Ah, wish list time… Please, Santa, pretty please!
1a) More English:
Some government departments accept inquiries in English but only respond in Chinese. Departments that have English websites have atrocious records for keeping them up to date, and even when they do, vast amounts of information are still left unavailable, and the two versions of any department’s website rarely correspond to each other page for page (i.e. if you find what you’re looking for in English but want to find the Chinese version to be sure there’s no mistake and/or to show to a Chinese speaker, you may not be able to find it because the English and Chinese versions of the site are structured differently and have no page for page links). When it comes to laws and regulations, official interpretations/orders (ministerial 函 and 令) are not available in English, and some laws/regulations that are of great interest to foreigners are not available in English (such as the one that bans the teaching of foreign languages in kindergartens, which should be fixed anyway if Taiwan wants to be taken seriously and not viewed as a quaint little banana republic (or renegade banana province) where modernity is illegal but no-one cares because the laws aren’t worth the servers they’re hosted on – Work Rules For English Teachers - #182 by yyy).
1b) Better English:
The standards vary, but perhaps the biggest problem is the lack of consistency. Many laws and regulations make reference to other laws and regulations, but many of the translations on the MOJ’s website are evidently written by different translators not working together, not being paid to take the time to read the previous translations, and not referring to the official legislative reasoning or consulting any of the legislators. The translation of technical terms is theoretically already settled in many cases and can be found in whichever department’s bilingual glossary if you spend enough time searching through it, but if the people writing official documents or online notices don’t use the settled translations of technical terms, that means in practice they’re not settled. Sometimes people can still figure out the meaning of a term from a slightly different translation, but sometimes it’s really unclear. When you have, say, labor insurance and employment insurance, you need to be certain which one you’re really dealing with. This also matters for general information bulletins, not just technical documents.
2) Better websites:
In case they don’t already know, government websites frequently become unavailable. (I’ve heard it’s because they get more hacker attacks than most governments do, but that doesn’t mean they should throw up their arms and say mei ban fa.) Apart from the specific problem of English as explained above, they also have this horrible habit of moving things around (changing the addresses) and just assuming that someone else will come along and fix the links. All the links. On that site and every other site. The result is a lot of broken links and redirects to homepages. As for the “information for foreigners” site, it’s a good idea but has rarely told me what I actually needed to know. Which brings us to…
3) Better explanations for foreigners:
So many mysteries don’t need to be mysteries. The tax system (there are how many kinds of exemptions?), the postal system (there are how many kinds of registered mail?), the insurance/pension system (there are how many kinds of old age benefit thingy?), the labor administration system (the government can provide what information if your employer refuses to? but then you have to pay for it??), the bus system (you swipe the card when and how many times?), the waste disposal system (huh???), and even the plumbing system (can you flush paper or can’t you?!) may all be wildly different from anything a given foreigner has ever experienced or imagined. If you’re a registered blue collar foreign worker, you go to a special counter on arrival at the airport to get some kind of indoctrination into the mysteries of Taiwan (or that’s what it looks like*). Why not make this kind of service available to all foreigners? Not necessarily at airports, but somehow. Like a cute cartoon series on a website that isn’t offline half the time. If people are left to their own devices, they can theoretically figure everything out eventually, if they read or speak enough Chinese and have tons of free time, but even then, most people don’t have that much patience. And god forbid they come to rely on a site like this for information! Yet that’s exactly what happens, since the government isn’t very good at making things clear to us.
Also, civil servants who may occasionally need to deal with foreigners should be aware, at the very least, that different laws sometimes apply to foreigners and that when they’re not sure, they should check instead of assuming (e.g. that the same pension system applies, which in most cases it doesn’t).
(*I’ve never experienced this. Last I heard, they were making a new multilingual video explaining why you shouldn’t eat your boss’s dog, and understandably this resulted in some criticism. Ideally, they’ll carefully consider the needs and interests of the people who will actually receive the information.)
4) Better understanding of how the world works:
Like many of the above points, this is not a problem unique to Taiwan, I mean generally speaking. But seriously, how many places in the world can you go to, show a valid passport issued by an English speaking country, and be told to shove it because your passport shows your middle name but the product or service you’re trying to receive is designated for you without your middle name? It must be your evil twin who has the same first & last name, same nationality, same date of birth etc. but isn’t you!
5) Less red tape and discrimination:
When it comes to things like “are foreigners allowed to have this or aren’t they?” and “is an ARC necessary or isn’t it?”, it would be nice if any two branches of the same bank or telecom gave the same answer, to say nothing of all the banks or all the telecoms. Also, sometimes a document that needs to be submitted for this or that official purpose can be in English, but sometimes a certified translation is needed. Gradually reducing the need for translations would be nice.
Oh, and that whole “your boss fiddled with the paperwork but it’s your fault because you can’t read Chinese, so now we’re going to deport you” thing (as in the kindergarten problem mentioned above), maybe they could do something about that? Like making sure the foreign worker knows the employer’s name and address in pinyin, plus the co. registration no. (in case the name changes) and emphasize to the worker the importance of working only for that one employer at that one location unless otherwise permitted by law.
6) More convenient transportation:
Expanding the range of the Easycard to make it work everywhere is a great idea. And while it makes sense that you need more than just the $100 deposit on a card to use ubike, for people who don’t want to or can’t register, how about making it acceptable to use ubike as long as you have at least a certain amount of money on your card?
7) More respect for/enforcement of the law:
Including the parts about non-discrimination in those international covenants they ratified in recent years.
Perhaps not what the NDC is interested in right now, but since we’re wishing anyway…
8) More Sidewalks:
It’s not so much about having crappy/cluttered sidewalks (though there are those). It’s mostly about sidewalks not existing at all, or existing only as painted strips on roads. Mainland China is so far ahead on this one, it’s downright silly.
9) Less (dangerous) urban wildlife:
10) Cleaner air:
Not just a target for reduction of emissions (do the emissions from open burning count in those statistics?), but co-operation between all administrative levels including the very lowest (the “lin”?) and a long-term plan for changing the transportation paradigm.
11) A reconsideration of what Taiwan actually needs and wants in terms of qualified foreign workers (who in many cases wish to stay for extended periods or even permanently):
In general, the system is designed to take in the most “qualified” people in a very narrow, conventional sense, but not the most useful/suitable/Formosaphilic people, and if your background is in any way unconventional (as it often is for creative people, and increasingly for people in general), you have so many extra hoops to jump through (proving this and that about your years of experience, whereas the result of all that experience could be demonstrated in a simple test) that it seems like more trouble than it’s worth, or it’s just impossible to do what you’re good at, and what would benefit Taiwan, without breaking the law.
http://tw.forumosa.com/t/teaching-english-as-a-non-native/88403/1 (language teaching and the passport issue – fail)
LEGAL way to work with local artists/producers/talent? (music production, translation – fail and fail)
Le Cordon Bleu kicked out (culinary arts teaching – they fixed it, sort of, barely)
Thanks for reading, Santa!