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Showing posts from 2014

Huashan Creative Park, Taipei

In the heart of Taipei, in the middle of the sea of anonymous apartment blocks built in the decades following World War II, there lies a former industrial area that has remained virtually unchanged since its construction in the first half of the 20th century. This is the former 'Taipei Wine Factory' (台北酒廠), a complex of buildings that belonged to Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Monopoly. By the 1980s. when Taiwan's economy was booming and its capital, Taipei, was growing fast, the presence of this factory in what had become the city centre (but was periphery in the Japanese era) raised environmental concerns. Therefore, in 1987 wine production was moved to Linkou Industrial Area, in the suburbs of Taipei County (present-day New Taipei City).
However, this 'museum-like' neighbourhood has not been saved by wise and history-conscious city planners, but - paradoxically - by neglect and indifference. Politicians were simply too idle and uninterested in order to make something …

Hong Kong Journalists Denied Entry to Macau Ahead of Xi Jinping's Visit

On December 20 Xi Jinping, the president of the People's Republic of China (PRC), will visit the Macau Special Administrative Region (MSAR) to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty of the former Portuguese colony.  
But while the Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will attend the ceremony in Macau, Hong Kong journalists have already been denied entry to the neighbouring region. 
As the newspaper Apple Daily reported, yesterday  one of its journalists was denied entry into Macau. 
According to the paper, on December 12 the journalist took a ferry to Macau. After his arrival at the ferry station he went to the Immigration Hall, where the police prevented him from entering Macau. 
Public security officers took him to an examination room and asked for the purpose of his visit. The journalist replied he was there for an interview - without specifying whether he was the interviewer or the interviewee. 
The officers checked his documents and about half an hour l…

Goodbye, Occupy Central

The Hong Kong police have given the students that have occupied Admiralty an ultimatum: they must leave before 11 am today. Whoever stays will be arrested. 
Apparently the students have decided to comply. They are dismantling their tents, saying goodbye to the 'Umbrella City' they have created. The images of the occupation - a symbol of civil disobedience - will remain in the collective memory, just as those of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement did. The power of those images and ideas is stronger than the short-term failure of the protesters' political objectives. 
Rumours had been going around for weeks that the police would soon clear the sites of the protests. On the evening of December 1st I met a friend of mine. I hadn't seen her for a year. We went to a cafe' called Kubrick, in Yau Ma Tei. We talked a lot, and Occupy Central was one of our topics - it seemed impossible not to mention this issue when conversing with a Hongkonger, a proof of how passio…

Taipei's Beimen MRT Station and Its Hidden Treasures

Two days ago I took for the first time the new Songshan-Xindian MRT line (松山新店線, Line 3), which opened on November 15 (I wasn't in Taiwan at the time). The new line is an extension of the former Xindian-Danshui Line, which connected Xindian, in the southern part of New Taipei City, and Danshui (淡水), in the north. This South-North axis has now been split and two distinct MRT lines have been created: the Danshui-Xinyi Line (淡水信義線), and the aforementioned Songshan-Xindian line.
One interesting result of the completion of the MRT network is that all of the five city gates of Qing Dynasty Taipei Walled City now have stations named after them - Ximen (西門, 'West Gate'), Dongmen (東門, 'East Gate'), Beimen (北門, 'North Gate'), Nanmen (南門, 'South Gate') and Xiaonanmen (小南門, 'Little South Gate'). This highlights the infrastructural importance of the gates and of the boulevards which the Japanese constructed after the city walls' demolition in the earl…

A Walk in Hong Kong's Wan Chai District: Old Post Office, Blue House, Hung Shing Temple, and Pak Tai Temple

