Little thoughts: Tibet, China’s influence, and Katy Perry

There have been a few things on my mind lately, each strangely linked to each other.

The Nepal earthquake occurred a few days after a swarm of earthquakes occurred off the east coast of Taiwan. The news reported the need for rescuers to act quickly, but also fears of strong aftershocks. Since Taiwan has earthquake rescue experience, it wasn’t a surprise that crews were preparing to depart for Nepal. Until they were told they weren’t needed, which sparked articles with titles like “China Rushes Aid to Nepal After Deadly Earthquake; Taiwan Is Turned Away” [] and “Nepal is accepting earthquake aid from countries around the world—but not from Taiwan” [Quartz]. After hearing these reports, I started wondering, what about the Tibetan refugees in Nepal? Which took me to the story “Fears for Nepal’s ‘invisible’ Tibetan refugees” [BBC]. Politics is a constant issue if China is involved, even in a time of crisis.

Around the same time, I read about a campaign, by Students for a Free Tibet, against Confucius Institutes. I haven’t had direct interaction with any institutes, but to see them popping up on campuses worldwide is rather disconcerting. I’ve also heard of stories where scholars need to be extra careful of their research since their funding comes from China. I watched this video of a discussion about the institutes:

The description at 9:40, of a student wearing supposed Tibetan clothing, and the cultural misappropriation of minority culture from China, reminded me of minority dances from China. Dances of ethnic groups (such as 傣族 Dai, 維吾爾族 Uyghur, 蒙古族 Mongolian, 苗族 Miao, 藏族 Tibetan, 苗族 Miao, 回族 Hui, etc.) are considered Chinese ethnic dance. In China, these minority groups are considered part of China (and Chinese) because that’s what the PRC government dictates. (Even in Taiwan in the late 1980s, I learned that these groups belonged to the greater ROC, back when the ROC had a stronger stance on governing greater China.) But what I don’t understand is why it still happens in dance groups outside of China, don’t they know that these dances marginalize minority cultures? It’s also appropriation since hand gestures and movements have been taken from traditional dances, yet the PRC (majority 漢族 Han) oppresses people from these ethnic groups, especially in 西藏 and 新疆. It would be better to say those dances are inspired by the dances of minority groups, but are not the true authentic dances.

I suppose there are Chinese outside of China that can justify learning ethnic minority dances, and maintain their political leanings and continue spreading the propaganda of a peaceful and unified China. The dance 千紅 is accompanied by “Happy Valley”, an overture performed at the 1997 Hong Kong reunification ceremony. In some versions online it is labeled as a 漢族 (Han) dance. A search on YouTube came up with dance groups outside China performing it. One group seemed to be inspired by the choreography and used elements of it, but selected different music. If one group thought it best not to perform the original, I wonder about the decisions made by other groups. Perhaps they were appropriating the dance as Chinese dance, without understanding the political sentiment behind the music. I also wonder if anyone watching in the audience (or online) understood.

Katy Perry had been in the news in the past about cultural appropriation, but her latest concert in Taiwan has set off a different discussion. But it does involve the same song (“Unconditionally”) that was called out for cultural appropriation at the 2013 American Music Awards. The costuming and concert set for the song involves sunflowers. At the concert in Taipei, she also wore the ROC flag like a cape. The concert audience saw it as support for an independent Taiwan, as sunflowers became a symbol of last year’s protest movement. The latest headlines read “Katy Perry’s latest crazy concert outfit is too pro-Taiwan for China” [Quartz] and “Katy Perry’s Sunflower Dress Stirs Up Controversy in China: Political Statement or Style Snafu? Get the Details!” [E! Online]. It’s only controversy for netizens in China. It’s pretty interesting seeing the entertainment news sources navigate the situation. Some reporters seem confused about the difference between Taiwan and China. There’s even a long discussion in the comments section of the article on Billboard. I suppose it’s good that news about Taiwan is going beyond the international news section, and more people may learn about Taiwan. However, I don’t think wearing the ROC flag is a statement. This would have been a better statement to make.

