TADIT Fights for Diversity and Fairness in Taiwan

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The Taipei Times recently published a story about a group of foreign English teachers who have  launched an effort to combat discrimination in Taiwan’s ESL market. The group–Teachers Against Discrimination in Taiwan(TADIT)–was started by Annie Chen, a Taiwanese American with dual citizenship who had trouble finding work as an English teacher in Taipei because of her Asian appearance and last name. Her experience echoes that of many other non-white English teachers who have come to Taiwan eager to teach.

I remember sifting through hundreds of threads on Forumosa and Tealit before I left the states that mentioned the discriminatory (and in some cases, racist) attitudes of English cram school operators and Taiwanese citizens. When I arrived almost all the expats I spoke with told me that I would have a harder time finding work due to my skin color. It’s not that I took it in stride per se, but I wasn’t going to let it deter me from from trying. I’d survived living and working in Korea–perhaps one of the most xenophobic nations in Asia–so I didn’t think Taiwan would present me with anything I couldn’t handle. Or so I thought.

For me, reading about TADIT could not have come at a better time.

Last Monday I was called into a school that I had sent a cold email to the previous week. They were in need of a part-time teacher and I was invited to come in for a demo and interview. I arrive to the same surprised expression I’ve been getting when walking into schools; the “oh shit, he’s black” look. No problem. I smile and inform them I’m there for a scheduled lesson demo and interview. I expected to do the demo in front of an actual class, but instead had to do it for one of the managers and a Taiwanese teacher. It doesn’t bother me at all and I feeling like I nailed it. A quick vocabulary activity, some simple sentence structure and I’m done. As I’m leaving the manager tells me that when I come back she’ll show me how to use the special interactive white board. Her choice of the word “when” has me feeling like I got the job.

The next day that same manager gives me a call and explains that there is a “small problem.” I need to come back for another demo–this time for the director of the school and a different manager– because they’ve never had a teacher who was black. The explanation leaves me offended and a conflicted about rather to return for the demo. I contemplate going in and giving a lesson on the importance of diversity in leaning environment instead of anything from the textbooks. During my second demo I’m made to feel as if they were now looking for reasons to not  hire me. The director leaves after only a few minutes and I keep being interrupted with requests to demonstrate how I would teach some minute detail of a lesson I had all but five minutes to prepare. This time when I leave I’m told they will all me if they need anything else. The “if” left no question as to rather I’d be hired or not.

I didn’t plan on sharing this story via Dreadlock Travels, but after reading about Chen and others efforts to fight this type of behavior I felt I needed to share it. Everyone seems to be aware that this is happening, yet until now no one has taken the effort to do anything about it, possibly because of the assumption that nothing can be done.

According to Taiwan law it’s illegal to for schools to discriminate on the basis of race class, religion, etc–something I didn’t know until this morning.

The face of the English speaking world is a muti-ethnic one and I applaud TADIT for understanding that this is not just an employment issue to be fought in schools and courtrooms. There’s also lot to be done in changing a social psyche that perpetuates the myth that a proper English education can only be attained from someone who is caucasian. Schools become reluctant to hire people of color because they’re afraid parents will pull their kids out. No students, no profit.

TADIT has set up a blog and Facebook group urging teachers who have been discriminated against in Taiwan to share their stories. They also have projects in the works that include lobbying politicians and media outlets, as well as hosting a Diversity Day event to show the many cultures of English speaking foreigners.

From the Taipei Times article:

“We think this fear of non-white English teachers comes from a lack of exposure. If we can expose people, especially families, to greater diversity, we can help change things,“ added Hales, who is organizing a soccer tournament, face-painting, live music, yoga classes and an Aboriginal dance performance to feature in the event.

TADIT is also seeking to garner close ties with schools by creating a brochure to encourage them to become equal opportunity employers and there is talk of working with schools to give presentations on diversity awareness to students. All of these projects require help from volunteers. The group is based in Taipei, but the problem is island wide. I encourage anyone who teaching in Taiwan who wants to help to join the Facebook group and help spread awareness. I’m of the mind that this common practice can be stamped out. Chen and her TADIT organization have already taken the first step.

Big shout-out to Byran Harris and the Taipei Times for the feature article on TADIT.

Peace.

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Anthony Bourdain VS Eddie Huang: Taipei

I recently watched the Taipei episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “The Layover” (big thanks to Thinking About Languages for the heads up). To be honest this was the first episode I’ve seen since the show first aired in November of 2011. I’m a die-hard junkie of “No Reservations,” often times watching it to scout for future travel destinations. I didn’t enjoy everything that Bourdain and his producers chose to highlight (the dancing and guns segment in Greece was a little odd), but they did a solid job of showcasing the glamorous and gritty of different countries.

The premise of “The Layover” is different from “No Reservations” in that Bourdain only spends 48 hours in each location, mainly focusing on the must-see, must-do and must-eat.  We still have the normal bleeping-out of Bourdain’s colorful language  and a solid mixture of destination insiders to consult, but the clock is always ticking. It’s not a format I would personally ascribe to for visiting anywhere, but it works for the purposes of television.