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend of mine at a Thai restaurant in Central. After we finished our meal my friend went back to work. Since the weather was quite pleasant that day, I decided to take a walk to Tin Hau.
During my walk I took a few pictures of some interesting old buildings in Wan Chai District. Surrounded by modern skyscrapers, these old structures are among the few ones that have withstood the urban development frenzy of the post-war era.
Wan ChaiIn the morning of 26 January 1841 Sir James Bremer of the British Royal Navy, accompanied by army officers and Royal Marines, landed on the north-west part of Hong Kong, a spot that came to be known as Possession Point (which is now the site of the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal). He toasted Queen Victoria and took formal possession of the small island in her name. Hong Kong had been ceded to the British by the Qing Empire during the First Opium War. London secured the naval base through the Convention of Chuanbi and later throug…

Hong Kong's "Umbrella City"

When I left Hong Kong back in September, Occupy Central had just begun. I went to Admiralty and Central on the first day of the protests, which was the 28th. The following morning I flew to Taipei. 
I was very sad, not only because I was leaving a city which I love more and more each time I return there, but also because I had seen history unfolding before my eyes and yet I was suddenly cut off from those events. While I was sitting on the express train to the airport, I had already made up my mind that I would go back to Hong Kong as soon as possible. 
And I was right. What I have seen in Hong Kong over the past few days is amazing, and I feel glad and privileged that I could be part of this historic moment. At least I'll be able to tell my grandchildren that I was here. 

YouBike - Good or Bad for Taipei?

In 2008 Taipei City’s Department of Transportation launched the Taipei Bike Sharing Pilot Program, which evolved into the highly successful YouBike, a bicycle rental project with over 30 million users as of October of this year.
I welcome the use of bikes as a cheaper and eco-friendly alternative to scooters and cars. However, I think that the YouBike so far has had a negative impact on Taipei. There are three major problems that need to be addressed:
1) the government has failed to make the population aware of the risks of riding their bikes on sidewalks;
2) as the city lacks an extensive network of bicycle paths, pedestrians now have to share the same, often narrow spaces with a growing number of bikes;
3) YouBike riders are not required by law to purchase an insurance, like scooter and car drivers do.
As you can see from the video below, some cyclists (in my experience, the great majority of them) have absolutely no sense of responsibility when riding their bikes on sidewalks. Unfortuna…

My Pictures of Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution

Yesterday I arrived in Hong Kong and, despite being extremely tired - I had slept for only one hour and a half in two days -, after leaving my stuff at the hostel I immediately went to see how Occupy Central had transformed the city centre. 

However, I was way too exhausted and hungry to go to Central, so I just had a look at the Causeway Bay site of the protest, which is quite close to where I'm currently staying.
The 'Occupiers' have by now settled permanently in some limited areas, one of them being a section of Hennessy Road, formerly a bustling traffic artery, now turned into a sort of 'encampment' with tens, colourful pictures, collages and posters. Actually, Hennessy Road has never been as beautiful as it is today, and the occupation does not seem to affect shops or normal life. The only thing it has affected is traffic, but, well, does Hong Kong really desperately need more cars and pollution? 
The atmosphere is quiet right now, and very little seems to be hap…

Customer Service in Taiwan: A Day At Guanghua Digital Plaza

When I lived in Germany many Taiwanese I met there told me that service in Taiwan is much better than in Europe. "The customer is king," they often said. I heard this opinion so many times that I obviously came to believe it. Since I myself considered service in Germany and Italy - the two countries in Europe where I lived longest - overall pretty bad, I was looking forward to coming to Taiwan and experiencing an entirely new level of customer service.
I will write in another post about the myth of Taiwan's customer service. Here I will just share my experience at Guanghua Digital Plaza (光華商場) which is, I believe, the most famous consumer electronics market of the Taiwanese capital. 
I'd been thinking about buying a new laptop for quite some time. Today my old one was so slow I could hardly use it, and I decided to buy an "emergency" laptop before purchasing a better one in Europe (if you're wondering, computers in Taiwan are not cheaper than in Europe).�…

