Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Sensitivity of Embarassment

The Christmas markets of Metro Manila are not for the fainthearted.  The streets, usually crowded already with the high density of population, are extra packed with people doing their last-minute shopping for gifts.  Unlike elsewhere where Christmas is a matter of adopting a foreign culture into a consumerist form, Catholic Philippines are religiously tied to the celebrations.  And when it comes to Christmas, people simply let out.  A taxi driver said it the best, "the Filipinos will be impoverished after the Christmas holidays."

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Permanence of Diversity

In the past, this blog has been unequivocal about criticizing the downsides of a particular company called Rocket Internet.  It that process, it has accumulated feedback based on derision and ridicule, most of which by different employees of the company who find themselves, in one way or the other, compatible with everything  that the company seem to represent.  This blog very much continues to stand by those comments made by the previous posts, but does concede that it has lacked the positive coverage that prompted its author to remain (and come back) for quite a long time so far.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Oxymoron of Modern-Day Constitutional Monarchy

On the hotel TV's broadcast of Chinese stations, there was a program on the follies of Chinese emperors of the past.  One particular episode discussed how absolute adoration of the emperor (at least in superficial terms) made the personality of the emperor so lofty and self-righteous to the point that his altered  decision-making patterns turned a peaceful and prosperous nation into one ravaged by war in matter of years.  The professor repeatedly warned the audience of detrimental effects that creating a cult of personality can have on the direction of a polity.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

the Stubborn Resilience of Colonial Economic Arrangements

In Malaysia, there is a often a belief that the tripartite racial division of the country also has a rural-urban dimension.  While the Chinese and Indians make up (almost) a majority in the country's big cities due their traditional roles as businessmen and white collar professionals, the Malays dominate the rural regions, where they have lived and sustained themselves through agriculture for centuries.  The urban-rural nature of the division lead to large income gaps between the Malays and the non-Malays and contribute to under-representation of Malay leaders in the country's economic life.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Portrait of Elitist Existence

Tucked in a little corner of an unmarked road leading into a plain-looking residential neighborhood, a little unassuming row of shops greets guests who may or may not intentionally drove down the one-way street.  At once lost and disoriented, the visitors would be rather surprised that a classy decor in a neat little room would even exist in such a place.  "A brother of a model opened up the place," the author was told as he sat down to have a meal in a shop specializing in crepes.  Despite it being lunch hours on the weekend, the shop seemed empty, with a few quietly chatting away, generating a relaxing ambiance.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Can Tourism Box out Other Industries?

In economics, there is something called "Dutch Disease."  It is an idea that a commodity boom lead to a huge surge in inward investment and the resulting increase in demand of the local currency makes the currency so expensive that it practically kills off all other industries that depend on international markets for survival.  The death of other exporting industries than set off a chain of destruction that wreck havoc on the entire economic system, to the point that only the commodity-producers and their related industries survive as viable portions of the economy.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sanitizing the "Organic"

About a year ago, the author spoke to a newly joined foreign coworker of his on the conditions of his current residence.  "It is a very organic place," the coworker remarked with a polite smile, continuing on to mention how cheap the local neighborhoods are for renting out living quarters.  As far as the classic spectrum of safety vs cost is concerned, this coworker is probably taking one extreme end, and in the process internalizing certain risks of personal well-being.  The author, at the time, questioned the wisdom of such decision.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Economic Costs of Political Alignment

This week the world celebrated 25th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall, an undoubtedly momentous event that signaled that the Cold War, and along with it the half-century economic division of the war, was coming to a precipitous, and some say, fortuitous, end.  News media outlets around the world spent pages of prime printed real estate to discuss the implication of the event for the modern world, especially in the context of continued economic disparities across the old East-West German border.  The reports made no qualms about highlighting the long painfulness that followed initial euphoria of unification.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

When Business Ideas Become Cultural Norms

Two years ago, this blog touched upon the then-quite-new idea of the Single's Day as new haven for Chinese online consumerism.  Some two years later, this "holiday" manufactured by the Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba has not only remained strong and growing as the world's largest annual event of online sales, but has also begun to spread its idea to the non-Chinese world.  Out here in the depth of Southeast Asia, ecommerce firms such as Lazada has latched on to the idea, and now, trying to run with it in a decidedly unfamiliar environment for Single's Day adherents.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Ebola, Food Security, and Public Surveillance

Since this blog previously remarked on how mass media uses clear double standards to judge whether a certain case is more worthy of coverage than another, the public's fear of an Ebola epidemic, despite news of optimistic recoveries and winning battles, has been continuing unabated.  More and more stories of lone travelers landing in other parts of the world, bearing fevers and other, more mysterious symptoms, have only served to stoke repeated feel of crisis among the general populace.  The sheer unpredictability of where the disease may land next have kept the public concerned in ways that exaggerate the lethality of the disease.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Extremism of Identity