318 a year later


It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since students and activists occupied the Legislative Building. The social protests leading up to and including the Sunflower Student Movement have collectively increased awareness in social and political issues. Criticisms will arise in looking back and reflecting on the movement, and while we can learn from the past, we must also do what we can to protect our future.

It’s pretty clear that the increase in voting participation by the younger generation was a result of the student movement. More people became aware of social issues. People who were perhaps unclear or disinterested in politics became educated. More social groups were formed to help students return to their hometowns to vote. However, there is a lingering problem ahead.

The next general election (which will decide the president and legislature) is scheduled for January 16, 2016. Currently this runs into the middle of final exams for universities. This will severely hamper the ability of students to return home to vote. Election day is on a Saturday. Not only would students need to pay expensive Friday or Saturday fares for the train ride home, but they would also need to quickly return back to school. This is making election day an unfair disadvantage for university students.

The KMT would be at an advantage with a low student turnout since students tend to vote for the opposition party. This was very clear in the November election when the KMT did very poorly. The election date issue also comes up time and time again leading up to the presidential election.

Until this is figured out and everyone is given a fair chance to vote, we will not have a fair election. This is why the battle for our rights has not ended. We need to keep fighting against unjust situations like these and keep democracy alive in Taiwan.

Translated books published in Taiwan, but not China

Previously I had heard a lot about books being censored in China – as in chapters and portions taken out before publication. I take that to be common knowledge about China. Two books published last year brought this situation back to light: Evan Osnos’ “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China”, and Hillary Clinton’s memoir “Hard Choices”. Osnos’ book was published in the U.S. on May 13, 2014. Clinton’s book was published in the U.S. on June 10, 2014.

Before Osnos’ book was released, he wrote New York Times opinion piece regarding the difficulty of publishing his book in China. The last paragraph of the essay was:

In the end, I decided not to publish my book in mainland China. (It will be available to Chinese readers from a publisher in Taiwan.) To produce a “special version” that plays down dissent, trims the Great Leap Forward, and recites the official history of Bo Xilai’s corruption would not help Chinese readers. On the contrary, it would endorse a false image of the past and present. As a writer, my side of the bargain is to give the truest story I can.

Articles about the ban on Clinton’s book were citing this Buzzfeed article. Still4Hill blogged about an email from Simon & Schuster, verifying the ban and releasing a new excerpt, the chapter on China.

I believe Osnos’ situation is more unprecedented, where an author refuses to censor a book for the China audience, which I completely laud. Clinton’s situation is probably a bit more common, where the publisher who wanted to buy the rights figures that there’s no way the book will pass the censors and fulfill the requirements of the original publisher.

Perhaps one thing that has passed people’s attention was that both books would be published in Taiwan. Both books are worthy of being translated into Chinese and made available to Chinese readers. However, if an author writing about a sensitive subject, such as China, wants to publish in China, it will most likely be an incomplete version of the original book. The only way to preserve the original material is to publish the book in Chinese in Taiwan, where there are no censorship restrictions.

The Buzzfeed article mentions that Business Weekly in Taiwan had the rights to Clinton’s book. 商業周刊 (known in English as Business Weekly) is part of a larger media group, 商周集團. I like reading 商業周刊. While the main articles focus on business and finance, there are also articles about daily life and news. Clinton’s book was published on June 12, 2014 with the title 抉擇. The release in Taiwan coincided with the release in the United States. She was interviewed by 商業周刊 on June 19, 2014 in Los Angeles.

The questions are posed in Chinese, but Clinton responds in English (with Chinese subtitles), the questions and translations are:

1. 如果你是台灣總統,如何做到與中國交往,同時又保持政治上的自主?
If you were the president of Taiwan, how would you handle relations with China while maintaining political autonomy?

2. 所以你認為,經濟上的依賴,會降低政治上的獨立自主?
So you believe that economic dependence will lower political independence and autonomy?

3. 你是否覺得,當台灣與中國靠的越來越近,美國與台灣就越來越遠?
Do you feel that as Taiwan and China become closer, the United States and Taiwan become farther apart?

