Friday, May 20, 2005

Cleaning out history

A quiet little day, today. Woke up to get myself vaccinated at the GGD...had three shots in total, against Hepatitis A, polio, and a host of other chemical cocktails which are supposed to keep me free from diease. I've never been to a country where I needed to prepare so thoroughly before hand. The malaria, Hepatitis B, rabies and dengue fever drugs I could not take in, because it's too short notice. I actually needed to start going to vaccination like two months ago, but left it till the last week. My arms are sore.

Then I went to pick up my passport at the Taipe Representative Office (de-facto embassy which issues visas for Taiwan). I was a bit worried, because a year ago I had tried to get my Taiwanese passport renewed, but it turned out I could only do so if I filed a missing/stolen report at the police. I didn't do that, and tried to forget about it, but it's of course been at the back of my mind often. I'm worried what the police will think when I file a report of a passport gone missing for so many years, and what they will think when I already have the Dutch nationality.
Like I often imagine, how wonderful it would be not to have nationalities, to come and go as people like...and not to struggle constantly for identity, for belonginess...a passport is just a gateway, an open door, so many say...but to me, to me who personalises all things, it's an identity, a measure of who you are, and how people look at you. And it's unpleasant if you hold a nationality, but do not identify. But that's just me.

The lady at the embassy was quite nice, and she told me not to worry too much. Double nationality is common, and the police will not question
why I've come so late. And then she mentioned the politics behind the Taiwanese's not even recognised, so that should not be too much of a problem. And then it dawned on me how poorly the country I am orignally from is treated (again). On my out, as I cycled, I thought about many things...the idignity, first of all, of having a passport that is not recognised, but then strangely is more useful to travel with than many other countries' passports! Then I thought of how Taiwanese people are viewed by the international community...what kind of people are they? Are they nomads? Are they nationality-less? Who are they? Where do their rights lie? Which state governs them? What status do they have as world citizens? Bizarre. And dispicable.

My mind then wondered off to things I've pondered does international law apply or not to Taiwan? Does the country even have to comply with international law at all? And what are the protections, or the lack of, that the state, government and people of Taiwan guaranteed? Harrowing questions. And still unanswered.

As I cycled, I thought: one day, they will see. One day, they will see what great injustic0,e and what flippant and baseless denial of the most basic human right to recognition they have all been party to. Someday.

Then I went to centrum, in search of some gifts. Spent almost three hundred euros, just on tea, Strepsil, books, clogs, cookies and foot cream...all for relatives and friends. It is a society based on gift-giving, based on face, politeness and kindness. Especially when you come home from abroad, coming empty hands is definitely a no-no.
So, my suitcase is three-quaters full....full of gifts!

The past few hours I've spent clearing out some old piled up rubbish, packing things into boxes, and preparing/filtering the things I might need for the few months ahead. Sifting through dusty old files, papers, clothes and boxes, you realise what you've done, or not done. All these papers, documents, pictures, writings and collections of brochures, handouts and notes I've put together over the years. All there. When I see some of these things, I think, when am I ever going to use or read all this again? But then I imagine myself, older, probably retired, and getting out all these papers to read. I wonder now what I should safe, what I should throw away to remove the burdens and loads of moving almost yearly...but it all seems like treasure to me!

Every piece of paper, every word ever written, a recording of a place, time, people and experiences! Throwing into the rubbish bin, I feel like betraying history. A sense of guilt, and shame. Maybe not life changing history worth remembering or recording, and maybe not history that is worth songs or praise, but history nonetheless.
SOAS paychecks, the pink forms you get back when you handed an essay in, accomodation searches in London, contracts of mobile phones, newspaper cutouts, articles which once inspired me (but which I probaly forgot the contents of...), pictures of old friends and times that were, cards written by friends who had long left and may never see again, brochures of Madurodam, prospectuses of Rotterdam and Museum voor Volkenkunde (met Kuifje naar de Incas...), diary entries from years ago written with pen and ink which I had feared would fade with time, bank statements, old fotos, etc etc etc etc...
and most of all,
old memories.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Dinner for ten

Just had dinner with colleagues tonight. Initially wanted to cook for them, show them the good cooking skills I have, but in the end we ended up going to a pannekoeke huis around Leiden Centraal. Nice little group of people, delicious, and gezellig.

