Saturday, 24 January 2015

Differences between Germany and Taiwan

Recently I read an interesting blog post entitled “3 reasons why Taiwanese and German people think differently” (the original post is in German). The author is  Klaus Bardenhagen, a German journalist who has been living in and reporting from Taiwan for a few years. His blog and Facebook page have become major sources of information about Taiwan for German people as well as cultural bridges between Taiwan and Germany. 

In his post Klaus Bardenhagen argues that Germany is a country of perfectionists in which everything has to be done according to a well-thought plan, with accuracy and exactness. On the contrary, he argues, Taiwanese seem to overlook even some of the most evident flaws and blunders. He demonstrates this point with the help of three pictures: the first picture shows a bus stop built right in the middle of a bicycle path; the second, too, shows a U-bike station that was built on a bicycle path; the third shows the shabby façade of a building. 

After reading that post I began to think about the topic, so I decided to write down my own point of view about the differences between Germans’ and Taiwanese’ way of thinking. I lived both in Germany and in Taiwan as a ‘foreigner’, therefore I have an ‘external’ perspective on both societies.

First of all, I’d like to say that I will have to make some generalisations. As I explained in an old post about ‘culture shock,’ when you talk about a different culture a certain amount of generalisation is necessary. If you don’t generalise, you can’t talk about a society. I am simply going to write down my own observations based on my personal experiences or things I read. Everyone can judge by themselves if what I say is consistent with their own experiences and opinions.

Second, I have to point out that I mostly lived in Berlin and Taipei. Some people will say that ‘Berlin isn’t Germany’ and ‘Taipei isn’t Taiwan’. Well, no place is Germany or Taiwan. All cities and regions are different. Munich is different from Frankfurt; Stuttgart is different from Dresden; Cologne is different from Leipzig. No city or town can ‘represent’ an entire nation. Unless one has lived in every single city and every single village for a long time, one can never have a comprehensive understanding of a country. One can only make observations concerning specific places. 

German perfectionists vs Taiwanese bunglers?

Germans enjoy the reputation of being perfectionists; precise, reliable, accurate, obsessed with details. Many German products, especially their machines and automobiles, are world-renowned for their quality. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Boy sleeps with 17-year-old girl, and Facebook proves it

Facebook has changed the way people connect with each other. We can keep in touch with friends who live far away more easily than ever before; we can share pictures, links and thoughts; we can show people that we care about them by simply ‘liking’ one of their posts. 

But Facebook has also changed the concept of privacy. When we share something, we expose ourselves to the outside world in ways that are not always predictable. For example, some time ago a friend of mine broke up with his girlfriend because he forgot to hide from her a picture he had taken with his lover. Perhaps Facebook has made lying more difficult than it used to be. 

Facebook may have an even greater impact on the life of people who have not just done something unethical, but illegal, too. This is the case of a 18-year-old Taiwanese boy surnamed Cai. 

As Apple Daily reported, in 2014 he and a 14-year-old girl made contact through a common friend and added each other on Facebook. 

Cai looked at the girl’s pictures and thought she was cute. Later the two of them dated. In August 2014 she went to his house and they slept together. 

Afterwards, however, she heard from a friend of hers that the boy had AIDS. She panicked and decided to tell her father what had happened. Since she was still a minor her father decided to sue the guy. 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Office of the President of the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan)

Located in the heart of Taipei, the Office of the President of the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan) is not only one of the centres of political power of the island-state, but also one of Taiwan’s most important historic buildings. Surrounded by some of Taipei’s major landmarks such as the Bank of Taiwan, Dongmen (East Gate), Taipei Guest House,  228 Peace Park, and the High Court, the Office of the President is one of the most characteristic symbols of Taiwan. 

Constructed during the Japanese colonial era, the Office has witnessed more than a century of momentous political, social and economic changes that have transformed the small island. Built as the headquarters of the Governor-Generals sent by Tokyo, it became the Office of the President of the ROC when Chiang Kai-shek retreated to Taiwan in 1949. Since 1996 the building is the seat of elected presidents of a new, democratic Taiwan. 


The Office of the President of the Republic of China is located on Chongqing South Road Sec. 1 Nr. 122. It was built in 1919 by the Japanese in a Western style influenced by the Italian Renaissance. In the colonial era the building was called ‘Office of the Governor’ (總督府). It has a conspicuous 60-metre-high tower (a futuristic feature by the standards of early 20th century Taiwan). Originally the building had 6 floors which were later expanded to 9. The Office of the President is the linchpin of the government district designed by the Japanese as the symbol of their power and authority. 

The only pre-Japanese construction that the colonial rulers left is Dongmen (East Gate), which was one of the 5 gates of Qing Dynasty Taipei. All the other major landmarks of the area were built by the Japanese: Taipei First Girls’ High School, High Court, 228 Peace Park, Taipei Guest House and Bank of Taiwan. 

