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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Museums, Makiyo and mistreatment - 3M ranting

Momo has started making himself at home again, including on top of my daughter's table why she's trying to do her math homework. Amber doesn't seem to mind much.

The Japan Times had this Kyōdō News article in its Wednesday edition:

Japan will hold an exhibition of ancient Chinese art treasures from Taiwan's National Palace Museum 故宮博物院 in 2014, museum director Chou Kung-shin 周功鑫 said.

Chou said last week the exhibition, the first of its kind in Asia outside of Taiwan, could take place from June to September.

She said the timing and other details will be finalized when Masami Zeniya, executive director of the Tōkyō National Museum 東京国立博物館, visits Taiwan to discuss the matter with her.

To date, the treasures have only been exhibited in four foreign countries — the United States, France, Germany and Austria — all of which enacted laws beforehand to guarantee their return to Taiwan after the exhibitions.

The Diet (Japan's legislature) 国会 passed similar legislation last March to address Taiwan's concern that China could seek to have the artifacts and artworks impounded if there were no such law...

The National Palace Museum in Taipei 台北  is home to an extensive collection of Chinese antiquities, including scrolls, calligraphy, seals and vases collected by various Chinese emperors over a millennium.

The Nationalist Party 中國國民黨 took more than 650,000 art objects to Taiwan after losing the Chinese civil war 國共內戰 to the communists in 1949.

Since then, Taiwan and China have been governed separately. China views Taiwan as part of its territory and claims the treasures housed in the National Palace Museum are its own.

But thanks to the rapid thawing of cross-strait tension since 2008, the National Palace Museum has held exhibitions showcasing Chinese relics on loan from Chinese museums...

However, the loans have so far been one way, with Taiwan still balking at lending its treasures to China, citing lack of international standards for the care and return of museum pieces on loan.

The National Palace Museum is a prime example of the confusion and quandaries that arise from Taiwan's complicated postwar history. On the one hand, the collection in the Gù​gōng​ Bó​wù​yuàn​ has little to do with Taiwan itself - even the architectural style of the museum building is alien to this island - and in the eyes of some is symbolic of the KMT's attempts to force a mainland identity upon the Taiwanese people. The story of how the precious artworks were spirited out of China and into Taiwan in the waning days of the civil war served as an effective piece of propaganda in support of the Nationalists' claims to be the protectors of China's cultural heritage. On the other hand, it's hard to dispute the assertion that had the collection remained in China, much of it would've been lost in the insanity that was the Cultural Revolution 文化大革命. The museum is arguably one of Taiwan's few world-class sightseeing attractions (another being the natural wonder of Taroko Gorge 太魯閣), and anyone with even a passing interest in Chinese art would be doing themselves a disservice by not spending at least a couple of hours there on a visit to Taipei. 

Speaking of Taipei, I came across the following assertion left as a comment on a popular local blog. It concerns the recent hubbub over Japanese-Taiwanese celebrity Makiyo 川島茉樹代, and provides a glimpse into the rarefied world inhabited by North American ESL teachers here in Taiwan (and I should know - I'm one of them):

Makiyo might still be in the newspapers, but I can assure you that at least in Taipei, nobody is talking about her anymore (thank the gods, if they existed)!

The news can report on what it wants but the people are talking about Jeremy Lin, not Makiyo. For the first time in weeks, my Facebook feed (which I estimate to be at least 3/5ths full of posts by my Taiwanese friends - I have more overall foreign friends but they don't post as often) is all Lin and zero Makiyo.

Which is fantastic. She wasn't famous for any good reason, and I don't understand why she was famous at all before the taxi incident.

For all I know, the above is probably true - Lin's sudden blossoming as an NBA star (and the attempt by many in Taiwan to claim the American as one of their own - but that's a different rant) is more likely the hotter topic at the moment than the older news concerning Makiyo. What I can't grasp is the leap in logic required to make a blanket assertion regarding a metropolitan area with a population of 6.9 million based on a handful of posts put up by a few local acquaintances on a popular social networking site. After all, one's "Facebook friends" probably share many of the same interests, and would hardly be a representative cross-section of the metropolis (shades of the 1936 Literary Digest debacle?). I'm the first to admit I'm not in the loop when it comes to the local culture, but even if I were better assimilated, I could never imagine presuming to speak for "the people". 

As for why Makiyo was famous even before she helped to send a taxi driver to the hospital, it shouldn't be too hard to understand. Flip through the TV channels to have a gander at some of the numerous (and mind-numbingly childish) talk and variety shows, and you will find a television universe populated by the young and beautiful, of both sexes. These people have very limited talents, but they certainly look good on the screen. In Makiyo's case, her appeal was broadened by her bi-cultural background, and in fact she first came to public attention by speaking in Japanese in commercials for a cell phone company (オレンジはジロだ! - I think I've been here too long!). It's that emphasis on physical appearance over genuine talent as to why I've never let my daughter watch the dreck that's aired on Momo or Yoyo TV.

As for our Orientalist observer, they left another interesting comment a couple of months ago regarding another recent scandal, that of the disgraced diplomat and serial housekeeper abuser Jacqueline Liu. Responding to an assertion that such mistreatment of foreign domestic workers is a "tradition of Taiwanese employers", it was Said that:

A tradition of Taiwanese employers? I am sure people have examples to the contrary but generally speaking I have not heard of this level of mistreatment being a huge issue in Taiwan (yes, I am sure it happens, but I mean I am not aware of it being such a widespread problem that someone would actually say "all Taiwanese employers do this so we should stay out of it"). If it is an issue, it's something I'd definitely blog about because most domestic workers are women and I do try to focus on women's issues. 

I was more aware of it being a big problem in Dubai, where the main culprits are actually foreign (ie British, Australian, American) families who confiscate passports and require 24-7 work...

I know that it is also a problem in Hong Kong (although Dubai seems to be the worst)...

"I'm not aware of it, ergo it doesn't exist (or at least not in any meaningful sense)". I agree that this isn't a big issue in Taiwan, but that's probably because it has more to do with a general lack of awareness or interest in the problems facing those from Southeast Asia who are doing the dirty jobs here. The plight of "Maria from the Philippines" seems to generate a few laughs, but not much in the way of sympathy or understanding, at least in my admittedly limited interactions with the natives. One netizen didn't seem to appreciate our observer's remarks:

It's specious to try to shift the problem to Hong Kong. After all, no Hong Kong official has been arrested in the U.S.for enslaving servants.

This is a Taiwan problem.

A different kind of Taiwan problem. This KTV, the Taiwanese take on what the Japanese call a Karaoke box カラオケボックス is an establishment catering to those seeking a "healthy break" 健康休間, a euphemism for...well, a quick look at the female staff on duty there would clear up any doubts someone might have over what kinds of services are on offer. I took this photo from a public park on the opposite side of the street, where my daughter was enjoying herself on the slide at the playground there. The park, in turn, is located in one of the more upscale neighborhoods in Taichung 台中. My dismay at the apparent laxity of zoning laws in Taiwan is one of the reasons (out of many) why I'm reluctant to follow through on my wife's suggestion that we sink was little we have in the way of a nest egg into a Taiwanese dream home.

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