Life During the Pandemic

Taiwan’s mature civil society has successfully maintained epidemic prevention measures

Chen Fang-ming, scholar of Taiwanese literary history. (photo by Jimmy Lin)

Chen Fang-ming, scholar of Taiwanese literary history. (photo by Jimmy Lin)

Chen Fang-ming
Scholar of Taiwanese literary history, chaired professor at National Chengchi University. Works published over the last 30 years include scholarly articles, essays, and poems. His A History of Modern Taiwanese Literature offers a new vision of Taiwanese literary history.

In the months following the emergence of Covid-19, Chen Fang-ming, a chaired professor with National Chengchi University’s Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, shared news online about his beloved granddaughter in California. He told his Facebook followers that she was learning to walk, but lamented that the severe restrictions on inter­national travel meant that he could only experience this stage of her childhood by video.

“The course of the pandemic remains unclear and we don’t know when it will end,” says Chen. But he’s keeping busy nonetheless. Now in his final year before retiring from the university, he is teaching the last class of his academic career: “Taiwanese Liter­ary History.” In mid-September, the NCCU Library opened the Fang Ming Chen Library, funded by a donation from Pegatron chairman T.H. Tung. Chen himself gifted nearly 30,000 volumes he had collected over the course of his career. “You have to let go to hold on,” says Chen.

With his background in historical research, Chen speaks confidently about Taiwan’s public health systems during its time under Japanese rule. He tells us that the Japanese colonial authorities established the foundations of public health infrastructure on Taiwan. The colonizers weren’t thinking about Taiwan’s people so much as acting for their own benefit, but Taiwanese profited greatly nonetheless from the reduction in the incidence of tropical diseases.

Comparing the current pandemic to SARS, Chen says: “Taiwan paid a cruel price in the 2003 SARS epidemic, but we remembered the lessons we learned. Taiwan is a civil society. At its most basic, the underlying idea is that I want to live my life and other people want to live their lives—coexistence and empathy. Taiwan’s amendments to its Civil Code, and moves towards gender equality and [acceptance of] same-sex marriage over the last decade and more are manifestations of civil society.” Time magazine recently named President Tsai Ing-wen one of the 100 most influential people of 2020. This inspired Chen to publish a piece in Apple Daily in which he wrote: “The world has noticed Taiwan because we have a healthy political and social environment. Tsai isn’t solely responsible for this; instead, our citizenry has collectively spearheaded this development. President Tsai has been noticed because the civil life of our citizens has been noticed.”

Rediscovering and reinterpreting Taiwan

Ken Worker, online trend tracker, blogger, international tour leader/guide. (photo by Jimmy Lin)

Ken Worker, online trend tracker, blogger, international tour leader/guide. (photo by Jimmy Lin)

Ken Worker
Online trend tracker, blogger, international tour leader/guide. Loves beer and whiskey. Revels in topics related to life, entertainment, and history.

An experienced blogger, Ken Worker moved into the travel industry at the age of 36. Best known to the public as a leader of international tours, master guide and history buff, Worker established the PanTravel website in 2015, and the Rice Tour travel agency in 2017. In addition to developing inter­national markets, Worker has also focused on local revitalization and local mini-tours in Taiwan, and advocated for domestic travel. He originally planned to work on develop­ing tours in Taiwan when he was older, but the pandemic pushed his time­table forward.

Worker didn’t find the switch from international to domestic travel difficult. He and his partners are firm believers in “garage entrepreneurship,” and their company has always been small scale. The “Drinkers’ Bus” project combines his personal interests and expertise. Worker spent years dreaming up “can’t miss” products for consumers, which led to his themed tours. More recently, he has leveraged his fondness for alcoholic beverages by arranging visits to breweries, wineries and distilleries in Taiwan and abroad, and has become fascinated by the way terroir flavors products. Since alcoholic beverage production generally takes place in the countryside and one shouldn’t drink and drive, those planning a visit can’t sample the products if they drive themselves there. A laughing Worker remarks that that creates an irresistible incentive to join a tour.

Worker began booking a tour of breweries, wineries and distilleries in Kagoshima, Japan back in February of this year, and was encouraged by the market’s enthusiastic response. But then the pandemic arrived. Forced to retarget his “Drinkers’ Bus” concept to Taiwan, he began with Yilan. “Did you know that there are ten producers of alcoholic beverages in Yilan alone?” We shake our heads. “These tours are an opportunity to rediscover Taiwan.”