Walking down the streets of Indonesia, it is often difficult to tell who is Muslim and who is not.  The ethnic Chinese (mostly not Muslim) as well as the country's large Christian minority existing from days of Dutch colonialism, mingle easily in the Muslim minority, each dressed so similarly that it is simply impossible to tell their religious background.  Coming from Malaysia, this is by all means a pleasant surprise.  The differences among Malaysia's race is too often visually expressed through different ways of dress, with the Malays, women in particular, following modesty in fashion terms.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Flexibility of Morality

"Ideals are harmless, its the human aspect that makes it lethal," the main character in the WWII-themed war movie Fury (played by Brad Pitt) uttered to his subordinate as the two walked through a small German town hall, filled with corpses of Nazi loyalists who committed suicide.  The comment, especially with the gruesome background of dead bodies and massive portrait of Adolf Hitler on the wall, reflects so poignantly on the role of ideology in modern-day conflicts.  From the haphazard American invasion of Iraq to the violence-filled conquests of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the power of political principles lead to death and destruction.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Supposed "Danger" of Living in Malaysia

On a rowdy Friday, the author found himself talking to a 15-year veteran of Malaysian residence hailing from the Mother Continent (Nigeria to be exact), running a business importing, selling, and installing surveillance and security systems to local clientele.  Asked about the briskness of business, the elderly gentleman unequivocally announced that competition is heavy but market is big for a small country.  The reason, he theorized with the author, is the mentality of Malaysian people.  Specifically, the locals, he said, are convinced of their country's array of dangers, so much so that the level of trust for anyone remain low.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

the Hypocrisy of the "Foreigner Premium"

It is funny how sometimes a news item becomes a big one when it hits some sort of threshold.  A couple of recent ones comes to mind.  One was the confirmation of the first Ebola patient in Texas, and all the sudden all major international news outlet treat the event as an "escalation" of the disease as it is no longer confined to some poor African nations.  The other is a viral campaign by a Norwegian NGO that faked a wedding of a preteen to a 37-year-old.  The faked event caused an outrage in ways, as predicted by the NGO, in ways thousands of similar (and real) instances of it goes unnoticed in Africa and South Asia.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

If Only Could Tourists Have to Preserve Trust...

On Day 2 of his trip in Nepal, the author decided to take a long detour to the eastern regions of the Kathmandu Valley, hours away from the capital city itself.  In a country where public transport is minimal, the author had to reserve a long-distance taxi in the city's main square.  In his quest, he came upon a friendly driver of late 40s, who immediately gave a round-trip price with several stops (waiting time for him) in between.  Without asking for any prepayment of the fairly large sum by Nepali standards, the driver took off for the suburbs with the author in tow.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A (Huge) Slice of China in the Middle of Nepal

Having the traditional Nepali fare of daal bhat (light curry with rice) in a local restaurant in Kathmandu, the author was lucky to share a table with a couple of Nepali businessman in the widespread pashmina (fine cashmere textiles) industry.  Suddenly, one of the guys pick up his phone, and to the author's surprise, starts going off in a fluent conversation in Mandarin.  Inquired afterwards, he divulged that he is based in Shenzhen, just home for the long seven-day golden week China is celebrating for the Oct 1 holiday (for Founding of the People's Republic in 1949).

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Democracy Not for the Sake of Democracy

The front-page covers of the Philippine Star newspaper this morning was a gigantic picture of the masses of protesters occupying Central, the ground zero of Hong Kong's ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations.  The newspaper noted Filipino solidarity with Hong Kong in its pursuit for full-fledged democracy, noting shared political values and the Philippines' own struggle for democracy in the past.  The newspaper's reactions to the demonstrations, in this case, have been highly aligned with those of the major media across the world, whether televised, printed, or social.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

One Country, Two Worlds

One of the first thing a visitor to major towns in Peninsular Malaysia's East Coast would be the flags hoisted on steel poles.  The Malaysian national flag, the state flag, and...umm?  Is that a little Palestinian flag flying below the state flag?  Support for Palestinian freedom seems like part of daily lives here.  Shops and hotels seem to always have donation boxes for the Palestinian cause, and banners point out how Malaysia ought to be the second home for Palestinian refugees.  Indeed, Malaysia has pledged medical and financial support for Gaza during times of Israeli invasions, but the rhetoric in KL has never reached this magnitude.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Affordability of Intellect

It is more or less common knowledge that those who are hungry do not have capacity to think about anything other than their hunger.  Those who are poor are too focused on making their ends meet for survival reasons, with no time to divert attention elsewhere.  Thus hunger and poverty unfortunately correlate to lack of sophisticated arts, deep-level thinking, and a non-pluralistic society where the needs of everyday life overwhelm all else that the human mind is capable of achieving.  Unfortunately, in many part of Southeast Asia, as is the case for elsewhere in the world, lack of economic development maintains such harsh reality.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Male Escorts for the Chinese: the Quiet Rise of a New Tourism Game in Town

There is an identical white flyer (likely illegally) pasted on many telephone poles on the outskirts of Ipoh's New Town.  The content is written 100% in Chinese, with no Malay or English translation.  It advertises hiring of "male publicity officers" (男性公關) who, so duly pointed out, will enjoy salaries of more than 10,000 Ringgits per month ("generous tips" in exact wording), flexible working hour in an, ehm, "exciting job opportunity" (刺激的工作機會).  Given the relative absence of conspicuous nightclubs and lounge bars in this part of the city, such an exciting opportunity was definitely abnormal.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Emotions: Floating or Sinking the Ship of Rule-Based Authoritarianism?