Why Hong Kong's 'One Country, Two Systems' Was Doomed to Fail

The concept of 'one country, two systems' is the cornerstone of Beijing's policy towards Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, three areas that remained outside of the control of the People's Republic of China (PRC) after the successful revolution of 1949, but which the Communist state claimed as part of 'China's territory'.
In this post, I would like to show how the 'one country, two systems' policy developed, and what contradictions it entailed from the very beginning. We will see how the reaction of the current leadership in Beijing to the 'Occupy Central' movement echoes Deng Xiaoping's understanding of 'one country, two systems', and that some of Hong Kong's pan-democrats are wrong when they claim that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is betraying Deng's promise to grant the former British colony a high degree of autonomy.
Taiwan and Two Systems in One Country
After Deng Xiaoping rose to power in the late 1970s, he abandoned Ma…

Communist China's Unbearable Propaganda

I think the People's Republic of China (PRC, I consider it a mistake to equate the Communist state with China, so I will just use its official name) deserves to be understood and judged fairly. I have met Chinese who are members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP); many of them are nice, rational, reasonable individuals whom I consider good friends. The CCP has its own logic, and it is fair to try and understand it, to listen to the arguments, opinions and points of view of the Chinese political elite.
However, oftentimes the CCP makes it very hard for us to do so. Manipulations and shameless propaganda cannot but anger and embitter even those who would like to have a dialogue with the citizens of the PRC. The CCP does not allow free speech, it cuts off the country from the rest of the world by blocking social networks where intercultural dialogue could and should take place. And, most importantly, its state media engage in a style of propaganda that is nauseating, based on false …

Wang Dan, a Veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Protests, Writes Open Letter to the Hong Kong Students

June 4, 1989. In the predawn darkness we were forced to evacuate Tiananmen Square. Negotiations with the army were completed. The terms we agreed upon were simple: We should leave before daybreak. A peaceful conclusion to the occupation of this largest of public gathering places in all of China seemed within reach. Helmeted soldiers allowed us to pass through the narrow corridor at the southeast side of the square, all the while pointing their bayonets, as if we were prisoners of war. Army commanders had promised to give the demonstrators an opportunity to disperse.The process, time-consuming because the crowd was huge, seemed under way. “Fascist!” a female student cursed furiously. Immediately, several soldiers rushed at her and beat her down with the butts of their rifles. Her male comrades hurried to help her back into the march . And thus commenced the last phase of a major confrontation between nonviolent demonstrators led by university students and the armed forces of the People…

Old Houses in Taipei

A while ago I wrote a short post about an old house in Taipei's Roosevelt Road which I'd been often passing by, wondering if it was a building from the Qing Dynasty or from the Japanese era. I thought there weren't many such old houses left in that area, but, while taking long walks around Gongguan, Taipower Building Station, Guting and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, I found out that I was wrong.  In fact, there are several of them, scattered all around this part of Taipei City. However, they are not very visible, and if you don't look carefully, chances are you won't even notice them. There are three reasons for this. First, they usually stand isolated among modern buildings, sometimes sandwiched between or hidden behind them. Second, they are usually surrounded by high walls. Third, they tend to be so decrepit and neglected that they lose much of their charm. 
Just a few days ago, I found a house that might be from the Japanese era. It is so far one of the best pr…

Real or Fake News? - Mainland Chinese Boy Pees At Restaurant Inside Taipei 101

On October 19 Apple Daily published an article about a mainland boy who peed in public at the famous restaurant Ding Tai Feng (鼎泰豐, often spelt 'Din Tai Fung') inside Taipei 101. 
According to the report, at the beginning of October a group of 5 tourists from China's Shanxi province went to Ding Tai Feng, a chain of restaurants renowned for its xiaolongbao(小籠包, a kind of dumpling). During the meal, a 3-year-old boy had to pee and his mother let him urinate inside a plastic bottle in public. Although there is no toilet inside Ding Tai Feng, there is one just about 100 meters away from the restaurant but still inside Taipei 101. Allegedly, other customers saw that the boy had pulled down his pants to pee and felt shocked. Moreover, the boy 'missed his target' and sprinkled the table and the food. 
The group consisted of a 37-year-old mother and her two children, her 73-year-old father and her 41-year-old sister-in-law. They arrived at the restaurant at around 12:30 of …

Anti-Occupy Thugs Launch 'Soy Sauce' Attack Against Hong Kong's 'Apple Daily'

At around 2:30 of October 22, 2014, thugs launched a series of attacks against Apple Daily delivery workers at several locations, sprinkling the newspaper with soy sauce. They damaged around 15,000 copies. Another newspaper, Headline Daily, was also hit by attackers.

