. We asked if he was a policeman, and he just nodded, embarrassed.” It made me wonder if those obvious plainclothes police could be decoys for the ones who weren’t so obvious, and she nodded. “Yeah, it could be. But we just do what we can.”

Concerning the growing mountains of supplies on the streets, she said, “People keep sending food and stuff. We have a washing machine and a fridge inside people gave us. We have too many lunchboxes to eat, and so we hand them out to the police and street people. Sometimes the street people turn around and sell them, which we don’t approve of, of course.”

“Are you going to the protest in front of the Presidential Office on Sunday?” I asked, but nobody there could afford to leave the Legislature unmanned.

“It’s the weekend, so people should be free,” she said. Unlike the Executive Yuan action, which took them by surprise, this one is being planned, with permits applied for. She was unclear on what would happen if the permits weren’t approved in time. The section of Katagelan Avenue in front of the Presidential Office was barricaded.

When I went back in the evening, I noticed that the ROC flags at the top, which had been turned upside-down by the students, were now gone. “We aren’t, strictly speaking, in control of the top floor,” one student told me when I climbed through the second-story window.

A young man was playing a guitar on the stairs, and some students were gathered around a table in the 2nd-floor room watching the news on TV. The bust of Sun Yat-sen had been taken from the pile of furniture blocking the staircase and placed on the coatroom counter next to a water dispenser because, as one students said, “He was freaking people out.”  I managed to check one of the Anti-trade pact T-shirts to see where it was made: Bangladesh. As we spoke some of the students were rearranging the pile of furniture blocking the stairs so that it would be easier to get from one side to the other without compromising its defensive nature. I crawled under and walked to the other room, where students were accessing their computers, playing music, and smoking.

Downstairs in the chambers, a few foreign reporters were taking photos. Some notes supporting the protesters had been pasted in an orderly fashion on the wall, from students outside. Some were from Hong Kong.

When I asked about what would happen if the government didn’t give in to their demands, the students said they’d just stay. The place was beginning to feel a bit like a frat house, and some, including Chen Wei-ting, even talked about staying until the new year. I found that unlikely, and wondered if Wang Jin-pyng was venting against the president, but once he felt it would serve his purposes, he could very well order their removal, and the police would do their jobs. A “protest against the protest” was going to take place the next day, supposedly led by the families of the police involved. I would have found that pretty embarrassing if I were a cop, personally, but something told me the counter-protest was being supported by other groups, political groups. The students found the concept ludicrous.

The students made statements that Sunday’s massive protest could be avoided if the president made “good-will gestures,” but by late Saturday night, they said the protest would go on.

When I arrived on the morning of the protest, half of 2/28 Park, where I usually practice tai-chi, was cordoned off, as well as the MRT entrance. I had to go around, and met my group by the Chinese pagodas. As we practiced, the crowd kept growing, many people wearing black shirts in protest, as well as headbands, many with the Taiwan Solidarity Union logo.

After lunch nearby, I went back to the park, where police were cordoning off a bit more; I managed to get a photo of the 2/28 Memorial with police tape and barbed wire surrounding it before the circle from which I was photographing became part of the closed area.

As I was photographing I met J. Michael Cole again; I’d been meeting him here and there as he provided extensive coverage of the whole student movement; he was trying to find a way to get close to the center of the protests, but because the crowds were so dense, he couldn’t and was looking for another way. I ventured out towards Zhongshan South Road, but the crowds were enormous, so I went back through the park to Chongqing South Road. The buildings were throwing some nice light onto a corner where people were busy having their photos taken standing next to the police guarding the barricades. After some time there, I walked down Hengyang Road to Taoyuan Street and down a couple of blocks, where I finagled my way through the barricade and walked through the restricted zone alongside the Presidential Office. Unlike the raucous protest, it was eerily silent, like a Twilight Zone episode with the last man on earth, except for the occasional military policeman, and one guy sweeping the street. I could barely hear the speeches and shouts of the protest in the background.

In front of the Presidential Office were more policemen. Vans, water cannons and piles of equipment bags lay around the road and parks in front. I went through another barricade, over around the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which sat protected behind barbed wire, and rejoined the protests on Chongqing South Road, which was swamped with protesters. Estimates ranged from a little over 100,000 to 500,000, with the most objective sources claiming about 350,000. In any case, it was a record-breaking turnout.

I crossed over to CKS Hall, where a panda statue exhibit was being held, wondering if there might be any kind of conflict between the two groups, but they blended seamlessly together, with several headband-wearing protesters taking in the view of hundreds of panda statues inside, and even posing for photos with them. I stood in the spot where I’d sat for several days during the Wild Lily Protests almost a quarter of a century before, and wondered what I would have thought of the situation had I suddenly been transported through time to 2014.

One of my blue-leaning tai-chi brothers predicted that the Legislature occupation would be best served to end that day, if the government gave up enough that the students felt they could leave without losing face. But the next day, the student leaders, emboldened by the huge success of the previous day’s rally, said they would continue the occupation until their demands were met.