The author, as the adventure traveler that he is, often gets the question of where his "most interesting" destination have been.  Generally, without a doubt, the answer has been North Korea, a foreboding land for most who has the yearning to go but no courage to do so.  The author's own trips to North Korea occurred both from the Chinese and the South Korean side, years before the existence of this blog, and thankfully, before the more stringent regulations governing travels to the Hermit Kingdom today.  It was a different time when curiosities of foreigners was keeping a modest state-led tourism sector growing at steady pace.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Birthday Post Part II: a Speakeasy in the Middle of Nowhere

The author, in his jeans and dress shirt, felt quite out of place walking around the dark streets of KL's old downtown.  Centuries-old heritage buildings that combine colonial and Chinese influences graced the side of empty streets, some crumbling under the weight of their (decidedly unpolished and non-maintained) history, and most hosting a couple of homeless going to sleep against the noise of a city celebrating the country's 57th Day of Independence from British colonialism.  The dark streets are occasionally punctuated by a few bright spots of light emerging from Indian eateries catering to, well, not so many clients.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Revisiting Those Birthday Resolutions from a Full Three Years Ago

On this very day a full three years ago, the author was penning a blog post in his room in San Diego, listing down some of the resolutions for the upcoming year as he prepared himself for the year ahead in London for his grad school life in the LSE.  It was a time of disappointment, after discovering the toughness of being the common white-collar worker in Japan and an English teacher in Korea.  It was a time of dismay, facing a prospect of pushing ahead in a completely different direction again as the world of business is replaced once again by the world of academia in a faraway place.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Attitude, Rather than Knowledge, Marks a Successful Educator

In the last weekend of his stay in Taiwan, the author was taken to a college campus by a friend of his.  As the friend was taking the author around her alma mater, explaining every corner of the school that made and unmade a thousand memories of her formative four years, the author noted a group of young high school students on what seems to be a summer camp being held at the school's main auditorium.  Boisterously, the kids were going about discussing among themselves, bouncing ideas off one another as they hatch ideas to bring forth in what seemed to be their end-of-the-camp presentation/talent show.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Has the Peak of Urban Car Culture been Reached?

The author's new apartment in the outskirts of Bukit Bintang is a noisy one.  With the open balcony directly facing the train tracks of Kuala Lumpur's Light Rail line, the sounds of each train passing through (at about one train every three minutes during the peak hours) are loud enough to wake a light sleeper in the middle of the night.  Along with almost intimate proximity to the constant concert venue that is Stadium Negara, it kind of explains why the place seem to be cheapest one in this pricey neighborhood.  Not that the author really cares, considering the romanticism he constantly associate with running of the trains.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Malaysia: the “Tame” Home Base of the Southeast Asia Traveler

“God, it’s absolutely too late that I came upon this piece of heaven on Earth!”  Exclaimed the slightly tipsy Indian man from India as our conversation about Malaysia got a bit more enthusiastic.  The location was outside a rather well-known liquor store on the main party drag of Bukit Bintang, and occasion was a casual gathering of the travel-minded on a rowdy Friday night, an alcoholic extension of a dinner gathering.  The camaraderie of complete strangers also felt more intimate than long-time friendships.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Oddities of the Frequent Flying Business Traveler

It's funny how some perks of a job can simultaneously be seen as a "curse" or a "blessing" depending on the situation.  When one does not have the perk and watch others get it, jealousy lead to office politics, further leading to conflicts that erupt in ways that send some people resigning from the company.  But once one gets one's hands on that supposedly highly desirable perk, one somehow finds out that the perk is, well, not so desirable, especially when the perk catches one completely mentally unprepared.  One begins to wonder why the perk was so fought over in the first place.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Welcome to Downtown KL, R-18 Edition

Bukit Bintang is the undoubted heart of KL, the capital of Malaysia.  The main drag, Jalan Bukit Bintang, is surrounded by malls of both upper and lower ends, with cafes and restaurants of all shapes and sizes flanking its colorful traffic and colors.  The author is rather happy that he will have the chance to reside in this downtown neighborhood, given that the last tenure he had in the city was confined to its outskirts, with little experience of its center aside from that of a weekend tourist.  Surely the convenience of the city center, with countless shopping options, will make life much easier this second time around.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Few Last Words on Taiwan

Sometimes, goodbye can be sudden and unexpected, emerging out of relatively stability, mixed in with new-found happiness.  With age comes longing for a certain sense of sameness, surrounded by familiar faces, familiar surroundings, and a belief that one has, at least superficially, started to belong and blossom in one particular locale.  But the threat of unchanging constancy may eat away at ambitions, gloss over discontent, and level out inadequacy.  The author is not okay with that.  And hence, his Taiwan trip is suddenly coming to an end, and six days, a new life will start in Malaysia, returning to Rocket Internet after a half-year hiatus.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Once Again Witnessing the Post-Work Sexual Needs of the Japanese Salaryman