The building’s red bricks, tower and elaborate adornment make it stand out from the surrounding edifices and give it a unique and consciously ostentatious character. The Japanese wanted to create a majestic, imposing and easily recognizable palace that embodied their colonial authority. The building is also highly symbolic. Its shape resembles the character ‘sun’ (日), which is part of the name of Japan (日本) and is also the emblem of the country, visible on the national flag. Its main facade faces East towards the rising sun.

History of the Office of the President

During the Qing Dynasty the area that is now occupied by the Office of the President was located in a sparsely populated part of Taipei Walled City. The only major buildings there were the ancestral halls of the Chen clan and of the Lin clan, and three study halls: The ‘Dengying Academy of Classical Learning’ (登嬴書院); the Xixuetang (西學堂, “Hall of Western Studies”), and the Fanxuetang (番學堂, “Study Hall for Barbarians”). Apart from a few small houses the rest of the area was just farmland or wasteland. 

Thursday, 15 January 2015

While Xinhua Says Charlie Hebdo Attack Proves Freedom of Speech Has Limits, Home of Hong Kong's Media Tycoon Jimmy Lai Gets Firebombed

Today I don't have time to write a long post. I am struggling with a DVD drive that's not working (software compatibility issues) and I'm too tired to write much. But two articles have caught my attention this week and I wanted to share them. 

First, an article that was published on Xinhua, China's state-owned news agency. In an editorial Liang Xizhi argues that freedom of speech has its limits and that the terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo shows that press freedom has gone too far in France.

The attacks against Charlie Hebdo should not be simplified as attacks on press freedom, for even the freedom itself has its limits, which does not include insulting, sneering or taunting other people's religions or beliefs ... 
It is important to show respect for the differences of other peoples' religious beliefs and cultures for the sake of peaceful coexistence in the world, rather than exercising unlimited, unprincipled satire, insult and press freedom without considering other peoples' feelings.

The funny thing is that most people in the West have drawn the exact opposite conclusion from the Charlie Hebdo attacks. I never liked extreme religious caricatures, but the death of so many people has convinced me that what the cartoonists do must be defended, because no one has the right to silence free thinking individuals, however silly or distasteful their ideas might be. We can discuss if a caricature is good or not. One can sue a magazine, or publicly criticise it. But killing people can never be accepted. A distasteful cartoon doesn't justify murder. Xinhua, on the contrary, is trying to sell the terrorist attacks as an example of why people should censor themselves in order not to be killed by individuals who feel insulted by others. 

While the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists are still mourning their colleagues, on the other side of the world Jimmy Lai, the owner of Next Media, has been once again the target of an attack. On January 12, men wearing masks threw firebombs at Jimmy Lai's home and head office. 

Mr Lai is the founder of Hong Kong's and Taiwan's most popular newspaper, Apple Daily. He is a notorious opponent of Communist one-party rule, and he was at the forefront of the Occupy Central movement. He was victim of many slander campaigns and attacks in the past (for example, a 'soy sauce' attack that destroyed thousands of newspapers, and a massive hacking attack). 

Last year Kevin Lau, former chief editor of Ming Pao, a liberal newspaper, was stabbed three times by a man who was waiting for him in front of a restaurant that Lau frequented. The attack is believed to have been carried out by triad members. 

What lesson should be learnt? Should people bow to violence and censor themselves? Should we always yield to armed intimidation by people that claim to be angry because of something we said? 

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Amedy Coulibaly Met Nicolas Sarkozy in 2009

According to French media reports, in 2009 Amedy Coulibaly met former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.    

The 32-year-old Coulibaly is holding at least five hostages in a kosher super in Porte de Vincennes, in eastern Paris. He threatens to kill the hostages if the French authorities do not allow the brothers Kouachi to escape. Cherif and Said Kouachi are the perpetrators of the terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo on January 8.   

On 15 July 2009 Coulibaly had a training contract with Coca-Cola in the commune of Grigny in the southern suburbs of Paris. He was part of a delegation that met then-President Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss issues concerning youth unemployment. "I am happy," said Coulibaly to a newspaper that interviewed him. "We people of Grigny we don't usually go to the Elysee. Moreover, Sarkozy isn't very popular here. But this is nothing personal. Meeting him is really impressive. Though we don't love him, he's still the President."

Friday, 9 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo, Democracy, and Islamophobia

Although this blog is about Asia, I think it would be inappropriate to ignore the hideous terrorist attack that happened in France yesterday. The death of 12 cartoonists at the hands of islamists is a tragic event that I feel obliged to mention. The attempt to silence the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was a barbaric act which everyone who believes in freedom of speech and tolerance will certainly condemn.

However, the European debates that this attack has stirred are deeply worrying. As usual, some people are using a tragedy to promote their own anti-Muslim agenda. It must be said very clearly that those who are now insulting and vilifying all Muslims are by no means saving democracy; they are burying it.

