Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Life after Huaguang - Mr. Lee's Clay Oven Roll Shop

"I've always been very supportive of the government until they did this to me", Mr. Lee said, as he swiftly rolls the dough, pressing it flat, folding it and then rolling it again into the shape of a rope.  

"Business is picking up gradually.  I've cultivated some new customers.  Some old customers from the neighborhood would come buy rolls from me from time to time, but this shop is out of the way, and the rest is about NT$30,000 per month.  I don't know how long I can sustain the business, but I'll do it until I can't or until I have to move again".  Mr. Lee lets out a long sigh and shook his head.  

Mr. Lee or Brother Lee (李哥), as residents of the Huaguang Community call him, was born in the community in 1958.  Brother Lee's father, or "Gong Gong (公公/Grandpa)", was a police officer from the Jiangsu Province in China.  He and his wife came to Taiwan in 1949, after the Nationalist Chinese Party (KMT) lost the civil war to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  They settled in the Huaguang Community and purchased a small, modest house, where Mr. Lee Senior sold clay oven rolls for more than three decades.  Brother Lee picked up his father's trade after Mr. Lee Senior retired.

As I approached the shop, I saw Brother Lee making his famous rolls and listening to Taiwanese songs by my favorite Taiwanese singer, Jiang Hui (江蕙).  

"Come! Eat some rolls first!"  Brother Lee puts two rolls in the small paper bag and stuffs them in my hand, "Try a sweet one and a salty one.  They are warm and crunchy!"  

Brother Lee opened his new shop two months ago, and he sells several kinds of rolls.  The rolls are all covered in sesame.  The longer shaped one has melted sugar inside.  The gooey sugar seeps out when one bites into the roll.  The round one is salty and is generously laced with green onion.  Mr. Lee also makes rolls stuffed with red bean paste, and he also makes chewy green onion flat bread where the dough bounces inside of one's mouth when one eats it.

"You know I went to Jiangsu twice, one time for sightseeing, and one time to take care of my mother when she fell ill there during a visit", Brother Lee said, "My mother never wanted to go back to China to stay, now that people are free to do so.  She said everything she has and know is here.  My father was more nostalgic.  He wanted to be back, especially when he expired.  Both of my parents passed away at an old age.  They were both in their 90s.  Fortunately, they were gone before the government tried to take our home; otherwise, they would probably be devastated and suffer like the other elderly from the community".

The Ministry of Justice sued Brother Lee and his family members whose names are attached to the Huaguang Community house for more than one million dollars.  After going to court and losing his case for illegally profiting and residing, Brother Lee was ordered to pay a part of the fine, which was NT$180,000.  The government also froze Brother Lee's family members bank account and is taking 1/3 of his nephew's salary.  

"I tried to sneak back to my home to make rolls after we were evicted, but the Civil Executioners caught me and screamed at me to leave". Brother Lee lights up a cigarette, gazing into the distance, "They were making fun of us during demolition day (April 24th), including the Borough Chief.  They were smirking and saying, 'We told you to leave earlier.  Why fight this?  After all your efforts, we are still here, tearing down you house.  Hurry up and pack your crap and stop being so pathetic.  Did you know? your houses are the easiest to tear down'".

"I don't know why the government did this to us.  We are law abiding citizens, making a honest living.  We never did anything to harm anyone else.  We pay taxes.  So, why treat us like we are some kind of beggar or criminals? You know that old lady from the soy milk breakfast place who died the day of demolition?  The government people said she died because she was already in poor health, and no one asked her to come witness the demolition anyway". 

"But, " Brother Lee finishes his cigarette and starts to make a new batch of rolls again, "We all have to start again somehow, right? Some friends told me about this new shop.  It costs a lot to rent, NT$30,000, and I make about NT$2,000 on a good day.  I also have to pay for electricity, water and material.  It'll not be easy to maintain my new shop, but I'll keep going and not give up".   

As I bid goodbye to Brother Lee, I said I would come back again and also tell my friends about his new shop.  "Yes, now you know where I am, come and eat rolls again!" Brother Lee said with a smile.  

I also wanted to buy extra rolls, but Brother Lee refused to take money from me, so we did the typical Taiwanese thing of trying to stuff the money into each other's hands while Brother Lee pushing the bag of rolls into my arm.  Brother Lee finally took money from me and thanked me for visiting him.  

I have been following the eviction and forced demolition of the Huaguang Community since February and observed more than three demolitions.  The authorities and some members of the media have painted the residents as greedy, difficult, money-hungry troublemakers who refused to move from their "illegal" households.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The residents work just as hard as everyone else to make a living.  They understand nothing is for free and don't want anything for free.  The residents settled in the community because of Taiwan's political past, and they were permitted to reside in the community until last year.  President Ma Ying-jeou and his political associates often like to say they are only acting in accordance to law (依法行政); however, the law is made for the people.  When one takes the human and humanity from the law, the law is nothing but a soulless shell.  

If you are in Taipei and are looking for a good breakfast or delicious snack, be sure to visit Brother Lee at: 南海路二段14號 at Exit 2 of Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial MRT Stop.

For further reading on the eviction and demolition of Huaguang Community, please read previous blog entries:

Monday, October 21, 2013

"National Day", Protest Day

Back from a brief vacation in Tainan.  

Here is my latest article published by University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute on the protest marathon on October 10th.  This entry contains additional photographs from the protests not included in the original publication.

"National Day", Protest Day

As President Ma Ying-jeou touted economic liberalization, cross-Strait reconciliation and “a rational civil society” in his “National Day” speech, the surrounding area near the President’s Office, where the “Double Ten National Day” ceremony was held, was neither tranquil nor celebratory.

A total of six organized protests with support and endorsement from many civic organizations inspired tens of thousands of citizens to congregate at several locations in the vicinity of the President’s Office. The heavy law enforcement presence, occasional clashes with the police, miles of bolted-to-the-ground barricades and razor wire combined with the celebratory music, synchronized dancing children and jovial announcements on the other side of the barricade to make the celebration of the 102nd anniversary of the Republic of China one of the most bizarre events one can witness. On location, it felt as if one is experiencing a parallel universe where the mechanically jubilant side was, or selected to, ignore the furious screams and battle chants of the other.

This article provides a snap shot of the civic organizations’ demonstrations on “National Day” and concludes with some analysis on the impact and implication of the protests.

The Black Island Nation Youth Front (黑色島國青年聯盟)

Black Island Nation Youth in front of the PO
Members of this overarching group are students from Taiwan’s top universities. The groupwas founded with the goal of maintaining Taiwan’s democratic quality, which includes lobbying and protesting the Service Trade Agreement with China, which the current administration is aggressively attempting to push through the Legislative Yuan. The group condemns the Ma administration’s endeavor as lacking procedural transparency and institutional checks and balances. The Black Island Nation Youth Front is endorsed by several campus groups from universities such as the National Taiwan University, National Chengchi University, National Tsing Hua University, National Cheng Kung University, to name a few.

Professor Huang Kuo-chang
The Black Island National Youth Front has been holding panels and discussion groups on university campuses on the impact of signing the Service Trade Agreement with China in the past few months with the most recent activity being a three-day workshop on the agreement. Academics such as the chairperson of the NTU Economics Department, Jang Show-ling (鄭秀玲), Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) of the National Chung Hsing University, Department of Applied Economics, Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌), Research Fellow of the Institutum Iuriprudentiae of Academia Sinica and Wu Jieh-min (吳介民), Associate Research Fellow of the Institute of Sociology of Academia Sinica, were all among the participants and lecturers at the workshop.

The group argues that the extent of the current agreement with China is nontransparent and decision making has only involved specific members of the KMT. The Legislative Yuan is to only serve as rubber stamp for such agreement. The Front also condemns Kuomintang legislators for cramming eight so-called public hearings for the members of impacted industries in three days without giving ample preparation time or even notification to the hearing participants. The “public hearings” were also closed to those who were not invited.

The student members are also highly critical of wiretapping by the government, and the administration’s use of the courts and harsh criminal charges against protesters and political dissidents.

The Black Island Nation Youth Front occupied the stage to the “National Day” ceremony late evening of October 8thand attempted to hold a two-day sit-in until October 10th. The students held banners with slogans such as “The President Destroys the Constitution, How can one Celebrate?”, “Executive, Legislative, Judicial – Ma’s Evil Three-in-One”, and “Ma, Wu, Jiang step down!”

Students came back to occupied the East Gate, after being expelled by the police, until the morning of October 10th. Another violent clash between the students and the police officers occurred in early morning of October 10th when the students and a small truck with speakers from the Safeguard Miaoli Youth Alliance attempted to move to the front of the barricade. The police forcibly towed the truck leaving many students injured. The protest in front of the barricade at Ketagalan Boulevard lasted for another five hours, and the students moved to the Legislative Yuan to join Citizen 1985’s flag rising ceremony.

The Front’s next activity will be continue to monitor the progress of the Service Trade Agreement in the Legislative Yuan and to lobby legislative members to demand the administration to renegotiate the agreement with transparency.

Citizen 1985 (公民1985)

The “October 10th, We are all Citizens (十月十日,天下為公)” flag rising ceremony from Citizen 1985 drew more than sixty thousand people to the event, making the demonstration the largest one on October 10th. Many civic organizations such as the Taiwan National Alliance (台灣國陣線), Taiwan Rural Front (台灣農村陣線), Black Island Nation Youth Front, Taiwan Society, Taiwan Friends Association (台灣之友) all endorsed and encouraged their members to attend the flag rising ceremony.

Citizen 1985 is the little known civic group founded by netizens who were quite adamant on remaining anonymous, for the alleged reason that they do not wish to take attention away from the issues at hand. The group was responsible for the rally to demand truth behind Corporal Hung Chung-chiu’s (洪仲丘) death and to reform the court martial system that has been implemented for the past 57 years. The Corporal Hung rally drew a quarter of million participants to Ketagalan Boulevard on August 3rd of this year.

Citizen 1985 held a “Citizen flag (公民旗)” rising ceremony on October 10th at 10 minutes past 10 o’clock. After the organizers raised the “Citizen” flag, they also hoisted the Kuomintang (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) flags, sowed together, half staffed, a controversial move that symbolized the two parties as equally incapable and corrupt.

Citizen 1985 called for revision of the Referendum Act (公民投票法) , the Election and

Recall Act for Public Servants (公職人員選舉罷免法) and for lowering the threshold for public subsidies of political parties and legislator-at-large. The organization also calls for renegotiation of the Service Trade Agreement with China with no backroom dealings.

The demonstration ended with the participants, again, all wearing white shirts, walking to Liberty Square and then occupying the steps to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, creating quite an impressive visual.

Other Demonstrations

There were four other smaller scaled protests in the same vicinity as the President’s Office on “National Day”. The anti-nuclear power activists and their supporters also raised the organization’s “No Nuke!” flag at the Legislative Yuan and kicked off the anti-nuclear power march around Taiwan with its first stop at the site of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao (貢寮), New Taipei City.

The National Alliance for Workers of Closed-off Factories (全國關廠工人陣線) scheduled a shoe drive at Liberty Square for the organization’s demonstration next month. The organization’s original plan to surround Sun Yat-Sen Memorial on September 29th was cancelled after the Kuomintang postponed its National Congress meeting to November 9th in Taichung. The shoe-throwing activity was inspired by National Tsing Hua University student Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), who hurled his shoe at the Miaoli County Commissioner, Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻), when Liu attempted to enter the home of Chang Shen-wen (張森文), owner of a local pharmacy whose home was forcibly demolished by the county government and was found drowned two months after demolition, to pay his respect. Demonstrators at the National Alliance for Workers of Closed-off Factories were able to throw shoes at photos of politicians, including President Ma Ying-jeou, Vice President Wu Den-yih and Premier Jiang Yi-huah.

The Citizens’ Alliance to Depose Ma (公民行動倒馬聯盟) printed its special red white and blue “National Day” placards for the organization’s protest at the Legislative Yuan. Lastly, members of the 908 Taiwan Nation (908台灣國) and the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan (公投救台灣聯盟) marched back and forth on Chung Shan South Road with 908 members carrying a coffin for President Ma Ying-jeou and an urn for Premier Jiang Yi-huah.

The demonstrations ended late afternoon before the National Day Gala.

Observation and Conclusion

In the recent demonstrations, including the many on “National Day”, if one is to evaluate the success of the protest by the sheer number of participants, then Citizen 1985 should be considered as most successful. The group attracted a quarter of a million people to attend the Corporal Hung Rally on Ketagalan Boulevard on August 3rd and sixty thousand citizens for the flag rising ceremony on October 10th. However, numbers alone should not serve as indication to the effectiveness of demonstrations. Exceedingly generalized, overarching, all-inclusive yet ambiguous demands of Citizen 1985 would make it difficult for the organization to hold all the involving government institutions and politicians accountable. It would also make it difficult for the organization to encourage and divide the task of monitoring government institutions and politicians among its members and supporters. The low participation threshold and cost enabled the organization to entice citizens to come out and join the rally; however, without follow ups, continuous monitoring and turning all the demands into political advocacy, the asks would only fall short.

As a new civic organization, there is great room for improvement if Citizen 1985 seeks to play the role as an organization of “Citizen Awakening”, to educate citizens who otherwise would not take to the streets and to hold politicians accountable for their action. For example, during the group’s three rallies, Citizen 1985 organizers repeatedly emphasized members of the group and its supporters as “high quality citizens” who are also “rational”, “reasonable”, “non-violent” and “peaceful”. This depiction of the organization’s members is all-good, but exclamation as such also implicitly depict the other civic groups and their members, who have been lobbying and advocating similar issues for much longer and more consistently, as not of “high quality” or are irrational, overly emotional, and violent. In addition, organizers of Citizen 1985 also insisted for the rally participants to march directly and quickly to Liberty Square after the ceremony in front of the Legislative Yuan and not join or participate in the activities of other organizations.

While members of Citizen 1985 might be all well intentioned, divisiveness within social movements is not conducive to generate pressure for the government to be responsive and attain policy change. This might, on contrary, play into the administration’s favor, making all social movements and civic groups easier to dismiss.

That said, small-scaled yet consistent protests with elements of unpredictability to keep law enforcement and the administration on their toes in combination with outreach and lobbying responsible politicians and political parties should be much effective.

Protests in Taiwan on issues such as Service Trade Agreement with China, land expropriation, forced eviction and demolition of people’s homes, and nuclear power will continue in the upcoming months, with the next large-scaled protest on November 9th, the day of the Kuomintang National Congress. The Ma administration has to and should address the discontent of the public soon if the president doesn’t want his approval rating to further plummet.