Micronations, A World Tour Of 8 Bizzaro Spots Barely On The Map

A journey through the unlikely phenomenon of microstates, which have been founded on nothing more than a personal whim or nothing less than a diehard political stance.

Taiwanese businessman James Chang has been mired in a long battle with municipal authorities over what he sees as "excessive" taxes on the hotel he owns on the eastern coast of Australia.

So when all traditional legal and political means have been exhausted, what do you do?

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Taiwan To Hong Kong To L.A., Birth Of Bubble Tea Culture

Originating in Taiwan, bubble tea was one of many products hard hit by the pandemic. But the internationally-beloved, tapioca-based drink isn't just any import any longer — it's an entire culture.

TAIPEI — In mid-April, a report entitled "Another Unlikely Pandemic Shortage: Boba Tea" appeared inThe New York Times. This rang alarm bells for fans of the great Taiwanese delicacy, also called bubble tea, milk tea or Zhenzhu Naicha in Mandarin Chinese. The bad news came just as the weather was warming up, the tensions brought about by COVID-19 were easing, and the food and beverage industry was hoping for a pick-up in business.

The global pandemic caused a major shortage in the supply chain of tapioca pearls, bubble tea's most important ingredient that sets it apart from other beverages. More than 90 % of tapioca starch comes from Taiwan, as the three partners of Boba Guys, a franchise chain, explained to their clients in an Instagram post.

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Popular Taiwanese Cactus Toy Raps In Polish About Cocaine

If not for a Polish shopper, it might have remained lost in translation for all the Taiwanese parents who've bought their kids the popular toy cactus that raps in some exotic language.

But a Polish mother living in the city of Taichung was doing some grocery shopping with her baby at the local Carrefour when she heard something that made her ears perk up: a foul-mouthed Polish rap song referencing cocaine and suicide. It turned out that the source of the obscene music was the singing cactus.

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Taiwan Counting On ''Self-Discipline'' To Stop COVID Spread

After having just a handful of cases, the virus is suddenly spreading on the island nation. Despite a relatively loose lockdown, residents boast that they know how to shut COVID down on their own.

TAIPEI — Since May 15, when Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center announced that Taipei and New Taipei City were on "Level 3 Epidemic Alert," photos and videos of street scenes of Taipei's "empty city" have filled social media. The posts often refer to Taiwan's "self-discipline," with one boasting "Watch out world, Taiwan will only demonstrate once how it will lift the level 3 (alert) within two weeks." What explains such public confidence?

Indeed, Taiwan's Level 3 alert is far less restrictive than measures implemented in many other countries, including China, France, and the United Kingdom. But for many commentators, judging from the quiet streets and empty businesses, they believe that the spontaneous behavior of the Taiwanese people has already entered the quasi-city closure stage, which will help the country to quickly overcome the COVID-19 surge.

Despite Taiwan's proximity to Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus first broke out, the island nation has been largely spared. It held a record of 252 consecutive days of zero confirmed cases this past year. With confirmed cases mostly kept to a single digit, Taiwan was considered a "model student of epidemic prevention" by outsiders. However, the myth is now destroyed. With loosening adherence to protocols, lowered quanrantine requirements for flight crews and vaccine shortfall, cluster affections in late April soon led to the spike in cases during May, resulting the anouncement of Level 3 Alert.

In terms of restriction force, Taiwan's "Level 3 Alert" is just average in comparison to these cities; but in terms of results, the average drop in data after the week of closure for driving, public transportation, and walking was greater than 30%, ranking first among the top seven cities. In other words, by looking at the data from this stage, it could be deducted that Taipei and New Taipei have entered a state of "voluntary lockdown."

A rapid COVID-19 in New Tapei — Photo: Daniel Ceng Shou-Y/ZUMA

Another noteworthy phenomenon is that the flow of people to their homes has increased significantly, while the flow to workplaces has declined, but by less than 20%, compared to the strictest lockdowns abroad, where the flow of people to workplaces has decreased more significantly, such as Los Angeles 31%, New York 26%, Paris 63%, Singapore 43%.

Since May 10, when local cases began to appear in Taiwan, Taipei has seen a gradual decline in traffic, whether by car, public transportation, or on foot. Judging from the trend of the mobility flow data, it is indeed evident that Taiwanese people are willing to be highly cooperative in the face of the "crowd control" policy put into place.