Whatever the attackers aimed at, they are likely to have achieved the opposite. Charlie Hebdo was a provocative magazine, but its influence on public opinion was limited. Its circulation is only 45,000, a modest number compared with other magazines such as Le Point, which sells over 417,000 copies, not to mention newspapers like Le Monde, which has a circulation of over 331,000 copies. Next week Charlie Hebdo will publish 1 million copies; an unthinkable number before the attack. Apparently, the terrorists not only destroyed human lives, but they even contributed to propagating the ideas of Charlie Hebdo all over the world. 

What I would like to say - and I think it is my duty to say it - is that we must condemn islamic fundamentalism, but we should not condemn Islam as such. It is a mistake to believe that all Muslims are violent or potential terrorists, or to assume that all people whose ancestors came from Muslim countries are Muslim (some of them are, in fact, atheists or agnostics). Let us here remember that one of the policemen who was killed by the terrorists was Ahmed Merabet, who was himself a Muslim. 

In every society there might be radical and violent minorities led by ideologies who are willing to kill in order to achieve their own objectives. The Nazis, the Communists, the Mafia, left-wing terrorists etc. are all examples of how the West, too, produces and has produced radical murderous ideologies. 

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Looking Back at 2014, Looking Forward to 2015

I'm writing this post in my home in Sicily. I have no running water, and electricity comes and goes. An unusual way to end an unusual year. 

Sicily is often associated with sunny, warm weather. But this winter is different. There was a snowstorm yesterday, and now all streets of my small hometown are covered in white. Unfortunately, this island is not accustomed to snow. Even in countries like Germany, snow can cause disruptions, but here it's a real disaster. Yesterday evening there was suddenly no running water. We thought a pipe was broken. But then we realised all our neighbours had no water, either. This morning we called a technician, and he explained to us that the water in the pipe had frozen. That's because the pipes are built outside and not inside the walls. Anyway, now I have to write quickly, I must go and see if there are candles (!) in case electricity fails again ... 

2014 was a strange year. My father got sick and I spent six months in Italy. It was a difficult time. Then I went back to Taiwan and spent a few months in Taipei and a few weeks in Hong Kong. 

As some people who read this blog may have noticed, I have become quite disillusioned with Taiwan, and 2014 has reinforced this feeling. Although my blog started as a personal virtual space where I could write about my life in Asia (hence the title, which I now don't like and would like to change), I have actually written very little about it. That's because I didn't want to offend people by portraying Taiwan in a negative light.

Obviously, every person has subjective experiences and opinions. When you write about them and people read them, however, you disseminate views that might disturb others. Moreover, so many people are involved in my 'stories' about Taiwan, and I prefer not to talk about them. Actually, 99% of what I have experienced in Taiwan has never been mentioned on this blog. 

I have met so many people and done so many things, I have a 'baggage' of memories from two years of my life. Unfortunately, many of them have not been very positive, on the personal level, I mean. This is a topic that I will have to address, sooner or later. I have talked about it sporadically, but never systematically. I am reluctant to rant about my subjectively negative experiences. I did it from time to time, like when I wrote about Guanghua electronics market in Taipei. As a rule, such posts raise controversies; annoying and empty controversies, I might add, in which others try to convince me that I have no right to have a subjective point of view or to express it. Such criticism is a waste of time and energy, but every blogger has to deal with it. 

In 2014 I have realised how much I like Hong Kong (I'd say, I love Hong Kong). Every time I go there, it is magic. It is one of the few places where I feel 'at home'. It's the same feeling I had when I went to Berlin for the first time. That city drew me like a magnet. When I finally managed to move there, I discovered its ups and downs. However, the 'downs' were nothing compared to the 'ups'. I loved Berlin from the first to the last day I spent there. 

Perhaps, I could find a way to spend more time in Hong Kong, maybe a few months. If there was this chance, I'd be very happy. But, realistically, it could be difficult. You can't run away from your real home forever. I, too, have my own responsibility. Not only towards my own family, but also towards Europe, which I call my home. It's easy to desert the ship in the hour of need. But we are called on to make sacrifices and try to solve the problems of the present, so that the next generations may live in a better place than the one we are living in now. 

Despite some negative experiences, though, I had a lot of fun in 2014. In Taiwan it was more of an 'intellectual' kind of fun. I read some interesting books, explored the history and architecture of Taipei. It is - in my opinion - impossible to 'know' a country. But perhaps it is possible to know a city. By focusing on Taipei, I think I have, at least, become a little bit familiar with its history, its buildings, and its streets. 

In Hong Kong, I met a lot of great people. I spent a lot of time in a hostel there. Last year I had rented a flat, but this year I chose not to do so, and this choice payed off. It was a cramped hostel, eight people in one room. One might think it would be impossible to stay there for a long time. But I enjoyed every moment of it. I met so many travellers from all over the world, most of them coming to Hong Kong to get a visa for mainland China; but I also met backpackers and some mainland Chinese tourists. It was great. But even if I had met no one - just walking in Hong Kong, seeing the skyline, the crowds, the buildings, made me feel happy.