There were usually fewer people around the protests in the afternoons, but there seemed even fewer than usual when I approached the Legislature on Monday after the protest. Oddly, I was able to walk in the front door, past the police, with the students’ invitation. Inside, the length of the occupation was beginning to show, despite the occupiers’ valiant efforts. Tape outlines of people who had been shoved to the floor during the original action had been placed on the carpet, including the outline of two feet behind the podium to represent the occupation itself. A woman from a group called “One Story” approached me, asking if I was a reporter and wanting to interview me, having seen me around there nearly every day. I said I wasn’t a reporter, merely an independent photographer.

As usual, I circled the chamber, taking in details like the boxes of drinks, rows of sleeping bags, piles of rope under the desks amid broken chair legs, a girl’s feet sticking out from the top of one of the piles of furniture blocking the doors, make-shift clotheslines between the legislators’ desks, swimming goggles in case the police gassed the chamber, etc. I talked with a fellow from Malaysia who had also given up his original citizenship to become Taiwanese. A biochemistry major, he was interested in journalism and people’s stories as well. His original position at the protest was “Door #6 Guard,” but now he was part of the story project as well.

While I was there, a disabled man was helped back into his wheelchair from his position sitting on the floor and interviewed while encircled with the cameras and microphones of the media. I got a nasty look when my camera’s shutter went off too close to one of the microphones, so I withdrew. Nearby, a group of black-clad student protesters held a huddled discussion about tactics in case of a sudden police invasion.

I hoped the students had an exit plan. I asked some of them about the dangers of smoking inside the building, but they said they didn’t have a tight grip on the action of the students upstairs, who were semi-autonomous. Another worry was the fact that well-known underworld figure Chang An-le, aka the “White Wolf”, had called on “the people” to take back the Legislature and threatened to “occupy” the home of Lin Fei-fan. Lin seemed to have always played second fiddle to Chen Wei-ting, the other student leader, but Lin, who was doing his post-graduate degree at the ripe old age of 26, was coming into his own at this action with his more reasonable tone.

There were again fewer students that evening, it seemed. When I asked about potential gangster activity, one of the students in charge of security said, “We’re not afraid; we have a ‘Big Dog’ who will protect us!” I had no idea who she was talking about. The students there were watching a Japanese movie on big screens with the sound on this time. Monks wrapped in ROC flags had taken over the space in front of the portico where all the media cameras had been set up, and asking passers-by to take their pictures with the flags. The next day was April 1st, the day certain parties had designated to “re-take” the Legislature, and as I left I wondered how much longer the students would be able to hold out.

When I walked over the next afternoon, police lines had been set up around the Legislature, across Qingdao, Jinan and Zhenjiang Roads. The entrance to the courtyard of the Legislature was lined with police, some in riot gear. They seemed to be leaving the students alone, but there was one crucial difference: They were facing not inwards towards the students, but outwards, against whomever might threaten them. It was actually quite a moving sight.

I walked north by the Sheraton to Zhongxiao East Road, where a group of pro-pact protesters had gathered. Many were waving flags, but it wasn’t a terribly large group. They were being egged on by people on top of a van. The speeches were classic haranguing in the old blue/green vein. I made my way past them, past the Executive Yuan, lined with police, to the intersection with Zhongshan Road, where some reporters were gathered. I saw my Swiss friend Daniel Ulrich there. We’d first met inside the chambers on the third day of the occupation, and he’d been covering the protest ever since. We were watching a man wave a large flag on the corner when a dozen reporters suddenly came pelting past us towards Zhongshan; a black SUV had just come to a stop. It was quickly surrounded by reporters and cameras as none other than Chang An-le, aka the White Wolf himself, got out. “I got the license number!” one reporter crowed out to his colleagues. The group moved slowly towards Chang’s followers on Zhongxiao, while the drone hovered above. Daniel managed to squeeze into the huddle to get a shot of Chang, but I stayed away, more amused by the antics of the reporters than anything.

The police (and, I assumed, “Big Dog”) did an admirable job of keeping the two groups of protesters apart, basically all afternoon while Chang lashed the crowd with withering criticism of the students dripping with condescension. The crowd on the students’ side held signs reading, “Gangsters go home!” Eventually, they did. But nobody knew when, if, or how they could return.

The next day, I listened to the TI protest’s broadcasted songs that they were playing every day as I crossed Zhongshan South Road. Basic lyrics in Taiwanese, reading “China is China, Taiwan is Taiwan, each side one country…” etc. The tune was modeled after old KMT military music, as if that would lend it an air of legitimacy.

At the Legislature, I saw some familiar faces, badminton friends who were sitting in the parking lot. We chatted for a bit, and then I went over to talk to the students at the main desk again. “We’ve been here too long,” one of them told me glumly. “And we haven’t really done anything.”