According to reports, masked men approached delivery staff in Central, Hung Hom and Cheung Sha Wan, threatening them with knives. Their only purpose was to immobilise the delivery staff while they poured soy sauce on the newspapers.
A street vendor interviewed by a newspaper in Mong Kok said that today she received only 20 copies of Apple Daily, while she usually receives 40, but the company that delivered the newspapers did not explain why.  
The police are investigating the matter, but it appears that the attack is politically motivated. Apple Daily is part of the Next Media group owned by media mogul Jimmy Lai, who is a staunch opponent of the Chinese Communist Party. He and his companies have suffered numerous retaliatio…

Hong Kong Chief Executive Once Again Blames Occupy Central On 'External Forces'. But Where Are The Proofs?

In a televised interview on Sunday, Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong's Chief Executive, has once again accused foreigners of interfering in Hong Kong's pro-democracy movements.
"There is obviously participation by people, organisations from outside of Hong Kong, in politics in Hong Kong, over a long time," he said. "This is not the only time when they do it, and this is not an exception either."
Whenever I read or hear this kind of opinion, I feel blood rising to my head. 
First of all, what proofs does he have in order to make such an accusation? Who are the people and the organisations outside of Hong Kong that are behind the pro-democracy movements? Certainly, some foreign individuals have taken part in Occupy Central. But there is not one leader of the movement that is a foreigner, and virtually all protesters are Hong Kongers. Now, if Leung makes such an accusation, the people should demand that he proves the link between the leaders of Occupy Central as well a…

Video of Chinese Mother Beating Her Child Sparks Outrage

Is corporal punishment a good method for teaching children how to behave? Or is it just a way for impatient and frustrated parents to unload their negative emotions on defenceless children? 
Just a few days ago I was walking on a street in Taipei and I saw a mother who kept yelling at her young daughter. Then she suddenly hit the child across the face so hard that her cheek immediately reddened. I do not know exactly why the mother was so upset, but slapping her daughter in the middle of the street and in front of everybody doesn't seem to me a good way to teach anything. Passers-by, of course, saw what happened, and some looked slightly shocked. But as this is considered a private family matter no one would have dared interfere or even show too much attention. The child will have to learn to submit.
As I have explained in one of my posts, corporal punishment used to be common in East Asia and is still relatively widespread, though not as much as before. However, mild forms of aggre…

LINKS: Hong Kong Police Starts Removing Protesters' Barricades

This morning, on the 16th days since the beginning of the Occupy Central protests, the police have gathered at the sites occupied by demostrators and are trying to remove the barricades. Apparently, the policemen are prepared to use teargas.

Hong Kong police try to clear road barricades as protests enter 16th day http://t.co/CQJwLxpWay
— SCMP News (@SCMP_News) October 13, 2014
Hong Kong police start clearing protest barricades: Occupy Central http://t.co/IHe3757Y9H
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) October 13, 2014

Debunking Beijing's Accusations that Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution is Fomented by 'Foreign Forces'

"The Chinese revolution is a key factor in the world situation and its victory is heartily anticipated by the people of every country, especially by the toiling masses of the colonial countries," said Mao Zedong in a July 1936 interview. "When the Chinese revolution comes into full power, the masses of many colonial countries will follow the example of China and win a similar victory of their own…
According to Mao, the Communist-led Chinese revolution was part of the "world revolution" directed against "anti-imperialist and anti-feudal" forces (On New Democracy, January 1940). "Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin" had given the revolutionary avant-garde a weapon. "This weapon is not a machine-gun, but Marxism-Leninism", he explained (On the People's Democratic Dictatorship, June 1949). 
Faithful to his ideology, Mao not only accepted the help and guidance of the Soviet Union, but he also helped "Communist brothers" i…

