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Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy Fourth of July

It's funny - the older I get, the more to the left my political views drift. Usually as one ages, their outlooks become more conservative, but my life experiences seem to be pushing me in the opposite direction, as those double-digit IQ believers in the (un)Holy Trinity of Beck, Limbaugh and Palin have learned after receiving the brunt of my (bitter) sarcasm (not that they can understand any of it :)) On the other hand, I'm also feeling prouder of my nationality than I have at any point in my life. I hesitate to use the word "patriotism" as the above-mentioned company have managed to remove any positive vestiges from the term, but for all the many faults of the United States and its society, I feel no shame or need to apologize for the land that spawned me. It's taken all these years living abroad, combined with the birth of a bi-cultural/dual nationality-holding daughter, to make the realization sink in that the USA, while certainly not the "greatest country in the world" (sorry Glen, Rush et al), is still a pretty good place.

All this is a rather long-winded and unnecessary introduction to say that today was the Fourth of July, and that we spent the afternoon at AmCham's America's Independence Day party at the Chingkuo Parkway in T'aichung 台中. This year's affair was much better than 2009's (which isn't saying much), no doubt due to the proximity of People's Park and the Park Lane/Eslite shopping mall. Clad in my Southend United jersey (all this Americanism can only be carried so far), we sampled some of the food on offer, including steak, chicken samosas and cheesecake. The highlight for me, however, was the discovery of another Made in Taiwan craft beer, a Pilsner, from the Deluxe Brewery in T'uch'eng 土城, T'aipei County 台北縣. We also had the pleasure of meeting up with my friend Steve and his family, as well as running into one of my former students, Roddick, and Joel, one of my coworkers at the kindergarten. Joel has a great rapport with kids, and Amber took to him immediately.

Now that Independence Day is taken care of, I'll be looking for opportunities to allow Amber to explore her English, Irish, Scottish and Canadian heritages.

Taichung's tallest building, as seen from the shopping mall's multi-story parking garage:

Immigration being one of the strengths of American society (are you listening, those of you on the right?), the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ has this week-old article on a Japanese legislator with Taiwanese roots:

"...when Upper House Diet 参議院 member Renhō 蓮舫 was appointed as minister for administrative reforms in Prime Minister Naoto Kan's 管直人 new Cabinet, the media took her background in stride. Renhō, age 42, was born Hsieh Lien-fang 謝蓮舫 with Republic of China 中華民國 (Taiwan) citizenship. Her mother is Japanese, and when Japan's Nationality Law was modified she opted for Japanese citizenship at the age of 18.

If she had so chosen, Renhō could have retained Hsieh as her surname even after acquiring Japanese citizenship. Instead, she opted for Saitō 斉藤, her mother's surname. Then upon marriage she became (Renhō Murata) 村田蓮舫. So while her original surname has changed twice following her choice to become a citizen and marriage, her given name — written with characters that mean 'lotus mooring' — has remained unchanged.

Renhō, minus her surname, is also the name she used when she emerged in 1988 as the 14th 'Clarion Girl' クラリオンガール for the eponymous manufacturer of car-audio systems. During its heyday (Clarion's campaign became defunct three years ago) such status served as a launch pad for many careers in show business or modeling, and, in this case, politics.

Perhaps because the post of minister for administrative reforms 内閣府特命担当大臣(行政刷新) is comparatively low in the Cabinet hierarchy, reaction to Renhō's appointment by the media has been considerably less clamorous than when Makiko Tanaka 田中眞紀子 was appointed minister of foreign affairs 外務大臣 in April 2001. The vernacular Yomiuri newspaper 読売新聞 and one magazine pointed out that people in Taiwan had affectionately referred to her as warera no banana musume われらのバナナ娘 ('our banana girl'), a reference to one of Taiwan's best-known agricultural exports to Japan. But most articles seem to have taken Renhō's half-Chinese ethnicity in stride, or made only passing reference to it.

Takeo Hiranuma 平沼赳夫, of the conservative Sunrise Party of Japan たちあがれ日本, stirred controversy last January by remarking, 'Before, she wasn't a Japanese,' but Tōkyō Sports 東京スポーツ (June 9) reported that while on the stump, Hiranuma's colleague and party cofounder Kaoru Yosano 与謝野馨 sensibly refrained from making a reference to Renhō's background, merely boosting his own party's candidate, Asako Ogura 小倉あさこ, by saying, 'Instead of a female candidate who just goes gyan-gyan-gyan-gyan ギャンギャンギャン ("yakitty-yak") on the TV, we should elect Ms. Ogura, a woman with real substance and a strong marrow.'

Along with the image of youth and competence that the (Democratic Party of Japan) 民主党 has been attempting to project, Kan may benefit from the glamour Renhō brings to his Cabinet, and she seems to be favored for re-election in the upcoming July 11 poll. In the long term, her non-Japanese roots may be less of a political hindrance than her lack of moneyed family connections or a regional power base.

Flash フラッシュ (June 29) ended its two-page feature on Renhō by remarking, 'Naturally, waiting in the wings is the seat of Japan's first female prime minister.' The phrase carries no tone of sarcasm, and one can only wonder if Flash's editors tacked it on to voice support, or merely to stir up controversy.

But politics can be a dirty business. Renhō wasn't in the Cabinet even a week before scandal arose. Her secretary, referred to in the media only as "Mr. M.," was accused of molesting a young woman, and as reported in Shūkan Bunshun 週刊文春 (June 24), during a meeting of political supporters a man reportedly stood up and demanded, 'You should resign both your minister's portfolio and your seat in the Diet.'"

One wonders if a person with a background similar to Renhō's could reach a similar political position here in Taiwan.

Happy Fourth of July!

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