Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Latest Poll

John Kerry can take heart. He is polling well among Taiwanese 7-year-olds. In a poll conducted this week, Kerry was preferred over Bush by a margin of 40% to 56%, with a margin of error of +/- 4%.

Polling was conducted in the classroom, with each student receiving one poker chip to cast into the appropriately labeled Cheez-ball can of their choice. Due to communication difficulties, more detailed follow-up questions were not asked. We stuck to the the simple: "Do you like this one, or this one?" I did not tell them which one to choose. Balloting was done in secret, behind the whiteboard.

From the results of this poll, we can infer that Kerry is doing pretty well, and that Bush has a lot of ground to make up here. If I were his advisor, I would recommend lollipops.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Help! Police!

In Taiwan, the police are a just another bunch of overworked bureaucrats. Which is why the only time they'll stop you for traffic violations is if that's their assignment at the moment. They won't drive around looking for trouble like the average American police officer.

And they also have the added advantage of not being good-ol-boys. Sure, they have plenty of corruption, but because most cops don't carry guns (they do carry a non-lethal weapon of some sort), they're not the sort of people who became cops so they could push people around.

I know more than a few foreigners who got stopped for traffic violations, and then waved along when the motorcycle helmet came off and the officer did a quick mental calculation of the effort he'd have to expend to explain the whole thing in his middle-school English. An American cop who pulled over a non-English speaking foreigner would probably have the whole family lying face down in the ditch while the dogs searched the car and the translator was brought in from the next state.

The best part is, everyone knows it. If they see a cop, they keep going with their illegal traffic manuever because they know he's not interested. When he's off-duty, he does the same thing.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

This Blog Formally Endorses
John Kerry for President

Though I have been taking the occasional potshot at George W. Bush in these pages, I guess I haven't bothered to make the positive effort on behalf of his challenger in the upcoming election.
I must admit that I have been against W. since he took office, but for a long time it wasn't even that important to me. I have been living overseas for almost eight years with my partner Tim, the last four years exclusively here in Taiwan. Being gay made it pretty obvious that times would be bad back in the states, and I have to admit that the steady employment and national health care in Taiwan have made it hard for me to see the positive angle to going home anytime soon.

And I have to confess that on September 11, 2001, I was one of those people who in addition to all the feelings of bewilderment and sympathy, also felt like somehow it was America's own behavior in the world that led these terrorists to hatch such a vicious and surprising plan. I didn't feel any rage. I wasn't there, or even anywhere close. I just watched it all unfold from my apartment overseas.

Then, I watched from overseas as the Bush administration wrecked everything they touched. It has reached its most extreme in Iraq, but the hate and fear his posse have generated at home is more personally irritating. He has done nothing to make the world safer. He has ruined the American economy for another generation. And I find it distinctly creepy that he is a teetotaling born-again Christian who used to be a party animal. Those people are not the sort who should run the freewheeling shitstorm that is America.

I wholeheartedly believe that John Kerry would be the best choice for president. I'm not even going to hedge. If someone's got to do it, I would rather that it be someone with 30 years of Washington experience and who doesn't look to the Bible for political decisions. I'm not bothered with any of the allegations about his record. I'm still young enough to think taxes aren't necessarily bad, (and come on spinmeisters--don't you think people would notice if their taxes had gone up 96 times?) I think Kerry's right--we need to do something different in Iraq, and in America. Health care. Education. Civil Unions (I'd take that in a heartbeat. I don't want Tim to be my husband or my wife, so why fight for marriage?) . Balancing the Budget. Protecting workers (We've all got to get off the free-trade thing! Free-trade is good for making big money, but bad for everyone who makes the stuff that makes the money.) Kerry has some concrete plans for improving things. Of course, it won't work out that way, but we have to try.

I think if Bush wins, whatever revolution that starts in America in the next 20-50 years will look to the election of 2004 as its starting point. I think a Kerry presidency will be boring, to be sure, but maybe cool things down a little and delay the revolution until after my lifetime. That would be just fine with me.

Vote Kerry.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Left, right?

I swear this must be true. Taiwanese people have no idea what vehicle turn signals are for. They only turn them on as they start turning or during their turn. It seems to me that this behavior kind of negates the whole point of them. Once you've already turned across my path, there isn't much need to signal it, is there?