There were many sorts of pancakes to choose from. You could have seafood, chicken, beef, even Mexican, Chinese, or Egyptian...even have pizzapancake! So strange, but nonetheless delicious, and filling.

Like a big social events, it was difficult to talk to everyone. At some point I was unsure which conversation I should listen to, which I should actually join. Just like always, I felt awkward wanting to say something, but not knowing how, or when the appropiate moment is. But then there were many fascinating facts, stories and exchanges. Towards the end, I was asked to share my thoughts about my time at the Institute. I likened it to joining a family, as I had earlier done today, talking to another colleague. There's a strong sense of belonging, of in-out. And then there is also openness, frankness and a very relaxed attitude to work and work relations. Something which I thoroughly enjoyed, and cherish. I've learned much, especially having indulged myselves in books and articles during my study, it's the first eye-opener into the real world, into reality. Working, planning, people skills, cooperation, division of work, deadlines, criticisms, toleration, smiling, patience, reliance, dependence, mutual respect and learning.

But then I also expressed my feeling of being an outsider, especially in the first few months. Of course, as some said, being new to the place, people and the work, and being an intern, without a self-focused research agenda didn't help to come to grips with the place. Complicated human relations, conflicts of interests and being in between the 'clash' of 'bigger fish' did not ease things. And my inherent shy, timid, and passive nature also made it difficult to fit in in the beginning. But eventually I found my way, and eventually I started to enjoy it more. Eventually, the problems went away, and finally left for good.

Of course, it was one of my 'farewell' dinners, so undoubtedly my trip to Indonesia came up. People started talking about what's it'll be like, and problems I might face. And one that really hadn't crossed my mind was discrimination. Especially because I 'look Chinese', and there's been racial hatred, or maybe jealousy for a less violent word, toward ethnic Chinese. Not sure how I would deal with that....the worst forms of racism, if you can call it that, is children mocking the way 'I' speak (tsing tsong, wing wong enz enz, which is just gibberish), and that was a long time ago. But then it left me wondering what I should do in the face of this.
And then there was talk of corruption...especially the first hurdle at the airport, where the customs officer might try to tap into 'unregistered sources of income'. Never have had to deal with such situations in my life either. And then there was talk of the dangers of getting robbed, or being in threatening situations...again, I've never been to places where I've had to constantly worry about my sense of security, about my safety (maybe except London at night, especially around Stepney Green or Whitechapel...)

Hearing all these things, it seems like I'm a naive child going into the big world for the first time. Or even a country folk, innocent and pure at heart, thrown into a pack of wolves in the urban jungle. And I think back at what mum said once sometime ago that something terrible might befall me in July (according to the fortuneteller...)
I wonder what to believe.

It seems I still have a lot to learn, lot to experience...

Half way around the globe...

While walking to work today, I saw a globe in a shop window. The side of Asia happened to be facing me. I looked at it, and a sense of strangeness mixed with familiarity overcame me. I've been there, and I'll be there soon. As I stood there those few seconds, my mind wondered off to try to locate where I am now...and I walked around the globe, passing oceans, passing land, passing, in my mind, millions of people, their lives, their livelihoods and everything else. It seemed to be a long journey to Europe, even though it was just a small globe in the shop window. And then it dawned on very far I will be going.

How very far I will be.

Yesterday I went home, and felt really dizzy. I don't know what came over me, but I was so tired. And I was also quite misserable while I went home. So many, so many strange many strangers. I felt sick for some reasons. Even worse when I got home. Again, lots of washing undone, and dinner was just shoarma meat with rice. I was a bit angry... some people are home all day, but all these things that could be done so quickly is left. I didn't wash anything, instead cooked some vegetables and egg to eat.

I went to bed, thinking I would lie down a while, at eightish...I slept, slept and slept...I got up only to drink a bit, but went back to bed. I thought I would wake up again and would have to spend the rest of the night aware. But I kept on sleeping. Until the morning, twelve hours later!