4. 你認為台灣政府的兩岸關係處理得好嗎?
Do you believe that the government of Taiwan has handled cross-strait relations well?

Osnos’ book was published in Taiwan on January 28, 2015 by 八旗文化 with the title 野心時代:在新中國追求財富、真相和信仰. The ad in the front of the book says 全球唯一指定中文版, meaning “the world’s only official Chinese version.”

Joseph Esherick describes his experience with censors in this foreign policy article. His book “Ancestral Leaves: A Family Journey through Chinese History” was published in the U.S. in February 2011, and came out in China (with the title 葉:百年動盪中的一個中國家庭) in July 2014. The book was released in China and only the simplified Chinese version can be found. I suppose the U.S. publishers are not concerned with making an uncensored traditional Chinese version available in Taiwan.

Louisa Lim’s “The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited” was published in the U.S. in June of 2014. I have not seen a Chinese version, but will keep an eye out for it.

Getting back to dance form with “Ballet Beautiful”

Dance is my exercise of choice since I’ve been dancing on and off since I was a child. To me, nothing can compare to stepping out of a dance technique class, all sore and wobbly, feeling tall and aligned. The technique classes that I’ve taken for Chinese dance are also based on ballet technique. I know my body responds well to ballet.

Something I’ve run into time and time again is changes after settling at a studio or with an instructor. I’ll settle into a good regime of dance classes and then life gets in the way: work gets really hectic; or the studio schedule changes. Somehow this always tends to happen right as I feel that I’m in the best shape I could be. The next thing I know, I find myself not taking classes and not working out.

This past time it happened, it took about six months until I realized I needed to work out again. So I started walking and tried some workout DVDs. But none of it made me feel the same way I felt after technique class. I thought about finding another studio, but realized the problem was the cycle of being in an out of classes and I needed to break that cycle first. I needed to find something that I could continuously do at home. I was stuck until I learned about Ballet Beautiful from this post from Adult Ballerina Project.

I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to ballet, dance, or Pilates based workout DVDs. I don’t like it when the routine is really aerobics with some dance moves, or pairing modern music with sort-of ballet. In my experience, I do not end up working the muscles I would work in technique class. To make it worse, I would feel my hamstrings tighten and feel less flexible after the workout.

I watched a few clips of Ballet Beautiful online, and liked the atmosphere it created: classical music, simple counting and cuing. The exercises looked along the lines of Pilates and ballet. I’m not a big fan of mat workouts, but I figured the atmosphere might keep me going. I went ahead and bought the first two DVDs: Total Body Workout (also called Classic 60-Minute Workout) and Body Blast (also called Blast Series).

I tried Total Body Workout first. The exercises were hard. I had to made the beginner modifications, but I could not do all the repetitions. My muscles were burning. My limbs were wobbling through the exercises. I was surprised when the workout ended since I didn’t think it had been an hour. Granted, I probably only exercised for half that time. But once I stood up, I was standing taller, my posture was better, my muscles were happy. I naturally stood with my torso pulled up and tail tucked under. I started dancing. I was happy. The workout was exactly what I needed to wake up my ballet muscles.

I was so impressed with this result that pretty much right after my first session, I completed my Ballet Beautiful collection and bought the Ballet Beautiful book and the two cardio DVDs: Cardio Fat Burn and Sculpt & Burn Cardio Blast.

A family friend I saw during the week I started Ballet Beautiful mentioned that I looked taller and was standing straighter. I see this friend almost every other week. This was only after attempting two sessions of Total Body and half of Body Blast. I knew my posture felt better, but I didn’t think people would notice.

I strongly suggest that people not familiar with ballet or Pilates buy the book. I believe the order in which items were released were: book; online videos; Total Body Workout; Body Blast; Cardio Fat Burn; Sculpt & Burn Cardio Blast. Between the book and my dance experience, I have been able to come up with standing modifications to make the workouts more like ballet class.

I found water to be super important with this workout. I drink water in between Total Body segments. And then I drink a ridiculous amount of water after a session. I’m not forcing myself to drink water – my body is just craving water. To me, it’s a good sign because it shows that I’m working out. It’s also a good sign because I always need a lot of water after technique class. It’s another sign that my body is reacting to Ballet Beautiful the same way it does to dance classes.