Taiwan is facing a challenge that most countries in the world have already faced.

As the epidemic has escalated, there have been calls for the government to further "harden" the measures. However, according to international studies, if we look at nine countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany, we will eventually find that the key to an effective lockdown policy is not to take harsh measures, but to "start early and gradually unblock" the cities.

This could be the reason why strong closures have failed to contain the epidemic, necessitating the repeated issuance of closures of different standards. After all, it's not just about strict closures; it's also about how well people accept and abide by the policy, and how much they can tolerate.

Taiwan is facing a challenge that most countries in the world have already faced, and has announced that the Level 3 Alert is prolonged until June 14. There have been 6,856 new cases registered between May 20 to June 2, compared to a total of under 1,000 between Jan. 2020 and March 19, 2021.

What does the future hold for Taiwan? Are the people still willing to cooperate with the government's order to stay out and move less? It is still worth watching very closely.

It's still too early to see the full effects of the current soft lockdown measures. However, experts say that if people in Taiwan can maintain "less travel and less movement," we may soon see the COVID curve flatten — and all the boasting about "self-discipline" will be vindicated.

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Alice Hérait

Tropical Terroir: The Man Turning Taiwan Into Wine Country

On this subtropical island, Chien-hao Chen fought typhoons and monsoons to develop his vineyards — and to produce wines admired by some of the most important oenologists.

TAICHUNG — How could anyone imagine any sort of viticulture on land that never experiences winter and is ravaged by an average of five typhoons per year? The island of Taiwan is much more famous for its tea and street food than for its vineyards. Producing wine is certainly possible, but producing very good wine is another story. And most of the bottles found in this hot country are closer to cheap plonk than great vintages.

Yet Vino Formosa, a sweet white wine, and Vino Formosa Rosso, its red equivalent — developed in this very tough environment by the eccentric Chien-hao Chen — are two notable exceptions. Their names evoke the island's former designation, Formosa. We meet the 53-year-old winemaker at the end of Oct. 2020, under a blazing sun. The winery, Shu-sheng, is located on the outskirts of Taichung, Taiwan's second largest city with 2.8 million inhabitants. Chen takes us on a tour of its five hectares of vineyards. Except for the Chinese characters that indicated the name of the estate, it feels like a summer afternoon in the Perpignan province of France.

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In Taiwan, Where Seven Watermelons Spell Victory Over COVID-19

Taiwan's success in containing the coronavirus is certainly cause for celebration, and to really emphasize the point, farmers in one agricultural region decided this week that it's high time to break out the… watermelons?

After a string of six straight days with no new confirmed coronavirus cases, a group of farmers in Changhua, in central Taiwan, decided that to keep the streak going, they'd come together — each with a hefty watermelon in their arms — and pray, the Liberty Times reported. And it worked: Two days later, Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) confirmed a record eighth day in a row with no new reports of contagion, according to the news site Focus Taiwan.

The unusual event was clearly about lifting spirits, but by choosing to pose with watermelons, the farmers were also hoping to boost sales of the fruit after COVID-19 has caused a sharp drop in the island nation's agricultural exports. For now, domestic sales at least have gotten a boost: to celebrate Mother's Day, the New Kinpo Group, one of Taiwan's major electronics firms, along with several other companies, gave their employees each a watermelon as a present.

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Lisa Lane

Taiwan's Amazing Mask System: Apps, IDs And Convenience Stores

Taiwan has once again upgraded its so-called Name-Based Mask Distribution System.

If you want to see a model for efficient mass distribution of face masks, take a look at Taiwan.

The country just rolled out what it's touting as the Name-Based Mask Distribution System 3.0, a rationing system for face masks that allows the public to go to a convenience store and buy masks within seconds, while being sure supplies are well-monitored and stock is secured for the future. Not surprisingly, it operates through a universal healthcare system, NHI (National Health Insurance) administration.

  • The procedure involves inserting your National Health Insurance (NHI) card in a service machine, keying in a mobile phone number then checking-out at the cashier. (It helps that Taiwan has the world's highest density of convenience stores.)
  • For $1.73 , one can buy up to nine face masks for a two-week adult allowance and 10 for children. Foreigners with a resident certificate and a NHI card can equally use the service.
  • Back on Feb. 6, with the view of preventing a COVID-19 outbreak similar to China's, Taiwan announced a name-based rationing system for face masks. In the beginning they were to be purchased from the government's contracted pharmacies, with a limit of only two masks weekly due to the mask shortage at that time.

A couple wearing surgical masks in Taipei — Photo: Walid Berrazeg/SOPA Images/ZUMA

  • To avoid long lines outside pharmacies and also to avoid people lining up for nothing, Audrey Tang, Taiwan's Digital Minister, came up with a real-time map of local mask inventory accessible by smartphone.
  • This first effort was then updated to distribution system 2.0 where the public could order masks via the Name-Based Mask Distribution System at either the eMask website or the NHI App from a mobile phone.
  • The 3.0 system is an extension of the two previous measures. It's mainly designed for elderly people who do not use the Internet, and is also designed to relieve the workload of pharmacies.
  • To help in preventing an epidemic, back in mid-February several dozen Taiwanese machine tool manufacturers took the initiative to voluntarily set up a face mask production line to respond to the mask shortage.
  • As of today, Taiwan "s daily production of 16 million medical masks will reach 20 million by the end of this month, making it second largest country for mask production after China. This has enabled the island nation to donate millions of masks to foreign countries hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
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Laura Lin

Taiwan To France, Witness To The Global Contagion Of Chinese Lies

As a Taiwanese, even one who has lived abroad for years, her instinct is to distrust the Chinese regime. Others chose to ignore all the warnings.


PARIS — It was on January 8, after days of reading news about an outbreak of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, that I sent a message to a friend, in case she hadn't been following the news. She comes from that city in mainland China, but lives in Hong Kong. I warned her sternly not to travel back to Wuhan for the upcoming Chinese New Year, which was scheduled to begin two weeks later.

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Masks For Milan: Italian Priest In Taiwan Reaps What He Sowed

NEW TAIPEI CITY — The Catholic priest, Father Giovanni Rizzi of the Camillians religious order, has been well known in Taiwan for his decades of work helping to set up hospitals on the island nation.

But in recent days, Rizzi humbly asked for some help in return: for contributions to purchase face masks for hospitals in his hometown of Milan, Italy, one of the worst-hit epicenters of COVID-19. Taiwanese officials and individual citizens alike were quick to respond, donating upwards of $4 million, the United Daily News reported.

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Jiang Heqing

Same-Sex Marriage In Taiwan And The Pursuit Of True Equality


TAIPEI — It was back on May 24, 2017 that Taiwan's Constitutional Court ruled that the constitutional right to equality and freedom of marriage also takes into account same-sex couples. Yet it took two years until the moment earlier this month — after layers of difficulties, including three homophobic referenda led by conservative and Christian groups — that same-sex couples could finally tie the knot.

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Laura Lin

Xi Jinping's Provocative Speech And Taiwanese 'Consensus'

Chinese President Xi Jinping's Jan. 2 speech addressing "reunification" with Taiwan has done what no political leader on the island nation has managed recently: set off a wave of unity among the Taiwanese people.

Xi had apparently seen an opportunity to exploit November's huge setbacks for the pro-independence governing party in Taiwan's local elections. The Chinese president used last week's speech marking the 40th anniversary of Beijing's call to end military confrontation across the Taiwan Strait, to tell his "Taiwanese compatriots' that the two sides should "search for common ground, while recognizing differences, and strive for reunification." Repeating the assertion that Taiwan independence is a dead end and that China would use force should Taiwan try to separate formally from China, Xi further proposed to the island nation the so-called "one country, two systems" formula, similar to the system in Hong Kong since its takeover by China in 1997.

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Lisa Lane

What Same-Sex Marriage Referendum Failure Says About Taiwan

The referenda that rejected marriage equality in Taiwan last month was not only a huge blow to the country's LGBT community, but also a political setback to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Two years ago, It was the DPP that had originally taken to Parliament the proposed amendment of Taiwan's Civil Code to allow same-sex marriage.

No less important was the May 2017 decision by Taiwan's Constitutional court that ruled the ban on same-sex marriage was "in violation of both the people's freedom of marriage, as well as right to equality guaranteed by the Constitution." This ruling was accompanied with a two-year time frame for parliament to amend the existing law, or to create a distinct new law according same-sex couples equal rights.

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Fast (School) Food! Chinese Students Forced To Eat Lunch Standing

Chairs have been removed from the cafeteria in a high school in Henan Province. The reason: save more time for studying...

BEIJING — Students at a high school in China's Henan Province were greeted to an uncomfortable surprise this week when they returned for the new semester. Come lunchtime, they discovered that something important was missing from the school cafeteria: seats!

The previous tables, it turns out, had been replaced with new, chair-less ones — and all for the sake of efficiency, the Chinese media outlet Toutiao Bashi reports. The digital news source also posted an attention-grabbing video of the students — standing as they scoff down their bowls of food — that prompted a slew of critical and mocking comments from viewers.

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Lisa Lane

The Many Paradoxes Of Taiwan's Own Quest For Independence

While the world is focused on Catalan and Kurdish movements for nationhood, Taiwan lives in the shadow of both mainland China and its own political contradictions.

PARIS — As a Taiwan native living in Europe, it has been interesting to follow Catalonia's growing demand for independence from Spain at the same time that the Communist Party of China (CCP) has opened its 19th National Congress in Beijing. The question that connects these two seemingly unrelated events is one that is too often overlooked: Taiwan.

A wealthy democracy with a population of 23 million people, Taiwan should be hard to ignore. But few people are aware that a Taiwanese citizen would be denied entry to UN buildings with his national passport. This more or less summarizes the island nation's international status today. Though a sovereign state, with a people, land and an army, Taiwan is only recognized as a nation by 20 relatively small countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia Pacific. The only country in the West to recognize the island state is the Holy See, due to the fact that Catholics, as well as followers of other religions, are still often victims of persecution in China.

A month ago, Lai Ching-Te, the newly appointed prime minister — the second since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in May last year, and a particularly popular politician from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — declared in Taiwan's legislature that he is a "political worker who advocates Taiwan independence."

That statement was largely attacked by supporters of the pro-unification Kuomintang (KMT) party. "This is bringing Taiwan to the brink of war, especially coming on the eve of the 19th congress of the CCP," said Lai Shibao, a KMT legislator seeking to intimidate the prime minister.

The Global Times, a Beijing mouthpiece, was quick to add a bit of bullying: "Taiwanese officials are but burning their tongue fast. They'll pay each time for their presumptuous and hypocritical words, and so will Lai Ching-te".

Lai has stuck to his guns nonetheless, the first time an incumbent head of government in Taiwan has sent a firm and clear message to Beijing that a pro-independence trend is growing on the island, which China continues to regard as a rebel province.

Across the Wulai Gorge — Photo: Scott Edmunds

Before the 19th CCP Congress kicked off on Oct. 18, many people predicted that the Chinese leader Xi Jinping would send out a further message by flexing muscles towards Taiwan, or even fixing a timetable for reunification. But as Lin Cho-shui, a well-known Taiwanese commentator; noted: Apart from sternly repeating its stance of safeguarding national sovereignty and the "One China Principle," Xi's extra-long 205-minute opening discourse included only 560 words about Taiwan, compared with 660 words and much more specific unification policies raised by Xi's predecessor, Hu Jintao, in 2012.

Many observers attributed this relative lack of attention on Taiwan to the multiple challenges Xi currently faces: the U.S.-North Korea standoff, the worries of potential turmoil at home, and the so-called "Belt and Road initiative" supporting China's peaceful economic rise.

This is in effect very disappointing for the Kuomintang (KMT), the opposition Nationalist party which, along with China, uphold the same "1992 Consensus" — referring to an accord between Taiwan and China that "there is only one China," proclaimed by China after a semi-official meeting with Taiwan in 1992. Both Taiwan's then President Lee Teng-hui and the current President Tsai Ing-wen's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) deny that such an agreement exists.

Drafted and adopted by the KMT in 1948, Taiwan still uses the same constitution that nominally claims ownership to the name China, and even Mongolia, in the Republic of China (ROC). Since the constitutional amendments of 2005, it stipulates that the ROC effectively controls only the free area of Taiwan and its several small outlying islands.

This makes the fundamental divergence between the KMT, which lacks any new political ideas in spite of Taiwan's evolution over the past three decades, and the DPP which seeks to promote a civic awakening of the Taiwanese as a nation.

Schizophrenia and denial

The main reason that KMT ties itself to the ideological dogma that there's only one China is just its way of allowing itself to be differentiated from the DPP at home, while at the same time playing nice with the Chinese Communist Party. This can also be explained by the many personal ties and interests that KMT senior officials have developed in China since the two countries opened up their relationship 30 years ago.

The schizophrenia of KMT and the ideology it embodies is demonstrated in other ways: In its denial of the idea that the "China" recognized by the international community is also the country on the other side of the strait that has installed more than 1,000 surface-to-surface missiles pointing at Taiwan; the absurd scene in 2008 when then ruling KMT government under Ma Ying-jeou ordered police to brutally take away ROC national flags, brandished by demonstrators, while China's five-star emblem was allowed; and KMT's habit of accusing political rivals of being traitors or non-patriotic at home, even as its representatives grovel in obedience to pressure from Beijing.

In a letter addressed to praise the opening of the 19th CCP congress, Wu Den-yih, the KMT chairman, omitted the words "Republic of China," just one more petty episode to show the party doesn't really believe in its own destiny.

"Not only is this a question of reality and lies, but also a question of wrong or right," said Cao Changqing, a famous Chinese dissident and supporter of Taiwanese independence, speaking recently on Formosa TV.

A poster designed by a young student while doing summer internship for Taiwan's foreign ministry — Source: Emma Aubert

Meanwhile, pragmatic initiatives promoted by Taiwanese for rectifying the name ROC — such as reapplying for UN entry under the new name of Taiwan — are regularly blocked. Since her inauguration, President Tsai has declared that: "Our goodwill has not changed and Taiwan is to remain at the status quo." Still, her ambiguous position intent on avoiding provoking China has so far hit a brick wall. As Fitch, a credit rating agency, recently described, the cross-strait relation has become "frayed" ever since Tsai took office because she refuses to commit to the "1992 Consensus' for a One-China solution.

Movements promoting the vernacular Taiwanese languages long banned at school and on TV and radio, as well as campaigns advocating constitutional rectification by name and territory changes, have never ceased over the past seven decades on this island. Having been colonized in the past by the Spanish, Dutch and Japanese, Taiwan possesses a culture distinct from that of China.

Not only is this a question of reality and lies, but also a question of wrong or right.

Moreover, seen today in the context of the recent referenda held by the Catalonians and Kurds, such desire for clarity on its nationhood is only bound to grow in Taiwan. Premier Lai's declaration was largely applauded by pro-independence supporters who have long been frustrated by the framework set by KMT and the CCP.

"He breaks away from the predicament of the Kuomintang and the Communist Party," remarked Chen Fangming, a former DPP spokesman.

"If you don't speak out in your own name, who else will do it for you?" That was what my English husband told me that some 30 years back when he first arrived in Taiwan, trying to make sense of the surreal national identity disorder sponsored by politicians on the island.

Taiwan is Taiwan.

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Laura Lin

Is Taiwan's New President Being Too Soft On China?

Tsai Ing-wen made history when she became Taiwan's first female head of state. A year later, she is facing the harsh realities of the job. And that starts with dealing with hardliners in Beijing.

TAIPEI — After soaring to power last year, President Tsai Ing-wen — arguably the most powerful woman in the Chinese-speaking world — now finds herself on the political hot seat following the arrest in China last month of a Taiwanese human rights activist.

Lee Ming-che, an NGO worker and affiliate of Tsai Ing-wen's Democratic Progressive Party (DDP), hasn't been heard from since March 19. Beijing says he is being held on "suspicion of endangering national security," but has otherwise offered little information about Ming-che's detention.

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Laura Lin

Aging Taiwan And The Doubts Of A Faraway Daughter

PARIS — Last month, I made my annual trip back to Taiwan around the Chinese New Year to see my parents. My mother, who is 86, has not being doing too badly even though she has a mild but progressive form of Alzheimer's, diagnosed six years ago. She has continued to do her daily Qigong exercises around five o'clock in the morning, which is very good for her. She has insisted on continuing to cook, but often forgets and burns everything she's put on the stove. She still plants vegetables in the garden, but then forgets to water them. It all leaves my 85-year-old father in despair.

Just before I'd arrived in Taiwan, my sister-in-law, who works near my parents' place and often drops in to check on them, told me that my parents' neighbors have lately been gently but continually telling her that my mother is burning her cooking so often that they worry it is a fire hazard.

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