As I listened to the radio before I dozed into sleep, it was talking about abused children. It was talking about the sideeffects growing up, and in later life. Inability to express their feelings, inability to say what they really want, or uberhaupt know what they really want...unable to be close and intimate...the feeling of loneliness even though they are surrounded by people...the feeling of insecurity and fear around strangers.

By then I was gone.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Less than ten more days...

Looked at the yesterday night when I went to sleep, and it's already the 17th of May. In less than ten days, I will be on the plane, going far away.
The thought kept me awake at night, twisting and turning, until around four, when I slowly fell asleep after exhausting myself with thoughts. It was one of those nights again, when I felt I should sleep, but couldn't. So many words went through my mind, so many thoughts waiting to be captured, described and kept for others and other times.

I lay awake thinking over the things I've actually done the past year, and tried to imagine how it would be when I say goodbye to people at work. Sure, it's not forever that's I'll not see them, but a few months is still a very long time...especially long when I think about the great unknowns and the long road into places and meeting people I have not yet known.
And I drafted a letter, actually, in the pitch dark, with the help of a scrap piece of paper, a pen and the light from my mobile phone. Strange when the thoughts and urge to write arrives, you can't resist.

I hope to give to VVI the day I leave. At least I will leave behind a few words. And leave behind my thoughts, reflections and appreciation for the fulfiling times of the past year.

As the TPG Post slogan goes:
"Schrijven zegt meer" (Writing says more)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Taiwan-China issue

I was asked by a friend to draft an a brief summary of the 'who, when, what and how' of the Taiwan-China issue. I'm a bit surprised this has not come up yet, since this is what I think about almost daily. Some people may say I'm a fanatic when it comes to the issue. Maybe. But, I think this is what motivates me to do many things I've done, and many more what I'd like to do in life. And I feel it's important to know about it! Not just because it's a classic example of the 'small guy fighting the big bully' (David and Goliath often springs to mind), but it's not well publicised enough, and people seem to have many misconceptions.
Especially now that China is becoming so powerful, and praised by some many (especially the money-greedy communities who place business and money before freedoms and human rights...). I was told that it's a good thing that Taiwan, the US and some other are critical of China, since it shows a whole other side of this giant dragon, and gives us all also a sense of caution.

Maybe I'm just too obsessed...but to me, it's about the denial of such basic rights as being able to stand up and proudly be recognised as a state, as a citizen of a state, and being able to participate in the international community as an equal.

Just today, the World Health Organisation made a memorandum with China, setting out the means of cooperating and facilitating the medical needs of Taiwan.... HELLO?! That's just bizarre! How can China, a country that does not even have any say or influence in the way of life of 23 million people in Taiwan talk and deal on behalf of Taiwan?? And this is just one ridiculous example of Taiwan's exclusion and pariah status from the international community. I once wrote,

"How can it be that Taiwan, with a population and territory larger than two-thirds of UN members, is not entitled to exist as an equal actor on the world stage? How can a free democracy with a prosperous economy be treated like an international pariah? Have the Taiwanese committed a crime so criminal that they be barred from freedom for life? [...] There are states utterly insignificant, but they are part of the UN. There are states utterly repressive, but they are part of the UN. There states which blatantly violate international principles, but they are part of the UN. Taiwan is none of the above, yet she is not part of the UN."

SOURCE: Taipei Times

These words still ring true today
Such is the hypocrisy of world organisations and leaders that know nothing but political games of ignorance, and suffer from incurable symptoms of total blindness and deafness to reality.

Such injustice has shaped the way I think about the world today, about the disempowerment of the poor, illiterate, voiceless and oppressed. Maybe that's why I studied law, maybe that's why I feel law is the ideal weapon of empowerment, of talking back to power, or breaking down the constructed order of minority rule over the majority.

But then laws are ideals too...and without taking into account the realities of life, the social, economic, historical, political and human contexts in which law operates, then it is nothing more, nothing less than words.

A disclaimer: Before I get hate-mails calling me a racist and bigot, I have nothing personal against the Chinese as a people, country or civilisation. What I do have a problem is with the government and the regime that currently governs China. Think Tiananmen, think SARS, think Tibet, think Falun Gong, think gulags, think censorship of the internet... all the lies, tyranny, terror and propogand spread by the Communist Party is more than enough to make me sick.

