This is a short entry on some current events.
First, some thoughts on the current news story that is gripping everyone on this island right now.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Taipei starting on March 18th, protesting the way that the latest trade agreement with China has been handled by the legislature. I want to talk about this in part because I don’t think it has gotten a lot of prime time press in news coverage outside of the island. In the case that you are unfamiliar with any of the events occurring, I invite you read this pretty thorough summary, or check out some of the updates here for some background. Given that politics aren’t my field of expertise, I won’t get into a discussion of whether the actions of the protestors are justified, or what might happen next. I do have a few comments on the way that I have seen protest portrayed by the media and as discussed by the people around me – something that can’t necessarily be understood from reading the news while overseas.
First, everyone on this island knows about it. Especially as the issue has continued to remain unresolved for over a week and blood has been shed, I am pretty sure that any last vestiges of ignorance are disappearing. That said, it’s not like there is an overtly different atmosphere to daily life; it’s just the first thing you see if you happen to turn on a TV or open Facebook.
The protestors are not portrayed as separable from their status as students. The word “student” is simply used to mean protestors. Not having been to the scene of the events firsthand, I have no idea whether it is accurate that all the protestors are students. Regardless of whether this is true, the overall portrayal of the events so far often seems colored by this association.
- I’ve seen several news stories focusing on the youth of some of the protestors. At one point, a TV journalist interviewed several high school students who had emphasized that, “if college students are out protesting, there is no reason high school students can’t be as well”.
- Related to the first point, I have also noticed inevitable associations and accusations that these protestors are “just a bunch of kids who don’t really know what is going on”, including some interviews with some extremely inarticulate kids who, quite frankly, didn’t seem to have any idea why they were protesting.
- Many stories have also focused on the reactions of the families of the protestors, usually to the extent that they wish to protect their precious children and keep them safe. Concerned parents ensuring that there are sleeping bags and blankets available for protestors camped out overnight outside, providing lunch boxes to keep them fed, pleading for the government to keep things peaceful, etc. Grandparents whose worries can’t be set to rest going to Taipei to look for their grandchildren. In light of the injuries during the conflict at the Executive Yuan last night, the tone of protest supporters are along the lines of “don’t hurt children!”, “these are just faultless children!”
- Multiple people have asked me, half-jokingly, but I think also with a grain of sincerity, why I haven’t gone to join the protests. I am, after all, a student.
I think the most interesting thing about this identity of the protestors as students is that it isn’t even an issue. My American sense is to laugh at a news story about a grandmother looking for her darling grandson amidst the protest. Yet I think the actual intent of such stories is not to belittle the protest as the foolish acts of kids, but instead to show that the acts of the protestors are condoned and supported by much of society. I think the overall mentality may be that college students, who seem to be regarded as a pretty carefree group in Taiwanese society, are acting as a megaphone voicing general discontent because they are more free to do so. Perhaps the issue hasn’t yet gotten to the level that people with “real jobs” will refuse to go to work in order to join the protest, but they can still show their support through taking care of these “students” from the sidelines.
I hope that the issue can come to a peaceful resolution without any more injuries.
Second, in entirely unrelated and more comedic news: my bike was stolen. I am actually impressed, and consider this a testament to Tainan.
Why? It was stolen after I left it unlocked next to campus for an entire weekend. This was not the first time I’ve done this. In fact, I didn’t even own a lock, and I’ve regularly left it around campus when I’ve been gone for days at a time. I left it next to the train station one weekend (that was the weekend that I was sure that I’d come back to find it gone…) And what’s more, most people that I told about its disappearance over the past day have been somewhat shocked. The first reaction of several people was, “are you sure?” and one lady helped me call to check with the police to see if they had moved it for some reason. While it could hardly be considered a pimp ride, I don’t know of anywhere in the States that I would leave a bike, even this one, unlocked for a few hours.
Farewell, dear old bike. Hopefully you are rolling on smoother streets, wherever your new owner may be riding you.
The resolution to this episode is also pretty rosy-tinted, as far as I’m concerned. While I did have to walk the 2+ miles home from the train station last night, today I already have another set of junky wheels, for the great price of free. Turns out that the NCKU campus has a short term bike loan system for foreign exchange students. As I was talking to the guy in charge (someone from the on-campus military training office), he first seemed a little hesitant about lending me a bike. But I quickly realized it was probably because there are no specific qualifications for either “short term” or “foreign exchange student” and perhaps he suspected that I didn’t fit the bill for one (or both?). Accordingly, I played up my story as a confused foreigner who was only going to be on campus for a few (more) months. Perhaps I should have spoken with a bad American accent, but in the end he let me ride away with a bike after basically just leaving my phone number.
Thanks again, Taiwan-friendliness-towards-foreigners.
(What happened to the rest of my thoughts about Sumatra? Oh, I’ll finish writing them down sometime…)