Ballet Beautiful is really good about guidance. There are posts on the website about the ideal rotation of the Total Body and Body Blast videos, modifications for pregnancy (also works for those trying to find low impact exercises), two programs that add the Cardio Fat Burn video, and adding the Sculpt & Blast video.

I’m really glad that I’ve finally found a workout that works my muscles the same way a dance technique class does. This is obviously not a substitution for dance classes. But, if I can keep Ballet Beautiful as my core workout, and treat studio classes as a bonus, I will finally break the cycle of relying entirely on studio classes for exercise.

If you want to give Ballet Beautiful a try, there are some clips from the DVDs from BeFiT.

Total Body Workout (all workouts except standing)

Body Blast (all workouts)

There’s also a playlist of videos exclusively from Net-A-Porter.

The new year is coming up soon – maybe Ballet Beautiful will be part of your new years resolutions?

台北調 (Taipei Tone) – 柯文哲 (Ko Wen Je) campaign album


柯文哲 (Ko Wen Je) won the 2014 election for Taipei mayor. He ran as an independent candidate, with endorsement from the DPP. One of the ways he raised funds for the campaign was through an album called 台北調 (Taipei Tone).

The songs for the recording began with an open invitation to submit demos. Songs were chosen through online voting and a selection committee. The demos are available on SoundCloud. The track info has the artists’ thoughts about Taipei and song lyrics. A total of 82 demos are available. The language of each song is also listed on the demo page: 英語 is English, 台語 is Taiwanese, 華語 is Mandarin, 演奏曲 means instrumental, and 客語 is Hakka. The artists include established independent artists, up and coming artists, and people from the community.

Twelve songs are on the final recording: eleven songs chosen from demos, and a campaign song that was already written. In addition to being available on Spotify, the album is also available on YouTube, iTunes, and kkbox. There were multiple concerts held to promote the campaign.

I’ve included some tidbits about the tracks and artists. The links in the track name are to lyrics at SoundCloud or kkbox, and links to artists are to FB or StreetVoice pages.

1. 台北天晴 by 嚴正嵐 (Vera Yen)
In Mandarin. A lovely voice. “A sunny Taipei, after the rain, is the prettiest.”

2. 寄望台北城 by 洪立 and 張詠承
In Taiwanese. A song about finding one’s wishes and dreams in Taipei. Taipei has long been the “big city” for many in Taiwan as a place where dreams can come true. There’s concert footage of their performance

3. 台北! 夢想起跑點 by 白芯羽 (Cindy Pai)
In Mandarin. 白芯羽 might only be eight years old, but she’s not a stranger to political events. She performed during the Sunflower student movement. The song continues the theme of Taipei being the beginning of people’s dreams. An upbeat song for a young and cute voice! She is the generation for whom we want a changed Taiwan.

4. 阮住佇艋舺 by 勞動服務 (Community Service)
In Taiwanese. A hip-hop song about 艋舺 (Bang Ka; Monga), the old name for the current 萬華 (Wan Hua) district. 艋舺 is the oldest district in Taipei. The song combines traditional instruments and describes the changes to 艋舺 that happened throughout history.

5. 我愛的台北 by 游景棠
In Mandarin. kkbox lists the artists as 游景棠, 曾翊維, 黃國晏, and 顧典晉, who are the members of 木眼鏡 (Wooden Glasses). A song about the many stories in Taipei. It encourages people to look down their own alleyway, and experience the warmth that people bring to the city.

6. 親眼目睹 by 楊宗翰 (Jerry Yang)
In Mandarin. A song about a different day, inspired by the words of 柯文哲. Describes a world where doing the correct thing is encouraged, and all live in good times with no hardships.

7. 我有一個夢 by 流氓阿德 (Ardor Huang)
In Taiwanese. “I have a dream, a small dream, I wish for a day, where there are no longer people who hurt. I have a dream, a small dream, I wish that people who love each other, can be forever, forever.”