National borders have been closed since the early days of the pandemic, and the travel industry has borne the brunt of the impact. But Worker’s Facebook feed shows that many of his industry colleagues are exploring Taiwanese experiences, applying methods from foreign tour planning to creating domestic tours and launching new itineraries. Worker says it’s an exciting thought, “It gives us all a chance to take a fresh look at Taiwan.”

“Since we can’t go abroad during the pandemic, let’s discover and inter­pret Taiwan anew!”

Coewisting with everyone

Wang Pitsu, parenting author, home cooking expert. (photo by Jimmy Lin)

Wang Pitsu, parenting author, home cooking expert. (photo by Jimmy Lin)

Wang Pitsu
Parenting author, home cooking expert. Promoter of “vegetable market literature” and “fishing harbor literature” courses for young people.

Wang Pitsu was a first-time mother during the SARS outbreak of 2003. A working mother whose child attended kindergarten every day, she worried constantly about the risks. During this year’s Covid-19 epidemic, she’s been more concerned about the older members of her family because she’s heard that older people are more vulnerable to the disease. On the other hand, she says, “Taiwan has addressed the issue head on, and been proactive and optimistic. We are all being very careful, but there isn’t widespread pessimism.”

Life in Taiwan has remained pretty normal in the current pandemic. Wang still reads, writes, goes to the market, and guides market tours.

With the government urging us to minimize our contacts with other people, people have been going out less frequently to socialize and have meals. Eating at home has become the fashion, with some folks cooking their own food and others buying takeout. Vendors in traditional markets have told her that so many people are now cooking for themselves that there are lines to buy vegetables. “Having people making meals at home is helping Taiwan’s farming, fishing, and animal husbandry industries. It’s a great thing!

But cooking is time consuming. By the time you’ve bought, prepared, and cooked the food, and then washed the dishes, you’ve likely spent at least three hours on the task. With everyone making meals at home, Wang began thinking about how to apply her particular skill set to the problem. She realized that she knew many local producers, and started using local ingredients to make prepared meals. “It’s a way of encouraging people to eat at home, while also making the cooking process easier for them.”

“I’m being cautious in my approach to the Covid situation, but staying upbeat,” says Wang.

Wang is thinking about how to coexist with other fields through this tough period. “We’re already surviving. The next step is how to work together to keep living a normal life. That’s very important.”

Hold onto the present, because today’s normal could well become adnormal tomorrow

Lai Peixia, singer, TV and radio host, artist, and spiritual mentor. (photo by Jimmy Lin)

Lai Peixia, singer, TV and radio host, artist, and spiritual mentor. (photo by Jimmy Lin)

Lai Peixia
Singer, TV and radio host, artist, and spiritual mentor. Published The Courage of Coming Home and Nonviolent Communication for Beginners. Views life as a process of reconciling with oneself. Enjoys sharing her experiences with others.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many people’s ordinary lives to a halt for most of 2020, but musician, artist, media figure, and spiritual mentor Lai Peixia has continued working at a relentless pace. Just this year, she completed a PhD, published Nonviolent Communication for Beginners, and started her own YouTube channel. She also founded a workshop and a society for non­violent communication, and completed a leader­ship course with Harvard Univer­sity’s Kennedy School. “I usually only promise myself to do one thing out of the ordinary per year, but I really did get through a lot in 2020,” says Lai. Even with the pandemic and losing someone close to her, she didn’t spend time fretting. “It woke me up and made me think on what legacy we leave behind in this world. It spurred me to hurry up and do the things that are important to me.

“The pandemic is an opportunity. It’s a time in which we can look inward, sort out our lives, take full responsibility for ourselves and reprioritize the things that are most important to us.”

Lai, who did her graduate work in international relations, wrote her PhD thesis on Taiwanese perspectives on America. The work compelled her to focus on current events in both Taiwan and the US. But since the start of the pandemic we have seen a flood of fake news, abuse, finger pointing and attacks in the international arena. Amid the reams of malicious propaganda and confrontational communication, she reminds us, “Communicate well and spread good karma. When we do, other people will support our dreams. When we also support other people’s dreams, we create a virtuous circle that makes us appreciate our life and feel no regrets at its end.”