In central Tokyo, one never knows where the most flourishing neighborhoods are.  One alleyway from a main street could lead to a quiet neighborhood of small offices and high-end apartments, but just the other alleyway over may very much be the center of all action, a line of neon lights attracting the tired white-collar workers with no work-life balance into establishments that offer everything from the cheapest fast foods to the priciest female companions.  This is especially true on a Friday night, when the obligatory drinks with the coworkers to end the tough workweek, is of course, in session.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

World Cup and the Internationalist-Aspiring "One-Month Soccer Fan"

The 2014 Brazil World Cup is now down to the last few games, but here in Taipei, the sudden soccer fever among the younger residents only seem to grow stronger by the day.  Every night when the game is on, multiple bars advertise showings and multiple social groups and official gatherings emerge to indulge in all-night binge-watching, replete with the usual face-painting of national flags and wearing of soccer jerseys.  This is all happening in a place where the national soccer team has never made it to the World Cup (nor has any chance to in the foreseeable future).

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Newfound "Fluidity" of East Asian Relations

For those paying attention to the intricacies of East Asian politics, some recent events could contain some serious game-changers.  For one, the Abe government in Tokyo has announced one of the most radical military reforms since end of World War II, effectively giving the Japanese Self-Defense Forces the ability to initiate war and place combat personnel outside home soil through "collective self-defense."  In other words, if Japanese allies (such as the US or South Korea) are attacked, the Japanese government now has the legal basis to deploy troops to directly assist in combat, anywhere on the globe.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

World War I and the End of the "Globalized World"

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Archduke Ferdinand's assassination in Sarajevo, a watershed event that is often considered the beginning of World War I.  After a century, it is perfectly justified that many have forgotten the significance of the event, especially given that modern-day Sarajevo itself has been quickly turned into a virtual American protectorate in the aftermath of the Yugoslavian Wars and ethnic genocides that followed.  But upon closer look, it can easily be argued that WWI marked the end of an era that the modern world is struggling to return to...and the repercussions are still extremely important today.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Premature Death of "Social Ecommerce"

Once upon a time not that long ago, inserting the "social aspect" to the fast-growing industry of online shopping was considered a no-brainer.  Integrate the likes of Facebook and Twitter functions to product pages on ecommerce outlets, and the words of the mouth from one's friends and families, increasingly merging into one biggest online networking presence, will as a collective provide the necessary persuasion to get potential online shoppers to click on those "check-out" buttons.  After all, just as people take friends to go with them on trips to brick-and-mortar retail outlets, they also should for their online counterparts.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The "Political Solution" of National Disunity

With the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) inching toward Baghdad, taking valuable oil assets and key cities in the process, the Obama Administration's decision, for now, to clearly rule out direct military assistance to the Iraqi government reflect a long-held sense of dismay among both American politicians and people toward the increasingly volatile situation in that part of the Middle East.  As someone who remained skeptical of the US war effort in Iraq ever since its very inception years ago, the author, perhaps among many others, now sense the coming of renewed chaos in the region through creation of new divisive actors.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

"Asian Men are less 'manly'?!" Revisited: the Emotional Concerns of Living at "Home"

In one of the earliest (and to this day one of the most read) post of this blog, the author touched upon a personal experience of racial preference among women that come off as deeply disadvantageous to Asian males.  The subject is quite resonating in the recent days here in Taipei as the town is reportedly being graced by the presence of two famed Caucasian pickup artists, who has tallied their victories in Hong Kong and are now making inroads in Taiwan.  The public nature of their exploits, so casually shared through social media and subsequently reinterpreted through mainstream media, are draw huge criticisms.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Psychology of Terror in an Inexperienced Society

It was 1am on a rainy day when the author got into a casually parked cab for a post-drinking ride home.  The cab driver seemed rather tired, prompting a question from the still energetic author to figure out the reason.  "I had like 3 rides from Xizhi to Banqiao just in half a day today."  The driver quipped, nonchalantly exposing the sense of surprise even after completing those 40km, 40min (without traffic), 20 USD (quite a sum for a single ride on a Taiwanese taxi) journeys.  "And all of them were young ladies by themselves...but during the day when the MRT is still operating."  The driver elaborated, referring to Taipei's subway system.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Revisiting June 4, 1989: Implications for Rising Individualism

Two years ago today, this blog posted on the meaning of the Tiananmen Incident for the ethnic Chinese populations living around the world, noting that the failure for resolution, reconciliation, and above all, lack of official apology, continue to be a painful patch of darkness in the minds of millions.  Certainly, this point is all the truer today on the Incident's 25th anniversary than it has ever been.  But as that two-year post has also noted, today's China is no longer the China of 1989, a much more complex place where sheer weight of economic development has wrecked havoc on the very social fabric.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Whatever Happened to Masculinity?