That being said, I couldn’t resist comparing Bourdain’s view of Taipei to that of Eddie Huang, the badboy chef/hipster host of Vice Magazine’s ‘Fresh Off the Boat.’ Here, the Taiwanese American raised in Orlando but based in New York, along with his crew, strive to “venture into subculture through the lens of food”  (though the food part sometimes takes a backseat to other subjects). Since the show’s release (via YouTube) last October Huang has shown us some of the lesser known angles of his destinations (he goes hunting for rabbits in Oakland), utilizing an eclectic cast of chaperones and a heavy dose of east coast slang. It’s not the type of stuff you’d find on the Travel Channel, but that’s not surprising given Vice’s reputation pushing the envelope.

Coincidentally, the last segment of “Fresh Off the Boat: Taiwan” was released a week after ‘The Layover’ and naturally I thought the two hosts would present us with different but equally important views of the island. After watching however, I was surprised at how similar the two episodes were. Normally Chef Huang has a penchant for slamming other celebrity chefs.  

Both Huang and Bourdain do a good job of talking about the different foods they sample and Huang in particular seems to dim his east coast bravado when doing so, taking great care to explain the different flavors and textures. They both stroll throug night markets stopping periodically to showcase a specific item; Bourdain quickly gobbles down a pork belly gua bao (steamed bun sandwich) at the Keelung night market and Huang pauses to joke about penis shaped waffles at the night market in Shilin.

The two hosts also visit the 24-hour shrimp fishing restaurant, Cheun Chang as well as a place where western and Taiwanese fare is served in different types of miniature toilets. Neither of them seem to enjoy either experience which makes me think the shrimp fishing and toilet food segments were included only for their novelty.

I could see why both hosts decided to include a trip to Din Tai Fong. Bourdain and Huang rave about how good the restaurant’s soup dumplings are, and the process of how they’re made is worth showcasing. I’ve never been there personally, but I’m inclined to seek the place out next time I’m in Taipei. (If there’s a Din Tai Fong chain in Kaohsiung let me know and the first round of dumplings is on me.)

Given all the similarities between “Fresh Off the Boat: Taiwan” and “The Layover: Taipei” there’s still enough differences to warrant taking in both. Bourdain has a drink or two during his time in Taipei, but Huang goes for the gusto and picks up some betelnut, a popular Asian stimulant that is chewed–similar to chewing tobacco. Huang (who speaks fluent Chinese) is able to mix it with locals without a translator and is thus easily able to tackle the sticky subject of Taiwanese independence, while Bourdain focuses keeps it pithy with conversations about strippers at Taiwanese funerals and an odd form of martial arts. The aims of “The Layover” involve giving a short-term visitor an idea of what to see on a visit, but “Fresh Off the Boat” attempts (with varied success) to unearth the layers of culture often unseen by tourists. Fair enough.

I haven’t been here long enough to decipher which account of Taiwan is more encapsulating, but I’d love to hear feedback from anybody who has.

Fresh Off the Boat has two episodes in Taiwan, broken up into six parts. Find part one as well as The Layover: Taipei below.

Peace.

Formosa First Impressions: Breakfast

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A solid night of sleep does wonders for the senses. When I arrived in Taiwan it was dark, raining and mostly unappealing. The next day however (after realizing that I was in fact, in Taiwan) I wake up amped at the thought of kickstarting my day in a new country.

After paying for the first couple of nights at the hostel we set out for breakfast. The kind lady at the front desk assures us that there is a great place for a traditional Chinese breakfast just around the corner and scribbles out a map on small piece of paper along with our order written in Mandarin to make sure we get the right food. After taking a look at her map I’m skeptical about our chances of  finding the place. It takes us a while (after walking in the complete opposite direction) but eventually we end up in a large 2nd-floor cafeteria lined with food stalls. In front of one stall there’s a long line of diners extending from the cash register to the stairwell at the back of the cafeteria. The whole place is packed with people eating, conversing and taking pictures of their food with smartphones and large DSLR cameras. If this isn’t the place, who the hell cares. One thing I’ve learned about seeking out good food in foreign countries is that if the locals are lining up, follow suit.

We hop in line and I begin scanning the room to see if anyone has noticed the brown gentleman with mop hair and his short female companion who have just entered their popular food haven. No one seems to care. I can’t help but compare the situation to Korea, where it was an everyday occurrence that someone would gasp or sigh or point whenever I’d walk into a local restaurant or market. I played it off as best I could, but it got old pretty quick.

As we approach the counter I notice  a room off to the side with glass walls where food is being prepared by a small platoon of women . Dough is being stretched, cut, sprinkled with sesame seeds, rolled into long buns and tossed into a circular kiln looking device where it sticks to the the outer walls and and begins to cook. My mouth starts to water. I have my Nikon on me, but I decide to simply snap a couple photos with my iphone as I didn’t want to tinker with camera settings and loose my spot in line.

