Located in the historic centre of Macau, only a few minutes’ walk from Senado Square, there is a street whose traditional Chinese-style buildings and romantic name seem to take one back to a long-gone colonial era, in which the society of old China mingled with the cosmopolitan, busy lifestyle of the former European enclaves in the Far East. Lined with two-storey, grey brick Chinese houses with conspicuous red windows and doors, decorations and inscriptions that recount old legends, the street is a remarkable example of the mix of traditional Chinese architecture and Western patterns. Here the visitor feels as if time had stood still, and is finally able to imagine, far away from the modern casinos and shopping malls, how life might have looked like for ordinary people in old Macau.
Friday, 31 July 2015
Thursday, 30 July 2015
During a visit to Japan on July 23, former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui stated that the Senkaku Islands belong to Japan. The Senkaku Islands are also claimed by the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan). Mr Lee had already made similar remarks in the past. In January 2014, he stated that the Senkaku Islands are "Japanese territory based on international law".
Li's statements were criticised not only by Taiwan's ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Guomindang), but also, surprisingly, by the leader of the opposition and incumbent presidential candidate Cai Yingwen.
On July 29, while visiting a factory of a Taichung-based clothes manufacturer, Cai was asked by journalists to comment on Lee Teng-hui's remarks. The chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) replied that the Diaoyutai Islands are part of Taiwan's territory.
"The position of the Democratic Progressive Party on this issue is clear. The Diaoyutai Islands belong to Taiwan," she said. Responding to criticism on the part of the Guomindang, which accused the DPP of relinquishing the sovereignty claims of the ROC in the South China Sea, Cai clarified that her party "has not given up the sovereignty claims over the South China Sea."
The incumbent President of the ROC, Ma Ying-jeou, has always maintained that Japan's occupation of the disputed islands is "null and void" and that the islets are part of the territory of the Republic of China.
Tuesday, 28 July 2015
Last Friday I travelled again to Macau, and I have to say that I am more and more intrigued by this city. Unfortunately, the former Portuguese colony is mainly known to the outside world for its casinos. But in fact, it is a place with a surprisingly rich history and culture.
A few weeks ago I heard a German guy talking on the phone with his parents. They asked him how he liked Macau, and he said something like, "Macau is famous for its casinos. Someone told us that there are many old buildings, but we were tired of old buildings, we've already seen enough of them in China, so we just went gambling."
A Malaysian guy I talked to last week, said something similar: "There is nothing to see in Macau, only casinos."
Wednesday, 22 July 2015
No matter in which country you are, it is always best to be vigilant and protect yourself. In China, too, one cannot blindly trust strangers, however nice and kind they appear to be. The immense power of the Communist state makes violent street crime unlikely. Yet villains have another, less conspicuous way of committing unlawful activities: scams.
Scams targeting both locals and tourists are particularly popular in China. Scammers rely on their ability to convince others to give them what they want, without violence, and often leaving no evidence.
As Chinese media reported, on July 18 "Xiaoli" (fictitious name), a female university student from Hebei province, took a train from Shijiazhuang to Luoyang, in Henan province, where she was to take part in a volunteer programme during the summer vacation.
When she arrived at her destination, she waited at an exit of Luoyang train station for a friend who was coming to pick her up. While she was there, a middle-aged man in his forties approached her and struck up a conversation. The man was of average build and was wearing a pink T-shirt.
After Xiaoli explained to him why she had come to Luoyang, the man claimed that he, too, would be taking part in the summer programme, and that he also was waiting for the same person who was supposed to pick up Xiaoli. He therefore suggested that they waited together.
After a while, the man received a phone call. As soon as he hung up, he told Xiaoli that he needed money urgently and asked her if she could lend him some, promising he would give it back as soon as possible. Xiaoli became suspicious. Noticing her resistance, the man said she should call their common friend and he would explain him everything.
Tuesday, 21 July 2015
A few days ago everyone talked about China's stock market collapse. "Xi Jinping has run into the one thing in China he can't control", wrote news website Quartz, implying that the all-powerful Communist Party finally had to acknowledge that it couldn't rein in the "free market". No sooner had the Chinese government stepped in to save the stock market than Western media dismissed Beijing's policies, predicting they would not work. "China markets plunge as government measures fail", wrote Yahoo News. These are only two examples of what the South China Morning Post called "Western media's callous delight at China's stock market crash". According to The Telegraph, China's stock market crash would cause a "more worrying financial crisis" than the one happening in Greece.
But, as has often been the case over the past four decades, the West's neoliberal-minded analysts have failed to understand the strength of China's economic system. Due to their own bias, they are constantly intent on proving why the "free market" is always more efficient than the regulated market. "[T]he Communist Party," preaches The Economist, "powerful though it may be, cannot indefinitely bend markets to its will. Chinese leaders should heed that lesson and get on with the challenges of liberalising their economy. A relapse towards statism will not just set China back. It also will not work."