It is a disturbing time that people seem to live in nowdays.  The fury of one person is casually unleashed upon the innocent passerby, making them the cannon fodder for social frustration that are not only not caused by them, but not even really related to them in any way.  The bloody mess in a subway carriage in Taipei recently is followed by a drive-by shooting in the UC Santa Barbara campus in California, in both cases instigated by young man whose unique concerns with their own, rather different forms of social disgruntlement were suddenly exposed to a society unprepared to receive them in the way it did.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Overwhelming Soul-Searching and Underwhelming Social Response

It has been a few days since one of the most talked about violent crimes in Taiwan's recent history took place.  A 21-year-old student, allegedly neglected by both parents and society at large, stabbed through carriages full of innocent commuters on Taipei's subway, killing four in what people can only dub as a psychopathic assault.  Since the incident, both mass and social media here are filled with speculative reports on the background of the 21-year-old, with discussions ranging from how to detect anti-social behaviors early in a person's life to how to properly punish violent criminals of this sort.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Killing Two Birds with One Stone? Doubts on Eerie Official Silence amid Vietnam's Anti-China Protests

The on-and-off confrontation between China and her various naval neighbors over territorial disputes in the South China Sea has once again reared its ugly head.  The author previously reported being in the Philippines during previous clashes of Chinese and Filipino forces, and this time, it is Vietnam's turn to hate on the Chinese encroachment.  A Chinese building of oil rig in disputed waters led to heavy popular backlash on the Vietnamese streets, with vicious gangs targeting anyone Chinese looking for physical punishment in what can only be described as revenge attacks by vigilantes.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Why a Girl/Boyfriend's Primary Role Should NOT be Sex

"You know, after going to those kinds of places often enough, you feel that anywhere else you go, the girls are just not pretty enough, and you would not feel any sense of attraction," the young Chinese-Canadian quipped to the author outside the restaurant/bar as the usual crowded Saturday night meetup went on at its rooftop, "It's just, when you know getting girls of even better stature than what's on offer here at this event, it makes you feel like a loser just to put in so much effort for trying to hit it off with them."  The guy, apparently, is just meeting up male friends with whom he can have interesting conversations.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Searching for Those Other Expats: 台湾における日本人コミュニティーを探る

In the past weeks, the author has spent increasing amount of time interacting with the expat community here in Taipei through various meetup events of various "language exchange" and other dubious natures.  These events, unfortunately, are primarily focused on an English-speaking foreign crowd, one that is primarily Western in both origin and interest, distinctively separate both in looks and cultures from the host society that is Taiwan.  But without a doubt, this expat community, biggest as it may be, is not the only active one here in Taiwan.  The non-English-speaking ones are just as important, just not as visible.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

When Conspicuous Consumption Goes Physically Overboard

The author has seen drunk people at nightclubs in his various partying experiences in previous years, but never thought that a nightclub's entrance can come to look like entrance to the emergency department of a local hospital.  It is three o'clock in the morning, and the true casualties of the night was starting to appear at the 5th floor mega-club.  It is no longer a steady stream of excited but still conscious and stumbling happy faces streaming out...it was, instead, the fully unconscious, being brought out the establishment, literally, in wheelchairs, assisted by the club's suited, poker-faced, and potentially highly annoyed resident staff.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Detrimental Media and Natural Reflexes of Race Relations

Someone who lives in an ethnically homogeneous society (or at least one that claims itself to be) often requires a visually exaggerated definition of race in order of make sense of distant peoples they often cannot meet in real life.  Oh ok, Italians eat pasta, Japanese eat sushi, Americans eat hamburgers...thats all harmless and well if one never gets to meet an Italian, a Japanese, or an American.  Whatever it takes to help people remember different peoples and their practical differences, then, would prove somewhat valuable for, say, watching TV or going for short tourist visits in foreign countries.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Dangers of "Manufactured Tourism"

In the eastern suburbs of Taipei, a little rural township nestles amid the northern reaches of Taiwan's central mountain range.  A little railway runs through the valley, bisecting the township's component villages and bringing in tourists from all over the island and beyond into the embraces of their splendidly well-preserved architectures of the past and winding, hilly roads frequented in the township's glorious past as a top coal-mining spot.  Honestly, the villages themselves are not that old, but that feel of "living history," along with all the foods and sights reminiscent of the past draw massive crowds on a regular weekend.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Whispers of an Embattled Minority

When a friend invited the author for dinner in a Tibetan restaurant here in Taipei, the author's first thought was, well, a complete blank.  What the hell is Tibetan food?  And it is all the more embarrassing that the author has no clue, as most Chinese people are brainwashed to some degree that Tibet is an inseparable part of China, and by the same logic, Tibetan food ought to be considered an inseparable part of Chinese cuisine.  But the bigger question here is, how does a Tibetan restaurant, in a land where few Tibetans reside and few locals know about Tibet outside casual trips and political news, even survive and prosper?