Finally, the piece I wrote... I'm including it here, for people who are interested!


The original inhabitants of Taiwan are thought to be ancestors of the Polynesian tribes throughout the Asia-Pacific. For centuries, Han Chinese have been migrating to the island in search of a better life. Throughout Taiwan’s history, the island has always been the colony of one country or other. The Manchu Dynasty included Taiwan as part of Chinese territory for the first time in 1885. However, ten years later, China gave Taiwan “in perpetuity and full sovereignty” to Japan as a result of the Sino-Japanese war.
Japan colonised the island until the end of the Second World War in 1945, when Japan was forced to surrender all its overseas colonies. The problem was, it was not agreed who Taiwan would be given to. The Allied Supreme Command in the Pacific gave China at the time, under Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist regime, the mandate to govern temporarily Taiwan until a final solution is made. However, in the meantime, the Nationalist Chiang Kai-Shek regime lost the Chinese Civil War against the Communists in China, and in 1949 fled to Taiwan and established itself there since. In 1950, after the outbreak of the Korean, US President Truman decalred that the status of Taiwan was still “undetermined” and that:

“The determination of the future status of Formosa [Taiwan] must await the restoration of security in the Pacific, a peace settlement with Japan, or consideration by the United Nations.”

Up to now, nothing concrete has been done to determine the status of the islands yet.

China’s insistent position
The People’s Republic of China’s position has been consistent ever since the 1950s: Taiwan is an inalienable part of the motherland, and must be liberated at all costs. China argues that Taiwan is a part of the motherland which has been historically unlawfully stolen by the big powers. The close cultural and ethnic ties between China and Taiwan is another reason for unification with the motherland. Hundreds of missiles are now aimed at the island. During Taiwan’s presidential elections in 1996, China ‘tested’ missiles close to the seas around Taiwan. In 2000, again just before elections in Taiwan, China warned of bloodshed if the people of Taiwan chooses a pro-independence candidate (which they actually did). In March 2005, China’s rubber-stamp parliament passed the ‘Anti-Secession Law’, which is basically a carte blanche for China to take any action it sees fit to deal with Taiwan’s separation from the mainland. The law says China would “employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Any state which interferes in the issue of Taiwan meets strong repercussions from China, such as a boycott on imports. Philips, Siemens, Volvo, Walmart, Airbus are just a few of the companies China plays with to threaten other countries to back down. The Taiwan issue is a matter of national pride, and a constant reminder to the Chinese of the historic humiliations China suffered in the hands of big powers. Just like Hong Kong and Macau have returned to China under the so-called ‘One Country, Two Systems’ formula, the last enclave is Taiwan. Beijing refuses to talk to anybody or any government official from Taiwan who does not recognise that Taiwan is part of China.


Taiwan’s difficult road
For over a decade now, Taiwan has politically and socially been the most democratic country in Asia. The Chiang Kai-Shek Nationalist Chinese regime imposed 40 years of Martial Law after arriving in 1949, and dominated the political landscape and shaped national identity. The Nationalist Chinese never forgot the dream of one day returning to China, and therefore imposed Chinese indoctrination and repressed Taiwan’s population. Since the 1980s, local Taiwanese (85% of the population) increasingly demanded more freedoms and the ability to express their identities in language, culture and education. The first open and free elections were held in 1992, which installed the first local Taiwanese in the office. In 2000 and again in 2004, the Democratic Progressive Party of Chen Shui-Bian, which supports the formal independence of Taiwan, won the presidential and parliamentary elections. In recent years, Taiwan has been trying hard to join international organisations like the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, but without success. China’s veto power, military might and threats to cut economic ties with other countries, has effectively isolated Taiwan and her 23million people. Increasingly, many Taiwanese businesses are investing in China, which is benefiting both sides of the Strait. The majority of people do not want to be unified with China, nor do they want to become independent. The status quo, peace and cooperation is what most people want. Nobody in Taiwan wants to be united with a regime that is comparatively more backward, politically and socially unfree and continually threatens to use force.