Despite many neoliberals' desire to see China collapse so that their theories may be proved right, Beijing's measures have had the desired effect: they averted an economic crisis on a larger scale. Western media's criticism of the government's intervention was premature.
Analysts have been announcing the collapse of China for years now. Rather than being based on cold facts, such prophesies are entirely ideological. Those who dislike the Chinese Communist Party or believe in the superiority of neoliberal capitalism and Western democracy simply refuse to acknowledge that a one-party state with a regulated market economy can be so successful. This success upsets and confuses their entire 'Weltanschauung'. But instead of rethinking their economic models, they switch to the systematic denial of alternative development strategies. Similarly, the experiences of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and of the Western world itself prior to the 1970s, have been ignored or censored.
Every year between the 1st and the 9th day of the 6th month of the Lunar Calendar (July 16 - July 24) a traditional folk festival takes place in Kouhu Township, in Taiwan's Yunlin County, to commemorate the souls of people who died over a century and a half ago.
The festival is called 'Qianshuichezang' (牽水車藏), which literally means 'leading along water containers'. The name refers to traditional lantern-like, three-level cylinders made of bamboo sticks and paper. The ceremony is held at Wanshan Shrine (萬善祠), near Jinhu harbour, and Wanshanye Temple (萬善爺廟) in Jinhu. The three levels represent the division between water, sky and underworld. Each side of the cylinder is painted with images of humans and benign spirits.
In the temples, people offer foodstuffs and paper money to the deities. The offerings are carried from the villages to the temples by women on traditional bamboo poles. The food and money are placed on round tables in front of the statues of the gods.
Friday, 17 July 2015
Before I went to Taiwan for the first time, a friend of mine told me that if I ever wanted to date a classy, clever and pretty girl I should visit Eslite Bookstore in Taipei. It was not until I arrived on the island that I realised what he was talking about.
Eslite stands out for its stylish design, wide range of English and Chinese books, and its customer-oriented service. Many people spend hours there reading books, sitting on chairs and armchairs, and even on the floor. The staff will leave you alone, no matter whether you buy something or not. Basically, Eslite is half public library half bookstore.
Some Eslite branches are open 24-hours and have their own cafes and tea houses. They have turned into actual entertainment centres for people who like to read, need to read, or pretend to like to read. There are all kinds of customers: you see families, couples, groups of friends, people who are absorbed in a book and those who stroll around leisurely and, most importantly, there are well-dressed, fancy people who seem as much interested in observing others and socialising, as they are in reading.
Eslite's customer-friendly atmosphere indeed makes you feel like at home. So much so that some people even treat it as their own bedroom.
Wednesday, 15 July 2015
On June 30 the residents of New Taipei City witnessed scenes of chaos as street fights broke out between rival gangs in the districts of Luzhou, Sanchong, Zhonghe and Yonghe. The feuds, which involved members of two Taiwanese triads, the Bamboo Gang and the Heavenly Way Alliance, were triggered by a single sentence: "The girls of Luzhou and Sanchong are shameful."
Monday, 13 July 2015
On June 27 Taiwanese blogger RainDog posted pictures of a cute waitress who works at a McDonald's in Taipei. The images soon went viral and were shared on Taiwan's media.
The girl's name is Xu Weihan and her Facebook page has over 60,000 likes.
Xu's media notoriety is another manifestation of some phenomena I already described in previous posts.
First of all, her 'cute' looks correspond to a popular beauty ideal: girls have to be child-like, feminine, gentle and innocent; on the other hand, they have to be pretty and sexually attractive.
Secondly, this 'Lolita-like' appearance is used in the context of a competitive market economy, in which beauty attracts customers and publicity. Therefore, the right behaviour and looks mean, simply put, money. Another example of this phenomenon are Taiwan's famous booth girls (see video below). This is a conscious marketing (and self-marketing) strategy, which deliberately deploys female bodies as means to promote products.
Friday, 10 July 2015
On April 26, 2010, the funeral service of Li Zhaoxiong (李照雄), the former boss of the Big Lake Gang, was held in Taichung City. It was attended by 20,000 people.
Among them were triad members from Taiwan as well as neighbouring Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Thailand. But there were also high-ranking Taiwanese politicians. The list of prominent guests included Legislative Speaker Wang Jinping, Chiayi County Commissioner Zhang Huakuan, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Yu Tian, and Taichung City mayor Jason Hu. Sitting side by side, politicians and mobsters mourned a man who had risen from rags to riches through illegal activities.
108 limousines - an auspicious number - led the Buddhist procession, while models paraded placards with the names of businesses that had paid tribute to the godfather.