8. 台北調 by 南西樂團 (Nasyy)
In Mandarin. A lively song that plays on the word 調. When pronounced 調(ㄉㄧㄠˋ), the word means melody or tone. When pronounced 調(ㄊㄧㄠˊ), the word means to mix or to adjust.

9. 從你我開始 by Dark Eyes Gypsy Jazz Band
In Mandarin. Very direct lyrics about the failure of the government. “Taiwan’s recovery, starts with Taipei; To save Taipei, starts with you and me.”

10. 站穩了 by Story Teller and 周照棠
In Taiwanese. A song about everyone, from the young to the old, working hard to make a living, despite the inequalities of the city. “There are many lovely things waiting for us to dream, there are many stories waiting for us to write. I will also stand firm, because I am a child of Taipei.”

11. Big City by 李振全 (Jeremy Lee)
In Mandarin. 李振全 has been paralyzed from the neck down after a car accident in January 2013. He was an up and coming artist – check out his performance at the 2012 Hennessy artistry competition. A song about gathering energy to continue to move forward, even while not being able to afford anything, and a sense of not belonging in the city. The original music video is on YouTube, and he performed at a campaign concert.

12. 白色力量 by 包子丸
In Taiwanese. This song was the campaign song. 包子丸 was a composer and lyricist and wrote many Taiwanese songs. He passed away in July 2014. Some of his works can be found at 包子丸的音樂 blogspot and Wang J.D (包子丸) G+. “Daylight slowly comes, what are you waiting for? A new day, or an unchanged past. The fear is that you are accustomed, to this city that never improves. Let us recover its fairness and justice.”

2014 臺灣選舉 | 2014 Elections in Taiwan


This election, more than any others, was really moved by young people and first-time voters. Spurred by the social movements from the past two years, an increase in participation from younger voters was expected. A lot of postings, like this one from the youth group supporting 柯文哲, introduced first-time voters to the regulations at polling places.

Earlier this year there was a movement for young people to change their home registration to their current residence, so they could make vote to make changes to where they lived. Voting is based on the place of home registration, which is not necessarily the same as place of current residence. Many people, especially students, need to go back to their place of home registration to vote.

Another movement encouraged young people to run for local positions. It is crucial for young people to take part in local government, and be a new voice. These people have become some our city representatives. It is so good to see the younger generation participating in politics so soon.

Many people used their skills to get the word out about candidates, or just voting in general. There was a series of student videos that encouraged people to go out and vote. I especially like this one that shows how many decisions in life are actually dictated by other people, but voting is a way to decide one’s future.

There was also a movement to get people involved in overseeing the election results. Community members are allowed to observe pre-voting and post-voting procedures. Voting is from 8am to 4pm. Before voting starts, the poll workers are required to show that the ballot boxes are empty and clean. After voting, the counting begins. Each ballot needs to be displayed as it is counted. This cartoon by nagee expresses the importance of overseeing the voting process.

One issue that still needs to be resolved is voting age. Voting age is based on age of majority, which is 20 years old. However, all males must do mandatory military service at the age of 18, unless he is in school. The drinking age is also 18. So why must people wait until they are 20 to decide one’s government? The voting age of 20 is one of the highest voting ages in the world. The change was suggested in the legislature earlier this year, but since the change requires a change in the constitution, it was unlikely to move forward. An NGO has been set up calling for the reduction of the voting age to 18.

“I Voted” Sticker in Chinese

On election day in the U.S., I saw this particular “I Voted” sticker online:

The sticker has “I Voted” in three languages: English, Chinese, and Spanish. The statements in English and Spanish seem very positive and upbeat, with exclamation marks. The Chinese translation 我已投票 comes across as happy as your computer telling you its virus library was updated. The statement 已更新 is used in software to mean that it has been updated. The use of 已 makes the statement rather formal and boring. It makes voting seem rather mundane, which is probably the opposite of what the sticker is supposed to project, given the statements in English and Spanish. 我投票了! also means “I Voted!” and sounds much more exciting. Plus, it also has an exclamation mark.