“Haven’t done anything?” I said, surprised. “Everyone knows about the trade pact because of you, half a million people marched in support of your goals, and you even forced the White Wolf to show his hand and become a national laughingstock. That’s not nothing,” I said. I asked if they were considering their exit plan, and he nodded without revealing details. We also talked about how the students were helping the nation get past the traditional blue/green divide, which in my opinion was the most valuable thing the student could hope to accomplish, more important than individual issues such as the trade pact itself. It was possible that a party founded in the spirit of the Sunflower protests could become more popular than either the KMT or the DPP.

As I walked around to the Jinan Road protest site, it occurred to me that the protest had become a kind of small city, with more and more tents set up due to sudden showers. One group of tents was the kitchen, some others were clinics, or massage parlors, recycling, or childcare. It was all remarkably well run, and regardless of what anyone thought of the students’ goals or motivations, there was no denying that they were well organized. The atmosphere was optimistic and forward-looking, in contrast to that of the White Wolf’s supporters, who radiated fear and aggression.

When I went back that evening, I noticed that the TI protest site was nearly deserted. Only a few people sat idly on some of the green stools, as the mock anthems played softly from the speakers. The rows of policemen at the door to the compound remained.

On Jinan Road, the students were holding group meetings on various subjects, in and out of tents. It seemed that, while most of the older DPP supporters had left, some of them had mixed in with the students, possibly recognizing that their brand of political protest was the tune of the day.

At the student protest in the parking lot, a couple of women were complaining about the Chen Shui-bian documentary playing on the large screens. Nearby, a young foreign man was talking with a couple of the students in English.  “What do you call these?” he asked, holding up his card. “Business cards, right? I am so glad to hear you call them that, I hear people get it wrong all the time here! ‘Cause business isn’t necessarily really business, you know?” He had been in Taiwan for five years, he said, and though he said he was “really into” the students’ cause, he didn’t seem entirely clear what the cause was. I stood a bit apart, wondering why he wasn’t even trying to speak Chinese to them. I hadn’t spoken a word of English at the Wild Lily Protest, and at that point I’d only been in Taiwan less than a year. When he saw me, he asked, “Are you a photographer? Or do you just like to take pictures?”

“I just like to take pictures,” I said. He turned back to trying to talk to the students at the desk. He was there again when I came around again the next day, but nobody was talking to him; he sat on the pavement listening to music on his mobile phone. There were only three students left at the tent by the ladder, but there were still crowds outside on Qingdao Road.

I’d heard reports of suspicious increases in police presence, but I hadn’t seen any myself until I turned the corner onto Jinan Road, where sleeping cops with riot gear bags lined the side of the 7-Eleven. Further on, a line of policemen stood protecting a lane leading out of one of the buildings, and men were dismantling a few tents that had been set up in the front yard of an expensive-looking apartment building. I wondered if students had tried to take over the area and been refused by the building’s residents, or if the police had orders against further spreading of the protest “city”.  Just past the line of police was a man directing traffic and pedestrians away from the cops, and beyond him, by a pedestrian countdown light that hadn’t been heeded in weeks, a mother was bidding her husband good-bye as he left their tent, upon which she took her children inside. It was all quite domestic, as well as surreal against the background of policemen with riot shields.

When I walked through Jinan Road that night, the police were gone, and I didn’t see the foreign guy at the desk. I then learned that some of the protesters from the Zhongshan South Road protest had laid down on the street in front of cars carrying legislators trying to gain access to the complex to meet and discuss the trade pact. The TV showed a shouting middle-aged woman sitting in the street as policemen tried to pull her up. I saw her later in the chamber; she didn’t seem much happier there.

“That should have been us,” one of the student protesters told me when we were talking about the action in front of the Legislature later. “Why should it be them doing things like that, while we sit here doing nothing?” He shook his head. The action had somewhat galvanized the pro-TI group, and when I walked by a speech was actually being made in Mandarin to the people who had shown up, something I’d never heard from them before. The rhetoric, however, was much the same.

A young man was speaking to a group on Qingdao Road about his experience with gum disease: “I treated it myself, I was careful with what I ate, and I brushed,” he was saying. It was a speech about self-reliance. The students were on guard against the White Wolf or his “children” making disturbances. I met my friend Tobie Openshaw in the courtyard, and later on I also met a Portuguese documentarian, Jose Fernandez, who was an artist in residence at the Taipei Artist Village just down the road. He had a small video camera and was making a project on the protest.

Up the ladders again, another climb through the window. I knew that I’d be busy during the Tomb-sweeping holiday, so I wanted to get another look inside beforehand. The second-floor quarters were finally becoming quite messy, and stinky as well. The people coming in were searched more thoroughly this time, and the students were shorter with everyone than they’d been before. The sign under the portrait of Sun Yat-sen read 418 hours. Would they have a celebration at 500 hours? I asked one of the protesters, who mentioned that Chen Wei-ting was planning to stay at least until elections in the fall.

I chatted with an older man who had also been at the Wild Lily Protest. He seemed confident that just sticking around was a good plan. All the government had to do was give them something, or the students could name something the government could do, and it could end peacefully, having made its impact, before they lost public approval. Many in the chamber didn’t know about that afternoon’s incident, which I found odd as most of them were staring intently at their mobile devices.

Rumors spread on Friday night that the police would attempt to remove the students, but the police denied it, and nothing happened.

I was in Hsinchu during the three-day tomb-sweeping holiday, but I heard on the news that Wang Jin-pyng had finally decided that it was his time to shine. He entered the Legislature to great applause and promised the students that the review they were demanding would happen before the service pact was decided. The KMT responded with a resounding “Wait, what?” Discussions were ongoing on whether and when to implement the review. On Monday morning, the students took pictures of themselves displaying the victory sign in front of the placard declaring that they had been there for 500 hours.

On Monday evening, the student leaders announced that they would officially end their protest at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April the 10th. Though some students seemed relieved, it didn’t sit entirely well with some other students I talked to. “We should stay longer, ideally,” one told me. “The media is playing it like we’re defeated or something. Even Chen Wei-ting’s speech was lame. He should have made more demands, showed more spirit.” They knew that there was much more to do, but there was an edge of bitterness in their voices. Many of them were staying to help put things back as they were as much as possible. I wondered if the more computer-savvy students would infiltrate any of the Legislature’s systems, but surely they would check for that kind of thing. Another concern was just exactly how the government would go after the students once the action was over and public attention moved elsewhere.

A line of policemen stood again in front of the luxury apartment building on Jinan Road, one of them texting on his phone behind his riot shield. A couple of students were making a prepared speech to them.  The stage had been taken over by a group of singing Presbyterians, insisting that it was “ok if you’re not a Christian, we love you anyway.”

The TI speakers had returned to using Taiwanese, but the protest was as under populated as it had been before their action blocking the legislators. On Qingdao Road, a small girl was singing a song called “Sunflower” to the crowd as her mother held an umbrella over her head in the rain, while her father played backup music. Her voice was mesmerizing, and even the police manning the barricades smiled upon hearing it. Behind the stage, water was being passed into the Chamber, but some of the long-term occupants were already leaving. There was a sense of ending, and I wondered if many people would miss the festive, hopeful atmosphere, the groups, the discussions, the interaction. I met the man from the Wild Lily protest I talked to on Thursday on his way out, heading down Qingdao Road in the opposite direction, towards the train station. “I’ve been here 21 days,” he said, shaking his head. “That’s enough, especially for someone my age. I’m going home.” Outside in the parking lot, some of the protesters were packing up their soggy tents into backpacks as the police looked on, as ever, from the windows. A large sunflower model had been set up where the monks had been sitting. A departing student passing the line of police stopped and bowed deeply to them before continuing on his way.

As I walked towards Zhongxiao East Road, away from the dwindling crowd, the little girl began singing, “Never Look Back,” one of my favorite songs from my youth, as protesters blew on recently inked headbands to dry the lettering.

“Lin Fei-fan has not only occupied the Legislature, he has occupied my heart!” read one sign I passed on Qingdao Road the next afternoon. “Even if he has decided to vacate the Legislature, he will never vacate my heart!” It was sunny and warm, in contrast to previous days, and out in front of the side entrance courtyard, an anti-nuclear song was playing. Some people were packing up their things, but many were still around.

Inside, I learned that some people had protested the students’ plan to leave. “Civic groups” had claimed that if the students left, they would take over the Legislature on their own. I doubted if society would have the same levels of tolerance for them. “Some of the TI people don’t want us to leave,” one of the students explained to me out under the portico. “They think that it’s unfair that they paid for all this, and now we’re just leaving.”

“Paid for what?” I asked. “The Legislature isn’t theirs to pay for, surely?” He waved his hands at the tents, scaffolding and screens.

“They paid for this stuff. They supplied permits. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

“Surely you could have, just on a different scale,” I said. I’d assumed all the stuff had been donated by various individuals. But he shook his head.

“They’re also miffed that we won’t let them into the chamber to push their TI agenda.”

The plan seemed to be to spend the next couple of days fixing the building and repairing most of the damage. The students had brought in volunteer electricians, carpenters and plumbers to try to undo all the damage. This was being paid for with donations. “They donated to our cause, and if that cause meant breaking a few doors, it also means repairing those doors as well,” the student said, philosophically. He had just returned from having a massage at the massage tent, and rubbed his shoulders, wincing. The row of police still stood on Jinan Road.

A lone student stood in a line for noodles on Qingdao Road the next afternoon when I returned. The rest of the people in line were old men; a speech in Mandarin was being given at the TI tent on Zhongshan Road. An older woman on the road was trying to hand out Taiwan Independence pamphlets, but nobody seemed interested. Pairs of policemen walked up and down the streets. I counted as many as 17 satellite TV vans parked there.

The loudspeakers were playing punk music featuring Mandarin lyrics, so I stopped by the DJ set up to ask about it. There I met a fellow who knew me from the Black Island concert the Muddy Basin Ramblers had done in Nangang a while back. He taught music with a ukulele.

At the security stand in the courtyard, one of the girls ran up saying that people were posing as students and asking for money at one of the entries on Linsen Road. “Not again!” another student replied. They went to investigate. Everything in the courtyard was neater than before, and students were busy cleaning up the interior as well. I talked with “Double”, a student was going to perform the next day, the last day of the protest, at a hip-hop party. He was into Matzka, my favorite band in Taiwan, but felt Zhang Zhen-yue was passé.

A couple of guys showed up to help with the reconstruction inside, and they were shepherded away. More older people with cameras were showing up, as well as reporter teams. “Tomorrow there will be even more,” one of the students said. I asked him if he was concerned about students being persecuted by the authorities afterwards. “We will take all the responsibility,” he said. “Some students were afraid and wanted to wear masks, but I won’t wear a mask. Anyone who wants to know who I am will find out anyway.”

“Beware of thieves!” a young man was calling along Jinan Road, where the line of police still stood. The students knew that opportunists of all stripes could have been planning their moves before the end of the occupation the next day.

Students were gathered in circles that evening, in tents and out on the surface of Jinan and Qingdao Roads. The TI base was, for a change, crowded with people, the speaker shouting, “Fuck your mother! Fuck your mother!” As I walked down Jinan Road, I thought I smelled a familiar odor that reminded me of post-gig parties.

Emotion was high, as it was the last night of the protest. The students were leaving the Legislature, ending their occupation the next day at six p.m. The scene was festive, though I noticed fewer students out guiding foot traffic and the like. An older TI guy approached the students at the desk in the courtyard, complaining that it was “a shame” that they had to leave. “You should stay and fight!” he said. “Stay until the new year! Don’t let all this…” He gestured around him grandly, “…go to waste!” The students thanked him for his opinion. A mobile phone on the desk lit up with the word “Daddy” and was promptly snatched up by one of the tougher-looking guys. “I’m ok, Dad,” he murmured into the phone, embarrassed. “I’ll be home later. We’re fine here, we’ll be fine.”

I asked if there was a plan of retreat, whether they’d communicated with the police, but nobody seemed clear, and said they were awaiting orders from on high.

Students were busy cleaning up when I arrived on the occupation’s last day. It was a bright, windy day, as if a typhoon were approaching, though it was far too early in the year for that. Out on Qingdao Road an old man was speaking. “Never underestimate the power of resistance!” he was saying. “I’ve been resisting since I was in the first grade, and I’m still here!” In the courtyard, I asked some of the students where they were going after everything wrapped up at 6 p.m.

“Going? I’m going home! To sleep!” one of them said, looking at me as if I were crazy for asking. I stepped inside the chamber for a short time to watch the cleaning, but found a far more interesting scene outside. A group of tough-looking men, many tattooed some with masks, goggles, and bandannas. They reminded me not a little of the group of paintball soldiers we’d enlisted to help us film a movie years before.

In fact, the leader of this motley gang was none other than “Big Dog,” aka the individual whom the students had said would protect them against those who wanted to hurt them over the past few weeks. When I talked to Big Dog, he revealed that he is in fact also into movie-making, and he showed me some very impressive clips featuring stunts and pyrotechnics that he and his group had worked on. He even knew Eddie, one of our local stuntmen.

But Big Dog didn’t have a lot of time to talk shop; the students had news that another group intended to occupy the Legislature when the students left, and it was no surprise that it was the pro-independence group who resented their leaving, who had paid for their tents and supported them, but whose message was being largely ignore in favor of that of the students.

Most of Big Dog’s men, one of whom I heard called “EMT”, were not students; there were, however, largely ex-military, and Big Dog himself was an ex-paratrooper. The largest was huge and covered in tattoos, with his shaved head and fireman’s boots, he presented a most intimidating appearance. “Some people easily mistake us for thugs hired by various political groups,” Big Dog told me. “But we are not affiliated with any party. We heard that people were threatening the students, so we came to do what we could.” The group had also helped out during the flag protests during the visit of a Chinese official a few years before, as they’d been upset that the police were not letting people carry flags. It turned out that the upside-down flags on top of the Legislature had been taken down by Big Dog’s people. “It was sending the wrong message,” he told me. I wondered if the flags were at that moment folded neatly in Big Dog’s living room, to be given back to the Legislature after the conclusion of the protests.

“They’re starting to come in,” someone said on one of the walkie-talkies the students used to communicate. They meant the pro-TI people, and sure enough, older men wearing headbands began to wander into the courtyard. After some strategy discussions, some of Big Dog’s men went up the ladders to the second floor, pulling the ladders up after them, and the others spread out to other points. The students on the second floor had elected to evacuate at four o’clock, two hours earlier than the ones in the chamber. Already the tubes and fans set up to blow fresh air into the chamber were being dismantled and handed down from the roof, like lines being cast off from a departing vessel.

I walked around to Jinan Road, where students were passing boxes hand-to-hand, and a crane was helping lift things as people packed up. They were going to have one last hurrah before they left, and several more TV trucks were parked there, in addition to the 15 or so on Qingdao Road, for the students would be exiting there. I didn’t know how many students were actually inside at that point, but only 20 or so of them had actually been there the entire time, the rest coming and going for various reasons.

The police lined up were now wearing vests that looked to be fairly bullet-proof, and they sweated in the hot sun. Several more police buses arrived on Zhongshan South Road. The churchyard on the corner was filled with empty sleeping bags, while the TI bastion in front was filled with protesters, in contrast to its usual emptiness.

The afternoon proceeded smoothly until an old man tried to bring in a bunch of drinks into the Legislature. Everyone was trying to clean things up at that point, so the students didn’t allow it, and the old man, who had been drinking not a little himself, got upset, spilling the drinks everywhere and trying to force his way through. Big Dog’s largest men rushed over, and one of them put the man in a headlock, whereupon he promptly fainted. I wasn’t sure if he simply didn’t know his own strength, or the man was already about to pass out.

Walking up Qingdao Road to the courtyard just before 6 p.m., I passed a dog with both the DPP flag and the ROC flag in its collar. An elderly man took exception to this, yelling in Taiwanese, “That’s just WRONG!” as he pointed to the mutt, who took no notice as various passersby took its picture.

Police were already on the roof of the Legislature where I’d clambered up so many times over the last few weeks. Occasionally they would throw down coils of wires that had connected the cameras and computers inside to the outside world, making the building even more resemble a ship casting off its moorings. Most of the tents were being dismantled, but the crowd was growing rapidly. A broadcast from Jinan Road was being projected on the screens, with various speeches. Big Dog sent some of his men to the gates on Jinan Road and other places to head off any potential trouble, as cops lined up outside under the portico. The last of the students had left the Legislature, heading out to Jinan Road, where they joined the rally already in progress. I suspected many of them simply wanted a hot shower and a nice soft bed.

The police stood behind shields, but otherwise didn’t seem geared up for rioting. Some of the students had heard of a plan by the TI people to rush in as the students left, but the police might have been clued in, as they made sure nothing of the sort could happen. On the night the students had first taken the Legislature, there were only a couple dozen police on the site, and nobody inside. Students had overwhelmed them, climbed up a car to the top of the portico, slipped inside as I had, and simply taken over. But there was little chance of that now. The students in the courtyard would stay until 8 or 9. 10:00 p.m. was when the police would clear the area entirely, they said. I was hungry, but I turned down their offers of boxed meals on principle; I hadn’t taken anything of theirs the entire time, and now was not the time to start.

I made my way through the crowds, over to Jinan Road, but as I emerged from an alley, it seemed as if the crowd was a river flowing towards the stage as the MCs told people to move up and let more people in. “Occupation is not a crime!” they chanted. I walked the other way, over to Linsen South Road, where I found one of Big Dog’s men standing guard on a corner. We chatted a bit, and he said he had little idea what the politics of the situation were, just that he felt the students needed protection.

Some time before 9 p.m., Big Dog showed up with the rest of his EMT crew. “It’s time to wrap up,” he told me. “The police have everything under control, and people are starting to go home.” He pointed to the busy sidewalks as people headed towards the subway station. I asked him where they were off to now. “We’re going to Ximending and sing Karaoke, want to come?” I said maybe next time. They left, and I walked around a bit more, somehow reluctant to leave the site, but eventually my hunger got the best of me, and I walked away from the speeches and singing to get some food.

Most of the protesters were gone by 11 p.m. The Jinan Road and Qingdao Road sites were cleaned up. Not surprisingly, the TI protesters in the courtyard in front of the Legislature on Zhongshan were a bit more truculent. They were the ones who had urged the students to stay; they’d maintained a tent there for years, if manned at all, it was seemingly by a single homeless person; they’d paid for at least some of the students’ protest infrastructure and supplied permits, and they had had to sit by and watch their cause gain little attention while the entire nation sat riveted to the students’ protests and deliberations. In the wee hours of the morning, the police said they wouldn’t force the remaining protesters out, but instead “persuade” them to leave. By 9:30, however, they resorted to physically removing the protesters from the site. Fortunately, no water cannons were employed this time, though scuffles ensued when the protesters struggled with policemen trying to carry them physically out of the compound.

A small group of protesters remained outside the main gates on Zhongshan South Road when I walked over on Friday afternoon. It was a brilliant day, as hot as if summer had arrived. I didn’t recognize any of the protesters there. One of them, a portly woman, shouted at the police lined up on stools just inside the gate. “You must return to us what is rightfully ours!” she shouted through a handheld loudspeaker. “I’m happy with my job, are you happy with yours?” The others milled listlessly around murmuring, “Down with the trade pact.” Some lay asleep on the sidewalk. There were nearly as many reporters there as protesters, and they rushed over whenever anyone said anything. The woman ran out of things to say, and the reporters put down their heavy cameras to rest out of the midday sun.