Tiu Keng Leng - A Former Guomindang Enclave in British Hong Kong

Tiu Keng Leng (調景嶺; pinyin: Tiáojǐnglǐng) is an area in Hong Kong's Sai Kung District. Today it is a modern neighbourhood with high-rise buildings and shopping malls, but in the past it used to be a settlement of Guomindang sympathisers and supporters of the Republic of China (ROC). 
Tiu Keng Leng is often called 'Rennie's Mill', after Alfred Herbert Rennie. Born in Canada in 1857, Rennie moved to Hong Kong in 1890. He found work as a clerk at the Government Public Works Department but he resigned in 1895 to start his own business. He wanted to build a flour mill, since Hong Kong imported flour from abroad at the time. He bought land at Junk Bay (Tseung Kwan O) and built his mill between 1905 and 1906. However, the business turned unprofitable and failed. Desperate and disillusioned, Rennie drowned himself in 1908 (Bard 2002, p. 234). 
The Chinese-speaking population henceforth called the area 吊頸嶺 (Tiu Keng Leng, literally "hanging neck ridge"). As the name was…

Occupy Central Updates: CY Leung Accused of Pocketing Money From Australian Firm, University Lecturer Attacked by 'Patriotic' Mainland Chinese Student, and other news

According to The Age, an Australian newspaper, Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-yingreceived a HK$49.9 million payout from an Australian firm. Leung did not disclose the sum when he assumed office in 2012, claims the newspaper.

What if Beijing Granted Hong Kong Genuine Universal Suffrage?

Over the past few years, a battle has erupted in Hong Kong over the future of the former British colony which was handed over to the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1997 and became a Special Administrative Region (SAR). According to the "One Country, Two Systems" model proposed by Deng Xiaoping, Hong Kong was to maintain a high degree of autonomy as well as the freedoms inherited by the colonial state. 
According to the Basic Law of the SAR, promulgated in 1990 by the PRC government and put into effect after the handover, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong "shall be the head of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and shall represent the Region". He "shall be accountable to the Central People's Government and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in accordance with the provisions of this law." 
The function of Chief Executive basically replaced that of the British governor in colonial times. But while the governor was appointed by Lon…

Dozens of Mainland Chinese Detained by Police For Supporting Hong Kong's Occupy Central

Since September 28 at least 34 people have been detained and 60 people have been questioned by the police in mainland China for sharing images and news of Hong Kong's Occupy Central or showing support for it. As the "Umbrella Revolution" unfolded in Hong Kong, the Communist government and its media apparatus have been trying to insulate the mainland from the outside world, leading to a sharp increase of censorship activities.
According to Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch (民生观察), the Hunanese activist Ou Biaofeng (欧彪峰) was arrested on October 1. A squad of Zhuzhou Internal Security Bureau broke open the door of his house while he was still in bed. They questioned him about some pictures he had posted online in which he was seen as shaving his head in support of Occupy Central (the initiators of Occupy Central had shaven their heads at the beginning of September to show their "determination to fight for true democracy").
"Because I shaved my whole head clean …

Triad Involvement in Anti-Occupy Central Clashes Confirmed

After anti-Occupy groups attacked pro-democracy protesters on Friday and Saturday, injuring several demonstrators, many wondered whether these assaults, which appeared well-organised and planned in advance, were the work of triad members. Yesterday at a press conference the Secretary for Security of Hong Kong Lai Tung-kwok (黎棟國) confirmed that triad members were involved in the clashes. 
TIME: Hong Kong Government Accused of Using Triads to Attack Student Protesters: The deputy chairman of the Ho... http://t.co/YhHViEK39S
— Hong Kong Stream (@hkstream) October 4, 2014Kwok said that the government severely condemns the violent behaviour of some individuals, and confirmed that the police had arrested 19 suspects, 8 of whom have triad links. They allegedly assaulted demonstrators during clashes in Mong Kok, a popular shopping district. According to the 'China Times', some of the thugs may have been taxi or minibus drivers with triad affiliation. 