Monday, April 21, 2014

How Collectivist Culture Enlarges Human Disasters and Intensifies Human Suffering

Recently, a massive cruise ship accident off the coast of Korea has become the latest human disaster, quickly overshadowing the still nowhere-to-be-found Malaysian Airlines flight 370 to become the global headline-grabber.  Global attention and sympathies proved easily to obtain in such combination of circumstances: a holiday cruise of young high schoolers enjoying the last vacation before exam studies, a country supposedly leading the world in a technological manufacturing, and a rescue procedure so inept-sounding, incompetent-looking, and punctured with a story line so full of holes that the casual observer can only be shocked.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Establishing the Social Institutions of International Brain Drain

A casual Thursday night, the author found himself having a beer at the local English-style pub with a French academic.  Coincidentally being a coworker at Academia Sinica like the author himself, the Frenchman shared some of his own opinions of what is it like working as a researcher in a strange land with a different system.  The results are by no means flattering and one thing stood out the most in his assessment: it is that a mentality of "let's temporarily be here until we can get a better opportunity abroad" that prevails among the non-tenured employees of nearly all institutes.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Manipulating The Business of Getting Strangers to Meet One Another

Being the not busy person that he is, the author has recently been increasingly using his time off after work and over weekends to show up at various meet-up events across Taipei, trying his best to make acquaintances with the rather small foreigner community here in the city as well as the well-heeled and keen, international-minded, and often enthusiastic English-learning local Taiwanese crowd.  In this process, the author has come across an interesting segment of a small-business owners.  They have no office, little revenue, but plenty of friends they can leverage on to gain revenues through scale.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Virtue of Not Being Busy

This author is not a busy man at the moment, in fact a man with very very abundant amount of leisure.  There is no getting around this fact.  It is all the more ironic considering a mere few months ago, he was working six days a week, some twelve hours a day, getting so physically and emotionally sick from the experience that he had to quit his job, leave the country, take a massive pay cut, just to recover from the fiasco.  A part of him is starting to miss the days where he had so little time for himself that savings started accumulating not particularly because he was being financially astute, but simply because there was no time to spend cash.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

the Religious Fervor of Emotional Connections with Inanimate Objects

As a solo traveler with some psychological obsessions, the author have plenty of items that have accompanied him throughout his travels.  The roads walked with these inanimate objects, whether it be shoes, backpacks, or umbrellas, become so nostalgic, that the author has began to share with them more memories than he has with, well, normal people.  In what would be perceived as unusual for most normal people out there, the author has in essence began to develop what he would sincerely term emotional bonding with these inanimate objects, out of mutual support and camaraderie of traveling.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

On the Flows of Democratization and the Ebbs of Globalization

The author, despite espousing some strong left-wing views, tend to be in agreement with some neo-liberals on the fundamental direction of humanity's future.  It will primarily be defined by two inevitable, unstoppable flows of history.  On one side is democratization, a rise of the empowered masses, bolstered by labor's increasing ability to leverage their economic roles, utilize independent sources of information, and propagate their own organized opinions to large populations via social media.  On the other is globalization, the gradual breakdown of state control over cross-border exchanges of goods, capital, and labor.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Taiwan to America: Your Attention is Needed, for Your Own Sake

Taiwan is burning.

It is a feeling felt on the streets surrounding the national legislature, occupied by students for more than a week now to oppose the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement with China. It is an emotion that is gushed over the screams, the loud shedding of tears, and harsh words of the protest spokespeople who had chosen to stand the make-shift central stages in rotation. They speak without an end, keeping the voice of the movement continuously heard, and in the process tirelessly rallying the sit-in crowd, whose members, hailing from all corners of the island, gave up their studies, jobs, and families to hold their ground.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

the Bird Chirps of Regret

The first rays of light in the morning accompanies the receding darkness of the night.  When bright colors of nature once again scar off the uniform blackness that enveloped the land, it is time to start anew, completely anew.  The clear blue sky heads into the mind through the eyes, clearing out any mental debris that tired it from the night before.  Refreshing, reinvigorating...it re-balances the senses and reassures one that what is past is the past, and what is future starts now, ready to be written on a new, blank chapter.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Democracy in Retreat: Why Are the Students so Angry?

For those people who are following Taiwanese politics at the moment, the past few days have been a bonanza.  An ambiguous announcement by the ruling Ma Ying-jeou administration that the ongoing ratification process for a second-stage free trade agreement with China will somehow bypass the normal legislative process has triggered a severe backlash from Taipei's student community.  In response to the legislature's meek non-response to executive intentions from the presidency, the students have surrounded, stormed, and occupied the legislature, starting a sit-in protest that is now entering its sixth day with no stop in sight.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

the Pseudo-Internationalization Paradox of Taiwan's de-Sinicization

A massive marketing poster for a new book was splashed across the gigantic display window of a bookstore on a busy street of Changhua City.  "No Relation to China," the book title read, "only by taking China out of its psyche can Taiwan realize its possibilities."  Great, finally someone is openly on the same page as the author when he spoke of the need for the Taiwanese to focus more on domestic politics, period.  But for some reason, placed in context in this particular geographic location, this gigantic poster started to take on an additional nuance...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