The mitigating factor in all this is that everyone is so used to being cut off, they almost never honk their horns in anger. There is very little road rage here, despite the shit traffic.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Lifestyle Choices

Sorry I've been on the inactive list. I have just had a few interesting days. An old friend came to visit me in Taiwan for the last few days. R. is a Taiwan English-teaching veteran. He worked here for three years, met a wonderful English girl here, and convinced her to stay for one more year in Taiwan, making some more money.

They went back to England almost three years ago. Then last week, I got a cryptic e-mail that my friend R. would be traveling here in the next day or two. When he finally arrived, he told Tim and I this basic story:

He went home and decided to get his teaching license, and his girlfriend decided to get a graduate degree. Then, after all his teacher-training, he realized that teaching at home was a miserable job. In addition to the endless lesson plans that needed to be prepared for each class, there were also hours of daily paperwork and very little money. So, since then he's been trying other things, being very unhappy. Finally, his girlfriend recently finished her degree, and got a job, but it was in another town, so she had to move out until she gets her driving license (unlike the USA, it's not a given that you'll get one at 16 or 17) and can drive herself to and from work. In all this time, he has been working to support them while slowly draining the savings he earned from his work over here. Because, let's face it: Even in America, if you're earning $50,000 a year, you'll never be able to save over $1000 a month, like you can here.

So, he's found another job that will start in a few weeks, and he needed a break from England. He told Tim and I that we are certainly not making a mistake by staying here as long as possible. He loved Taiwan when he was here...he only left for his girlfriend. He said that it's nearly impossible to get your head above water back in England, where the taxes are killer, the services your taxes pay for are getting worse and worse, and the convenience of a 24 hour country are just a distant dream.

Tim and I are hoping to go back to Canada next year and make a go of it, but his words were a warning, albeit an unintentional one. From where he's sitting, Taiwan is really just about the only logical option if his new job doesn't pan out. From where we're sitting, it's time to leave, assuming the immigration people take me. We both know we can't stay forever, but the fact is that here, we're well off. At home, we'll be poor, and if we can't sort something out, we'll also be miserable. Money is important, as everyone knows. One doesn't need a lot, but enough.

Now, we're conflicted with all these questions...about staying or going, about quality of life, about the uncertainty of relocating versus the certain paycheck and 2 income household we've been maintaining here for almost 5 years.

I guess today's discussion question is: are you making enough to live where you are? to be comfortable? The extra-credit question is: If R.'s new job doesn't pan out, would he be making the right decision to come back to Taiwan, leaving wonderful girlfriend and miserable English lifestyle for financial security and a better lifestyle? Keep in mind he's been trying his hardest to make a go of it for nearly 3 years. How long until you can fairly give up?

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Unfriendly Skies

In addition to the newspapers and online news I read, I also watch CNN. Of course, it's CNN International, which is the sort of thing that gets fed to hotel rooms around the world. It's much less frantic, and they have their own international cast. They run the occasional CNN USA show, but mostly it's different.

They spend hours and hours of the day talking about money. International finance. International business. International trade. International market shares. International currencies. On and on and on. They also have light shows like "Living Golf" and "Inside Sailing," for all those comfortable business travelers sitting in their rooms on a Monday evening.

But the thing that really pisses me off are the ads. It's clear after 5 minutes of watching that this network is not selling anything to you. Unless you happen to be an international business traveler.

There are ads for major financial services (HSBC, Deutsche Bank) and lots of ads for exotic tourist destinations (Maldives, Dubai, Malaysia), and other services for rich people (Diners Club card, Citibank Private Bank "For High Wealth Individuals')

And then there are the airlines.

Every single one of them is the best and most comfotable in the world. Singapore. Cathay Pacific. Air Emirates. Thai. Vietnam Air (?!). And others. The thing that really ticks me off, is that every ad shows how great their seats and service are. But the happy passengers are always sitting in first class, or at least business class. Of course they're happy.

If the airlines want to sell those seats, fine. I'm sure there are few other worldwide networks that have the same audience of rich business travelers (but Virgin Airlines is apparently marketing itself with some soft-core porn innuendo travel spots on a global hotel satellite network), but they should at least lift up the curtain at least once during the ad. Then the rest of us would see what we're really in for. Three hundred people, crawling over each other for 15 hours like ants in an anthill.