I left the gate and walked over to Qingdao Road, which was completely blocked off, then around to the parking lot where I’d spent so much of my time over the last few weeks. The police were taking no chances; the entire intersection was surrounded by barricades, manned by police lines. The protesters’ revolutionary slogans had been washed off the building’s exterior. No flags flew there, however; perhaps someone had “forgotten” to return them. Police were only letting Legislative employees through the barricades, but aside from a couple of older homeless men cursing each other softly as they lay on the street in a drunken tangle, hardly anyone else was around. It was a jarringly different scene from that of the night before.

Over on Jinan Road, traffic had resumed, and all of the flowers, placards, posters and messages had been removed from the barricades. Only the slightest of evidence scattered here and there, things such as a solar blanket, or a sunflower cutout, or a protective talisman, lay on the ground beneath the iron structures. It was hard to imagine that a small city had once thrived there.

Police were taking down barricades in other parts of the city, now that the “threat” had apparently disappeared. I was sure the student leaders were meeting elsewhere, and making plans, but the Legislative action was over, for now. I felt oddly purposeless as I walked down the empty streets, after spending all my spare time at the protests for nearly a month.

The Legislature would never be the same, not just for me, but for many people throughout Taiwan. It had gone from being another faceless government building to not only the site of a historic movement that would influence the nation’s future, but a shared experience that will influence us both as individuals and as a society. Perhaps it would be the time historians would point to and say, “This is when Taiwanese finally got past the old blue/green/local/mainlander /Minnan/Mandarin divide and starting thinking about their future in practical terms.”

On my way home I passed a student walking the other way. I spotted the top of the protest slogan, “Don’t give in,” a play on the Chinese abbreviation for the trade pact, peeking out of his jacket. He caught my glance and nodded.

One can hope.

posted by Poagao at 11:59 pm  
Dec 18 2011

Presidential debate

I was invited to attend the final presidential TV debates this afternoon up at the PTV studios in Neihu. Chenbl and I took the MRT out to Nangang and then up the Neihu line to Huzhou Station, which is now surrounded by a lot more nice new apartment buildings than I remember from the last time I was out there. It seems the MRT really does make a difference.

After a bowl of noodles at a nearby shop, we walked through the drizzle up slippery sidewalks lined with policemen to PTV and waited at a barricade while the candidates’ vehicles swept past up the hill. Some truant reporters were yelling at the policemen to let them through NOW, but the cops told them they had to wait like everyone else until the motorcades had passed. The reporters didn’t think much of this.

We walked up by the protest groups and through the layers of reporters into the studios, where we were shown to some sofas in the lobby featuring some snacks and cute little bottles of water, and waited while the other guests showed up. Each candidate could invite 25 people. These included some middle-aged women, an elderly fellow from Taichung, a portly photographer from Penghu, and the head of some government office. After about half and hour, we were led into the studio and sat down in folding chairs (Chenbl, not being an official guest, had to stay in the lobby where he could watch the debate on TV with the reporters there). I was seated right in the center of the central section, just behind King Pu-tsung and two rows behind Vice President Siew, Premier Wu and the first lady. One of the officials in the row in front of me was using a tablet computer.

I chatted with the old guy from Taichung, mostly in Taiwanese with some Mandarin thrown in here and there, until we both realized that we were the only ones in the room talking and that we really should shut up. The announcer appeared at her podium and called the three candidates on stage, to general applause. The cameraman counted us down to the brash opening music of the opening segment, and then the debate started.

After the opening statements, all of which included saying “Hello everyone” in as many dialects as possible, the candidates were called on to answer questions from various cultural and social groups. I won’t get into all the specific questions here, as that will be the topic of discussion on many other sites. President Ma was in the center, flanked by People First Party Chairman James Soong on the left and Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ying-wen on the right. While discussing the various topics, all of the candidates managed to fit in little political jibes at each other, but they didn’t really get into it, as all of their answers were limited to a minute and a half, after which their mic would be turned off and they would be left muttering to themselves while the announcer said “Next!”

We had a ten-minute break, during which I grabbed some water and chatted with Premier Wu a bit in the line for the bathroom, and then the second part of the debate began. When the candidates appeared on stage this time, it was very clear by listening to the applause just which section of the audience had been invited by which candidate. In this part, each candidate was allowed to pose a minute’s worth of questions to the other two candidates, and they’d each have two minutes to answer. Now we were really getting into it. Ma had opened with an attack on the recent Yu Chang controversy involving Tsai during her time as vice premier, and he returned to this at a couple of points, but mostly he kept pointing to his record and quoting relevant statistics. At a couple of points, when it was his turn to ask questions, he would call on Tsai to answer this or that accusation without addressing any question to Soong, who, when it came his turn to “answer”, said, “Here we go again!” to general laughter. It almost seemed as if he wasn’t taking himself very seriously as a candidate.