3/11 Three Years Later and Reflecting the Ephemeral Nature of Human Life

For those who survived that life-changing massive earthquake rocking much of Japan on March 11th, 2011, it is difficult to believe that the event has officially marked its third anniversary of two days ago.  For the author, the memories of coyly remaining in fetal position on the 20th floor of a near collapsed office building are emotional scars that will undoubtedly remain with him for the remainder of life.  The Armageddon-like aftermath, with continuing aftershocks, anxious people clogging roads leading out of town, and empty shelves in every store, continue to remind him daily the very fragility of human society.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Possible Conspiracy behind Malaysian Airlines Flight 370

With the news of "disappeared" Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 slapped across the headlines of major global and Asian news outlets for several days now, it seems that all the intrigues and possibilities for the flight has become the only newsworthy news as of the moment.  In contrast, the ongoing crisis in Ukraine has been pushed way down the list of priorities for coverage, so much so that the author is starting to have fantasies that the country has gone back to its usual state as a decrepit but calm "transition economy" he met in person a few years ago.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

"Being in the Economic Fringe" is Actually a Matter of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

The author began this lazy Saturday with an afternoon coffee with a Taiwan-based political risk consultant, serving American companies hoping to get established in the local market on the island.  As much as he tried his best to portray some advantages of Taiwan, especially in the technological and cost side of doing business, the key takeaway, ultimately, was how difficult it is to attract clientele for the local office here.  This was especially so when compared to other offices based in China and Southeast Asia, where clients piled in to inquire about services offered.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Hidden, Ignored Minorities of a Trumped-up "Diversity"

Deep in the forested hills of Taiwan's central mountain ranges, there is a little aboriginal village of a mere thousand people named Fuhsing.  A winding paved road pass through its main tourist strip where urbanites with cars stop over before heading further into the mountains to see lakes and waterfalls.  There on the strip is a small hole-in-the-wall serving up hearty portions of stirred-fried wild boar meat.  Its relatively dark interior and rather run-down facade compared to neighboring restaurants made it rather unpopular with the tourist crowd used to Taipei's bright lights.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Blurring the Lines of What is Legal, What is Safe...and What Really isn't Either

A sleek black Mercedes pulled itself next to the street-side bar where the author and his two friends began their night with a couple of Gin and Tonic's to wash down an anxious sense of uncertainty on what is going to happen next.  The bar owner, the gracious host for the night, motioned his three new friends into the black-leather backseats of the spacious vehicle.  Putting himself on the front passenger seat, he prompted a casual small talk with the elderly driver, who appeared professional but relaxed in his tuxedo uniform.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Increasing Absence of Fashion for the "Common Male"

One of the biggest, most luxurious, and most famous departure stores in Taipei is beyond just a building with expensive brand-name shops.  It is actually a complex of FOUR buildings, each of which 7-8 storied and all of them connected via pedestrian-only bridges on the ground level, and sky bridges on the 4th floor.  From restaurants to food courts, cosmetics to clothing lines, activity halls to nearby movie theaters, the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi seem to contain everything a shopper would ever want in order to while away a lazy weekend.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Taiwanese Domestic Politics: Is the Ideological Crowding out the Practical?

When talking about Taiwanese politics, China is the elephant in the room.  These words from Western media should not and indeed really do not face disagreement even here in Taiwan.  Certainly, for an island where 40% of exports head to China and 10% of citizens live in China, to speak of political issues in a Sino-centric fashion would not be at all excessive or exaggerating.  And looking at events of the past across the Strait and potential repercussions for the future, the fixation of local politicians and common people with China is very well justified.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Can Universalism of Religious Identity Overcome Nationalistic Biases?

At one moment the author and his friend were the only customers in a quiet hole-in-the-wall halal restaurant, and just five minutes later, to their bewilderment, the shop was getting over run by a Chinese tourist group, who took up 3/4 of the restaurant in two waves.  Even as massive, money-wielding Chinese tourists have become a common sight abroad in the past decade, this one was maybe a bit subtly different.  The venue was a Muslim restaurant, and the tourist group was composed fully of Chinese Muslims taking perhaps their first trips to Taiwan.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Attempting to Decode the Influence of Western Alcohol-Fueled Entertainment in Asia

When it comes to Westerners stereotyping Asians for the way they entertain themselves, a few truisms dominate.  Most notably, speaking of karaoke, an activity popular from the most basic "resorts" in the Philippines to out here in Taiwan, the Westerners do not mask their disdain.  Calling the drunken butchering of so many classics something "less interesting than watching paint dry on the wall," travel guides do not hesitate to place them at an inferior status compared to the glorious emergence of Western-style bars, pubs, and dance clubs in international-oriented major Asian cities.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cultural Sensitivity and Ethnic Identity: the Unintentional Politicization of Chinese New Year's

For someone who has lived outside the the Chinese-speaking world for the past however many Chinese New Year's, the author already lost a real concept of what Chinese New Year's ought to look except hearing frequent news of people who accidentally injure themselves with fireworks.  But thankfully, walking around the old town of Taipei on this warm New Year's eve, he felt that, for some reason in the back of his mind, what he saw is what Chinese New Year's should look like if it is authentic.  The crowds praying at temples and buying New Year's snacks like pumpkin seeds looks legit enough.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