Hong Kong's Occupy Central Turned Violent as Thugs Attacked Occupiers

Hong Kong protesters beaten and bloodied as thugs attack sit-in http://t.co/2XzsWnvAk6pic.twitter.com/RKcvBSnIhV — Guardian World (@guardianworld) October 3, 2014
Yesterday was a sad day for Hong Kong. I really love this city. Every time I go there, its atmosphere and beauty, its energy and uniqueness mesmerize me. But the contradictions of the post-1997 settlement are coming to the surface now and threaten to change the ex-colony forever.  
The images we have seen yesterday are shocking, and to a certain extent unexpected. I was there on the first day of Occupy Central. The tension was palpable. People seemed optimistic, but how to forget what happened in 1989? Who could know whether the leadership in Beijing would react the same way and the soldiers of the PLA would storm out of their barracks to put down the demonstrations? 
However, no one expected that thugs would do the dirty job of scaring off the protesters. Yesterday, men who oppose Occupy Central attacked demonstrators, injuring…

UPDATES: Is Beijing Using Thugs to Intimidate Occupy Central Demonstrators?

Clashes have erupted between Occupy Central demonstrators and pro-Beijing groups. A woman speaking Mandarin was seen giving orders to men who attacked protesters. Are pro-Communist forces in Hong Kong using thugs to scare Occupy Central supporters?
PICTURED: Disorder in Mong Kok as anti-protesters confront protesters http://t.co/RmZuwQm3I2pic.twitter.com/PLhTJGWp8l
— SCMP News (@SCMP_News) October 3, 2014
This is difficult to say and impossible to prove (that's where the cleverness of this strategy lies). However, it can be proved that Beijing has been using this kind of tactics in Taiwan, where the so-called 'White Wolf', a former leader of a criminal syndicate, meddled in this year's Sunflower Movement protests to intimidate opponents of China-Taiwan reunification.

Chinese Activist Arrested For Posting Pictures of Hong Kong's Occupy Central

Wang Long, a 26-year-old Chinese activist, was arrested in Shenzhen because he posted pictures of Hong  Kong's Occupy Central on Chinese media. He was detained for "picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. At least 3 people have been so far detained on the mainland because they posted photos of the protests in Hong Kong.
Wang Long had already hit the headlines earlier this month when he sued China Unicom, a state-owned telecom provider, for denying access to Google websites and services.
After the Occupy Central campaign was launched by Benny Tai on September 28, thousands of people have joined the demonstrations. The images of the protests have been shared by millions of people all over the world, but not in mainland China, where censorship has been at work to prevent the Chinese people from seeing what is really happening in Hong Kong.

The People's Liberation Army Is Closely Monitoring Hong Kong's Protests

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is closely monitoring Hong Kong's Occupy Central (讓愛與和平佔領中環) - literally. The PLA headquarters are located on Lung Wui Road, close to Admiralty and the government offices in Tamar.   
Today the South China Morning Post published a picture showing staff inside the Chinese People's Liberation Army Forces Hong Kong Building watching the protesters with binoculars. 
Occupy Central poses the biggest challenge to Communist rule since the 1989 student protests. The democracy movement on the mainland was suppressed by the very PLA whose garrisons entered Hong Kong after British forces left the city in 1997.
I had never noticed that building until last Sunday. While I was walking from Central towards Tamar, trying to return to Admiralty, I stumbled upon a group of protesters gathered in front of the PLA headquarters. The road was blocked by the police, so I couldn't walk any further. I turned around and saw the military premises. There was a sur…