The position of the International Community
Every state in the world which wants to establish diplomatic relations with China must recognise the ‘One China Policy’. This says that there is only one China in the world, and that Taiwan is a part of China. The catch lies in the word ‘recognise’. Though the vast majority of states have established relations with China, they do not do so in recognition of the ‘One China’ policy, but mere ‘acknowledge’ it. This subtle word-play has much significance. Everyone knows that Taiwan has long before Second World War had completely separate social, political and economic developments from China. Everyone knows that the People’s Republic of China has never for a day governed over the island of Taiwan or its people. Due to China’s economic and geo-political importance in the world, most states will official say that they acknowledge that Taiwan is a part of China. However, in all non-official channels every state still maintains strong links with Taiwan. Between the international community’s realpolitik and China’s unrelenting stance on the ‘internal affair’ that is Taiwan it is important to note differences in the intention to create legal obligations under international law between recognising a fact, and the mere acknowledgement of a fact.

SOURCE: Cox & Forkum

International nature of the conflict
Most states in the world, as well as the UN, cower to the bullying tactics of China in this matter. Not many dare to condemn China’s threats, or poor human rights records. The notable exception is the United States. Though the US has formal relations with China (and acknowledges that Taiwan is a part of China), under the Taiwan Relations Act 1979 it has a legal obligation to sell weapons to Taiwan and to defend Taiwan from attack. Aside from NATO allies and Israel, no other country in the world has such status with the US. President Bush said in 2000 that the US would do “whatever it takes” to aid Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion. When China tested missiles in 1996, two US aircraft carriers anchored in the Taiwan Strait, the biggest show of force since the Gulf War, to ease tensions. The strategic position of Taiwan governed the crossroad of the Asia-Pacific, and Taiwan, together with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, completes the chain of islands that has traditionally been outposts of US influence in Asia. Recent reports indicate that a conflict in the area will cause an economic crisis and IT industry meltdown, due to the fact that more than 70% of the world’s processors, notebooks and LCD monitors are produced on the island. China cannot afford to ‘loose face’ and will never back down on the Taiwan issue, while the US will suffer a huge loss in its image as the protector of democracies and the support of allies, should Taiwan be swallowed by China. Early 2005, Japan and the US signed an pact which prioritises the Taiwan Strait as a major security concern.

The European Union has to date not had a great role to play. It constantly reiterates the need for dialogue and a peaceful resolution of the issue, but does not say what or how. However, recent proposals by France and Germany to lift a weapons embargo on China, in place since the Tiananmen Incident in 1989, have fuelled tensions across the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. Many cite the lack of any improvement in human rights and political and religious freedoms in China and the potential of fuelling an arms-race as reasons to maintain the embargo. France and Germany however are attracted by lucrative contracts.


The Future
To summarise, the Taiwan issue is a relic from a period when the world was torn apart between peace and war, unity and separation. However, this is not just a matter of two Germanies, or two Koreas. For the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan is “purely an internal Chinese matter […] an indivisible part of Chinese territory.” For the United States and the rest of the world, it is an issue that continues to hinder relations with China, and which forces Washington and other capitals to walk the tight-rope between supporting the democratic freedoms in Taiwan and enhancing economic trade with China. For the Taiwan, the conflict has meant the continual denial of recognition and entitlements to be a fully-fledged member of the international community. From a historic point of view, it springs from the lack of attention with which international agreements were made at the end of the Second World War. As one of the last remnant of Cold War politics, the unresolved dispute between Taiwan and China has the potential to break out into a conflict that will have huge repercussions all over the world.

SOURCE: Taipei Times

The international community and the UN cannot continually deny, at the insistence and threats of Beijing, that the conflict between Taiwan and China is a non-issue. Or else world leaders will again be confronted with a ‘clash of titans. One day it must be resolved. China would to do whatever possible to ‘liberate’ the island. But brute force and threats will solve nothing, only create more problems and suffering. The freedoms and livelihoods of Taiwan’s people are at stake. Taiwan’s 23million people are those who should have the most voice in the future of their own country. No one else. And the world should listen. Whether that will be the case is another matter.