How Discipline and Institutions Reinforce Each Other: a Case of Taiwan

Recent posts on this blog has been strongly focused on the role of institutions, both political and socio-economic, on the development (or lack thereof) of a national entity or a community.  But instead of just focusing on what institutions are needed, as done before, it is probably more pertinent to consider how to make those institutions "stick," i.e. their rules enforced, followed, and respected by the vast majority of leaders and people so that the institutions remain relevant and central to the operation of the society in question.  A quick examination of Taiwan for few days may give an answer, even if incomplete.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Last Assessment of Philippines: A Nation Oblivious to Incoming Economic Dangers

As the author reaches the few final hours of being in the Philippines before flying off to Taipei for his new job and life, it would be pertinent to give a last minute advice to the country that he somehow managed to call home for more than a year continuously (for those who don't know, this is the longest continued residence in one place for the author since his undergrad years at Yale).  Not to say the author haven't wrote plenty about the country already, but little of the previous writing touched on the future of the country from an economic perspective, with focus primarily on its social side.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In Dealing with Grassroots Activism, Active Response, Rather than Passivity, is the Correct Response

In recent news, the annual "slaughter" of dolphins in Japan's Wakayama Prefecture has been splashing headlines in many news outlets, drawing widespread criticism from manly Western audiences.  The author feels particularly at home discussing this topic as his summer internship at Wakayama's municipal government, where he personally encountered whale-hunters and retailers, gave him a perspective on this previously little-known facet of Japanese tradition.  And the author is a fan of whale meat, and possibly dolphin too, had he the chance to taste.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Nation Constantly Feeling Sorry for Itself is Partly Responsible for Racism against Its Diaspora

It is apt that this post falls on the day after the annual celebrations of Martin Luther King Jr's birthday in the US and around the world.  The African-American activist, decades ago, led the civic rights movement that marked the tentative (albeit trouble-filled) first steps of blacks being recognized as legal equals in America.  More importantly, he created a culture in the US that made overt or covert racism against blacks all but taboo, making it completely normal for blacks to publicly launch dignified campaigns against any scent of assaults on their racial dignity by other races.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

How Can Migrant Laborers Increase Bargaining Power for Self-Protection?

In recent news, while India has been busy perceptively becoming the rape capital of the world, Hong Kong has been taking definite steps toward the title of "maid-abuse capital."  High-profile physical violence of foreign domestic workers, one of which involving a to-level administration official at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has brought forth a small but increasing focus on the plight of the lowly, underpaid migrant workers from Third World countries, toiling away in a strange land far from home, while little legal protection from authority both in Hong Kong or their home countries.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Institutional Robustness as a Prerequisite for Democratic Maturity

The ongoing political stalemate in Thailand, entering an even grander stage of opposition protests and incumbent counter-protests to paralyze Bangkok, seems to see no end.  Fueled by continued anger over talks of inappropriate use of national funds, hidden corruption, and unjustifiable grips on political power by the so-called "Thaksin regime", the opposition seems to still have plenty of firepower left despite private murmurs among its supporters that they are pushing too far with their demands, and that their lives are increasingly being disrupted by the constant need to be on the streets.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

From What and Whom are Adventure Travelers Escaping?

The line between being alone and being lonely can become really blurred when one remains on the road at an almost semi-permanent basis.  Physically being in new, strange places constantly, a traveler become a "floater," a being without a group of long-known acquaintances that give one the reason to remain in that place for long time.  That idea of being physically alone and friendless at times, more often than not, begin to affect one's mental state toward a sense of confusion as to whether that sense of being alone is voluntary or forced, and whether willingly accepted as a side effect of traveling.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What is and Should be the Place of "Honor" in Modern Politics?

The ideas of fighting for honor, to modern human beings, seem like obsolete ideas of the past fit for history books but anachronistic in modern societies where rational considerations for individual and collective interests trump what is often perceived an overtly emotional exercise of avenging wrongdoings for vague moral purposes.  And indeed, the last Hollywood blockbuster "47 Ronin," a sci-fi-tinged retelling of a Japanese true story about a group of master-less samurai revenge-killing a rival lord for their dead master, cannot get more medieval in context.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How American Mission Abroad Propagate Its Self-Righteous Sense of Superiority

U.S. embassies all over the world tend to have a shared characteristic: they strive to look like military barracks, surrounded with heavily armed guards and barbed wires to fight off terrorist attacks at any given notice, rather than a diplomatically positive representation of America as a socially advanced and politically liberal place that its politicians seem to tirelessly promote when abroad.  Usually taking up prime real estate in highly urbanized areas, these American missions demonstrate American power, but in the most off-putting and scarily unapproachable fashion possible in everyone's eyes.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

First Post of 2014: Lamenting the Fast Passing of Times

It is not particularly surprisingly that as people get older and older, their attitude toward the coming of a new year turn from excitement and anticipation to something more akin to avoidance, nostalgia, or in extreme cases, hatred.  When one starts to become more aware of age and less aware of concrete progress in life, the passage of time, as symbolized by coming of a new year, becomes more and more a sign of meaningless aging, of another year passed without significant accomplishments or achievements, and, again, in extreme cases, another step closer to that inevitable end of human life.