Tsai seemed subdued, almost distressed, something that didn’t come across in the debates I watched on TV last time. She issued a rare smile or two, but on the whole she gave the impression that she felt she’d been wronged, possibly due to all of the recent accusations, or possibly a head cold. Ma and Soong both countered her charges with numbers, and there was a lot of “Yes your administration accomplished that but it was my administration’s groundwork that let you do it” going on in all directions. Soong, when answering a question about high housing prices, said, “You do realize that Taipei is pretty much the only place this is happening, right? Man, you two you have lived in Taipei for too long!” He wasn’t a comedic foil, though; he brought both candidates to task on various subjects, and chided them for wasting efforts on what he called “senseless political bickering”. Ma, I felt, did better this time around than during the first debates, though that might have been because I was in the room instead of just watching on TV. But he stayed on message, and seemed more confident and assured than last time, though none of the candidates avoided at least a couple of verbal stumbles.

Finally, we had the closing statements, and the cameraman told us we were clear. “I thought that went pretty well,” I told King, who agreed. Ma walked over to thank us for coming, and I chatted with him for a bit before he left. Outside, the rain continued, and we walked back down the hill for some more noodles before taking the MRT back downtown, and then home.

posted by Poagao at 12:46 am  
Nov 21 2011

A fairly interesting weekend

A fairly interesting weekend. On Saturday Chenbl and I went out to Banqiao to a big campaign rally for President Ma. It was held in a stadium, the stage in the center of the field, surrounded by a sea of seats. Vendors were selling various paraphernalia around the track. It began to rain almost immediately after we arrived, but that didn’t stop droves of people flowing into the stadium. I helped out on stage by wrangling some of the people dressed in those blow-up costumes of various anthropomorphized items, such as drinks, other goods, and airplanes on stage during one of the shows. I led either a 747 or some kind of dragon around by the wing lest the person inside fall down in an embarrassing manner. At least they were protected from the rain, though I wouldn’t relish having a battery hookup in there to keep the thing inflated in that kind of weather.

President Ma and his running mate Premier Wu spent a lot of time shaking hands and talking with people before they got up to the stage, where Eric Chu and other KMT officials were filling time with speeches, permeated with a lot of “Diu-m-diu! (Right?)”

DIU!” the crowd shouted back in between mouthfuls of lunch. We took advantage of a short lull in the rain to slip away after the president’s speech, following a steady stream of people making their way through the downpour to the train station. I spent the rest of the day among hundreds of prints on my living room floor, trying to make some sense out of it before I meet with the publisher.

The sun was peeking out on Sunday morning, so I decided to go to 2/28 park for taichi practice. Most of our usual practice area was covered in water from the previous day’s rain, but I found a sufficiently large patch to practice the forms and some sword before going over to practice tuishou with some of our group, who had congregated on the pavement in front of the fountain. It was a good, refreshing practice.

After some lunch at Mos Burger, I headed over to the new Bobwundaye for Lo Sirong’s CD launch party. David and Conor played on the album, and they played several songs from the album while we munched on some delicious snacks prepared by Katrina and sipped whiskey provided by Sirong for the event. It was a beautiful afternoon outside. Most of the other Ramblers were in attendance, with the notable exception of Slim, who was indisposed, so we followed with a couple of sets of our own. Slim was notable by his absence, and I couldn’t hear the bass, so I played as well as I could by feeling the vibration in my foot on the tub. It wasn’t a bad set, but rather rough around the edges.

Afterwards David introduced me to his taichi group, which practices at Xinglong Park in Muzha on the weekends. They were very interested in the whole lineage thing, who I studied with, which always reminds me of parties at the Hamptons where people ask which family you’re from (I’m guessing, having never been to the Hamptons and all). When I mentioned Teacher X, they said, “Oh, he is the student of our master!”

“His masters are dead,” I said. Which is true, both Master Yu and Master Song died years ago. Only Little Qin, my “elder brother”, also studied with Master Yu for a short time before the latter’s passing.

They were very nice, and invited me to join them at the park some time. But one older fellow, a tall, slim man named Mr. Li, seemed eager to try me out then and there. He kept making little illustrative pushes as we talked, as if he were sounding me out, and when I put down my bass string he advanced in earnest.

Mr. Li is very good, and, both of us having more than a few drinks under our belts, things got a little, uh, animated. My response was probably ill-advised, but then again I’m not used to doing tuishou in bars. We went back and forth rapidly a few times, but Mr. Li was making annoyingly quick grabbing moves, and I ended up pulling him around me. As he stumbled, his glasses flew out of his pocket and hit the floor. I could feel everyone staring at us, and I apologized to Mr. Li as I helped him pick up his glasses, which thankfully weren’t broken.

I felt bad about it, though, and I’m sure I made a horrible impression on the group after they were so nice to me. They left (I can’t blame them), and I took a seat at the bar and had some more whiskey while chatting with David, Kat, Conor and Jay until late. Though Kat had pulled the steel door halfway down and doused the exterior lights, such is the location of the new place that groups of patrons kept pouring in every so often, all “just for one drink, we promise!” I think they’re going to do quite well.

David and I shared a cab back, a Toyota Wish with skylights, and I spent the latter half of the journey staring at the lights shining out of the windows of various expensive apartment towers living the rivers of New Taipei City.

posted by Poagao at 10:10 am  
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