"I felt I had to come to express my thanks," said the mayor of Taichung to the media, referring to the fact that Li Zhaoxiong had left US$ 2 million to charity in his will.
Li was considered a "moderate" mobster, who did not engage in prostitution and avoided violence. He refused to let his son join the underworld. Since the police never revealed Li's criminal record, it is unclear whether he spent time in jail on charges of gambling and firearms smuggling, as an anonymous source told the Taipei Times. Li was dubbed "the mafia arbitrator" because he used his influence to effect the release of politicians and businessmen who had been kidnapped by gangs.
Statistics show that there are at least over 5,000 gangsters in Taiwan. According to the police, however, official figures take into account only gang members monitored by the authorities. The actual total number is likely to be higher.
The largest criminal syndicate in Taiwan is the Bamboo Gang with over 1,700 members and 68 branches, followed by the Four Seas Gang with 46 local branches and 726 members, and the Heavenly Way Alliance, with 36 branches and 632 members.
The Bamboo Gang (竹聯幫; pinyin: Zhūliánbāng) was established in 1957 in Yonghe District of Taipei County (now New Taipei City) by children of refugees from mainland China. The so-called ‘mainlanders’ had fled to Taiwan after the Guomindang (Chinese Nationalist Party) regime had been defeated by the Communists in the bloody Chinese Civil War (1946-49).
The newcomers were more often than not in conflict with the local Taiwanese population. The Bamboo Gang was initially formed by youngsters who wanted to defend themselves against attacks by gangs of Hoklo Taiwanese. The Bamboo Gang was better organised and more violent than its rivals, and soon it became one of the island’s most powerful criminal syndicates.
Wednesday, 8 July 2015
Monday, 6 July 2015
As a European, I am just a detached observer of Asian affairs. But when it comes to the destiny of the European Union, I feel I am personally involved. Although this is a blog about Asia, I cannot ignore what is happening in Europe, and I want to write a few words about it.
On the statement he published this morning on his own blog, Greece's former Minister of Finance, Jiannis Varoufakis, explained that what the Greek government wants is simply:
an agreement that involves debt restructuring, less austerity, redistribution in favour of the needy, and real reforms
They are not asking for their debt to be written off, as some media has argued; they just want their debt to be sustainable. As Varoufakis said in one interview (as I can speak Greek, I am following the actual debates in Greece), he thinks that the austerity policies of the troika are not viable for Greece, because they hinder growth and create a situation of instability that makes the recovery of Greece impossible.
Without growth, employment, investments and fairer taxation (the troika has objected to taxing the rich more heavily than retirees and the middle class, as Tsipras said in an interview), Greece will never be able to get back to its feet and actually repay its debt. The policy of the EU has created a vicious circle that is damaging not only Greece, but the whole continent.
The obtuse and absurdly neoliberal attitude of some European governments and technocrats is condemning the EU to instability and poverty. It is deliberately destroying Greece to make up for the debt of European banks (chiefly German and French banks). In fact, as 'The Guardian' explained, around 90% of the money received by Greece from the bailout programmes "went to the banks that lent Greece funds before the crash". Less then 10% was used to finance reforms, investments or welfare services. De facto, the Greek people were squeezed in exchange for money that went to private banks.
After 2008 Germany reacted to the crisis through more state intervention. Among the measures adopted by the government there was the so-called "Conjucture Package II", which included an eco subsidy for cars, reduction of the income tax, subsidies for companies that did not lay off workers but offered them courses to upgrade their skills and qualifications, and many other reforms. Moreover, Germany bailed out its banks and bailed out bankrupt automaker Opel.
Wednesday, 1 July 2015
In a speech delivered at the University of Zurich on September 19, 1946, Winston Churchill called for the rebirth of the pan-European idea. This "noble continent”, he said, was “the home of all the great parent races of the Western world, the foundation of Christian faith and ethics, the origin of most of the culture, arts, philosophy and science both of ancient and modern times”; and yet, it was from this great continent that a series of nationalistic movements had originated, which had plunged the whole world into the most catastrophic wars.
Europe, however glorious its past, lay now in ruins. Its economy had been devastated. Millions of displaced men and women marched homewards from battlefields, concentration and labour camps. Prisoners of war languished in captivity. Fallen soldiers left widows and orphans behind. Divided by hatred, impoverished by war, shocked by the unprecedented cruelty it had unleashed upon itself, Europe's prospects were bleak. Was it ever going to recover from the abyss into which it had sunk?
Winston Churchill believed it could, but only if all the states of the continent cast away the heritage of nationalistic feuds and trod the path of unity and co-operation. "If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance," he said, "there would be no limit to the happiness, prosperity and glory which its 300 million or 400 million people would enjoy." The only way out of the present misery was "to recreate the European fabric … and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, safety and freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe."