Only in Taiwan – Episode 1

Circa 1906

The island of Formosa has not always been a model of social stability. In fact, up until the late 19th century, Taiwan was a notoriously dangerous and lawless place. Though claimed by China in the late 17th century during the Qing Dynasty and declared a province of Fujian, mainland authorities had little control of the island. Blood baths and massacres between and among mainland immigrants and the mountain aboriginals kept Taiwan in constant turmoil. The Treaty of Shimonoseki forced China to cede Taiwan to Japan. The Japanese wasted no time in turning Taiwan into a southern version of Japan. What did anyone expect them to do? The Japanese were the Germans of Asia. No matter what you had to say about them, you could never criticize their discipline, attention to detail, and engineering prowess. Or lack of both basic humanity and tolerance for other cultures.

The Alliance of the Rising Swastika.

From 1895 until the outbreak of World War II, Taiwan was more or less an insignificant piece of the Japanese Empire. Following their surrender to the Allies, in October 1945, Japan technically handed Taiwan back to China. Now, forgive me for saying this, but that’s when all hell started to break loose in Taiwan. China had it’s own problems in 1945 and Taiwan was low on the list of priorities. Two factions were fighting for dominion over all of China: the Communists, fronted by Mao Tse-tung, and the Nationalists (a.k.a. the Republic of China), led by Chiang Kai-shek. Spoiler alert: Mao and the Communists won. Meanwhile, a dude named Chen Yi was supposed to be watching the shop over in Taiwan, and Chen didn’t give a fuck.

We’re skipping way ahead but following Chiang Kai-shek’s hasty R.O.C. evacuation to Taiwan in 1949, trailed by 2 million soldiers and immigrants, Taiwan not only turned back the hands of time, but it kept those hands pinned to the pre-Japanese past. Think: ethnic cleansing, genocide, public massacres, etc.

This guy sucked.

Chiang and his KMT hoodlums cooked up a nifty little pogrom called The White Terror, in which an estimated 150,000 Taiwanese intellectuals and political dissidents were simply disappeared. Chiang kept the island under martial law until his death in 1979, when his considerably brighter and reasonable son, Chiang Ching-kuo, took power. Chiang, Jr. didn’t lift martial law, but he did everyone a favor and died in early 1988. Martial law was lifted and Taiwan welcomed its first democratically elected leader, Lee Tung-hui. Chiang Jr. is actually one the good guys in Taiwanese history, which is why you don’t see any memorials to his name or legacy. This ridiculously brief history lesson serves one function: to explain why crime rates are so low in Taiwan compared to other Asian countries. People have been conditioned not to break any law they know will be enforced. Everything else is fair game.

In my opinion – which really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things – prostitution itself is not a crime, it’s a social institution on par with marriage, war, prisons, and the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Other than marriage, those are awful prices to pay for admission to this existence. True, in most of the free world, prostitution is illegal. But so are a thousand other vices that harm no one that you know of. In my view, the problem is not the practice of sex-for-money, it’s the people running the operation.

Entrepreneur of the Year.

Pimps major and minor are terrible human beings with no respect for anyone or anything. Human slavery and trafficking is wrong and by supporting or patronizing prostitution, you are enabling and insuring the suffering of people you most likely will never meet. It is the law of supply and demand. You’ll probably never meet the poor Chinese factory worker who stitched the t-shirt on your back. However, there is a huge difference between a hooker who is willingly turning tricks as opposed to the one who has a gun to her head. But who can tell the difference? How would you know if the hooker really enjoys his or her job? At the end of the day, there is only one thing you can count on: everything is just a little bit better when you don’t have to pay for it.

Prostitution has been decriminalized in Taiwan, therefore you won’t have any trouble finding someone willing to meet your sexual needs in exchange for cash. Visit one of the sauna houses, barber shops, or karaoke bars doubling as brothels in your town or city, walk in, tell them what you want, pay the fee, and go on about your business. Or if you drive a scooter, you can call the number on a sticker some considerate and enterprising pimp has affixed to your seat. If that sounds like too much hassle, you can open an English-language local paper and call one of the escorts listed in the classified section. They’ll have somebody at your hotel room door in 30 minutes. If you don’t like the first option, they’ll send another one up in 15 minutes. The service is not cheap and there is a minor element of risk, but that’s part of the excitement, right?

The infamous “red envelope” or hongbao.

Although at first, this general description may resemble the average American city or town, except for that pesky decriminalization thing. The Taiwan experience is completely free of that nagging sensation of constantly looking over your shoulder, praying to God you haven’t been pinched in a undercover sting, or worse, that you’re going to get ripped off. To make an educated guess, I’d say it’s because those pesky, pro-active law enforcement initiatives known as “raids” are typically isolated, blue moon-type events, and part of a much larger retaliation scenario that doesn’t involve you.

Prostitution is just another legitimate business, and the proprietors are far too savvy to swindle their clientele. The owner of a raided brothel must have forgotten to give his hongbao ([hong-bow, as in, bow before your master] 红包 a red envelope containing cash, usually given as gifts during the New Year, or as a bribe) to the local chief, or he double-crossed a business associate with better guanxi [gwahn-shee]  關係 a.k.a government connections. The unpleasant shutdown is not the result of community outrage over a brothel operating next door to a noodle shop.

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