Making  Shao Bing at Fu Hang Dou.

Making Shao Bing at Fu Hang Dou.

Just about everyone is ordering the same thing: A bowl of hot milk-like liquid, the aforementioned  hoagie roll split open and stuffed with what looks like an omelette and a churro, and a some type of tortilla folded together with egg and drizzled with…cheese?

Behind the counter is another platoon of women (I think I saw one male stocking to-go containers in the back) working with assembly line precision taking and preparing orders. We hand our little paper over and make a sign that we would like two of everything.
“Hot or cold,” she asks.
“Uh….hot.”
“Okay. Wait.”

Within moments we have two bowls of the same frothy milk-like substance that everyone else has, but nothing more.
“Is that it?” Kay looks at me as if I know what’s written on our small order slip. We move along to the register with our bowls and proceed to pay. “One six-ta-hee!,” says one woman.
“One fifty?”
“No, no, no. One six-ta-heee!” A second woman joins her and they it together: “One six-ta-ta-ta-heee!”  They both let out a loud chuckle while patting each other on the back. I chuckle as well and hand over $160 Taiwanese dollars.

“That can’t be all we ordered.” Kay is now convinced that, despite having no idea what the lady at the hostel wrote on our little slip , that more food is coming.

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I insist that we have all that we ordered and we find seats along a along a counter in the cafeteria. I take a few sips of the hot liquid. It’s semi sweet, and taste similar to the the Cream-of-Wheat my grandmother used to make. Seconds later the “one six-ta-hee” lady appears and hands us the rest of our order: two hoagie-like breakfast sandwiches. Kay was right. We should’ve waited.

I would later discover (thanks to my homie Google) that our breakfast consisted of  “shao bing” stuffed with a Chinese style doughnut and green omelette. The steamy white liquid turned out to be soy milk.

We gobble down our food and head out down the back stairwell. By now the line has quadrupled in length and its almost noon. I’m stuffed and hoping that Kay won’t mind coming back to the same place tomorrow.

Peace,

Jay

*Author’s Note: If you’re in Taipei and looking to enjoy the same breakfast head to:
Fu Hang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿) inside the Hua Shan Market building, 2nd floor.
Take the Blue line MRT to Shandao Temple Exit 5. The Hua Shan building will be on your right.
Breakfast runs from 5:30-1230. Expect to wait in line.

Fu Hang Dao

Fu Hang Dao

Are We There yet?

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Remember the Titans is a good movie. It’s a film showing how, with hard work and perseverance, we can overcome adverse situations to achieve a desired outcome. A fitting movie to watch during a delayed 4-hour flight from Tokyo to Taipei. I liken myself to the film’s main character, Coach Boone (Denzel Washington) after sitting for 45 minutes on the tarmac waiting to be cleared for departure  No, I’m not coaching a racially torn football team to a state championship, but I am hungry, suffering from severe gas and sitting in the middle seat of the center row of a packed, hot airplane. As far I’m was concerned our fate’s are linked. Boone needs to find a way to bypass a town’s racial prejudices and pull his team together in preparation for the upcoming season, and I need to survive this last 4 hours without having a panic attack and realeasing a foul stench from the depth of my bowels–both are challenges of great magnitude.

Luckily this is the last leg of a long journey that will drop me back in Asia, on the island nation of Taiwan. I just about cheer when the Japanese flight attendant announces that we have begun our final descent, not unlike the fist pump I wanted to throw in the air after Rev Harris executes a perfect reverse to score the winning touchdown towards the end of the movie. It’s magnificently epic.

We file off the plane and shuffle through customs faster than I anticipated and quickly find our way to the bus station. There’s several companies offering a ride into the city center and as Kay and I stare dreary eyed at the different booths, two men approach us asking where we’re headed. They both appear a bit ragged and I immediately assume they’re taxi drivers looking to make a quick buck on unsuspecting foreigners. I turn around prepared to ignore them, but Kay enlists their help and we’re suddenly standing in line waiting for the bus to arrive. The two would-be taxi drivers are from Taiwan and have just returned from a trip in the states. They not only help us find the right gate to stand at for the bus, but also write down the directions to our hostel in Mandarin for us to give to a taxi driver upon arrival in Taipei. And I, feel like a supreme asshole. I remind myself that Taiwan is a different country with different people than the lot that I sometimes dealt with while bouncing around SE Asia. We haven’t been in country for more than an hour and I’m already thinking people are trying to get over on us. Lesson learned.

It’s after midnight and raining when we finally arrive in. I have just enough energy to lug my pack and other belongings from the taxi and into the tiny elevator, up to the 6th floor Taipei hostel. We have no plans for the next day, except to maybe do some exploring and contact a few Couchsurfing hosts. I’m wet, cold and tired, but I’ve made it. I don’t have a football to hold above my head signaling victory over my opponent, but I am grinning as pull the blanket to my chin in our tiny closet of a hotel room. Denzel would be proud.

Peace,

Jay