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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

When Cultural Differences, The Law and Mother's Indignation Clash

I'm under the impression that regardless if a child is foreign or not, it is illegal to photograph or film minors without parental consent. Obviously this has been an ongoing experience with Z the past 6 years. We handle each situation individually, most of the time, locals are polite enough to ask, and Z is vocal enough to reply on her own, "No!" Sometimes I say, "They just think youre cute." There are also many times when they don't ask and she is big enough to say, "You didn't ask my permission to take my picture." When we first arrived and she was 2, I would have to tell them, "Sorry you didn't ask me." But what about if the person is a teacher or trusted adult, with the intention to film her and distribute that film, without my consent? And at the same time, me, her anchingban (daycare tutoring) and homeroom teacher arent aware of her whereabouts? Likewise, I am under the impression that if the parents or guardians do not know where their child is and that child is in the custody of another adult, without parental consent that is by definition, kidnapping. 
Ya so the Friday before Dragon Boat weekend I had this "incident" with Z that is not going away quietly because those involved refuse to conclude the matter appropriately. Of course in many ways this is a cultural misunderstanding, the school, a teacher seem to think they are above common sense or the law.
I received a sorry text over our holiday weekend, from the teacher but haven't heard anything from the principal. So I emailed the principal this letter June 5, Thursday morning (Thanks to my friend Doreen for the translation). I dropped off the letters after work and Principal #2 was all apologies and sympathetically said he "understands" and we need to make a meeting. But why I have to hunt them down and make them aware of the situation is baffling. The teacher responsible, should of told her superiors that Friday afternoon, I should of received an official apology the following Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday or Thursday...

Dear School Principals:
I just want to make an official statement regarding last Friday’s (May 30th) incident. Even today, my daughter is easily upset, anxious, nervous and worried over what occurred and how it was mishandled. Despite my reassurances, she still seems to believe it was her fault. I feel like so many lines were crossed, I don’t even know where to begin my list of grievances. 我只是想就上週五的事件做一個正式的聲明。即使到今天,我的女兒仍然難過,焦慮和緊張,擔心這個事件的處理方法不對。儘管我一再的保證,她似乎仍然認為這是她的錯。我覺得整件事太超過了,甚至讓我不知道從哪裡開始陳述我的不滿。
On Friday, I received a phone call from the owner of my daughter’s anchingban asking if my daughter was with me. “No she’s supposed to be with you,” I replied. We were both extremely terrified that something was wrong, Zenaida was missing. We both met at the school, the security guard was useless, it took me over five minutes to find an adult in the main office. 上週五,我接到一個從我女兒的安親班打來的電話,問我是否我的女兒和我在一起。“沒有,她應該是在你們那裡的。”我回答說。我們雙方都非常驚懼,不知道出了什麼差錯,我女兒失踪了。我和安親班的人到學校碰面,警衛沒法幫我們,我花了超過五分鐘,才在辦公室找到一個成人。
Fortunately, my daughter was safe and just about to film something for her Taiwanese class. I was extremely upset. I told all the adults present, that they were extremely irresponsible for not letting me or anchingban know where she was. The Taiwanese teacher seemed to think all of this was perfectly normal, she was going to “drive her to anchingban” after filming. For 10 minutes I was utterly terrified. No parent should have to experience the depth of worry and misery that I went through. This is inexcusable, unprofessional, irresponsible and unsafe!
還好我的女兒是安全的,當時正為她的台語課拍攝影片。我非常不高興,我告訴所有在場的成人,不讓我或安親班知道我的女兒在哪裡,是極不負責任的事情。台語課老師似乎認為這一切是完全正常的,因為她表示在拍攝完後會開車送我女兒到安親班”。 在尋找我女兒的時間裡,我是完全嚇壞了。這是不可原諒,不專業,不負責任及不安全的!我覺得不應該再有家長像我一樣,經歷這樣的擔憂和驚惶。
So here is a list of what was wrong with Friday: 在星期五這個事件出錯的幾點如下:
1. A group of adults associated with your school, including the teacher were going to film minors without parental consent. I had no idea, nor did I give my permission. Who are these people? What is their company? What is the mission and purpose of filming my daughter and what rights do I have over the distribution of her image? This is illegal in Taiwan.
跟學校有關的人員,包括老師,竟然未經父母同意就拍攝未成年的孩子。我不知道這件事,也沒有給過我的許可。他們是誰?他們是什麼公司嗎?拍攝我的女兒有什麼任務和目的?關於她的影像散播,我能有什麼權力控制?在台灣這是非法的。
2. When I found my daughter, her Taiwanese teacher seems to nonchalantly brush off the incident as my daughter’s fault for not telling me. This is extremely upsetting to my daughter who seems to be feeling more personally responsible than the teacher and that’s wrong. Blaming my daughter only added to her burden and anxiety, even now. 當我發現我的女兒,她的台語課老師似乎漫不經心地推諉這個事件為我女兒的錯,因為她沒有告訴我。這樣非常讓我的女兒難過,讓她以為自己比老師更應該負責,這是錯的。指責我的女兒只是加給她負擔和焦慮,甚至一直到現在。
3. Taiwanese teacher was planning on driving my daughter to anchingban. In what world is this acceptable? I don’t know this woman. She has no permission to drive my daughter anywhere. If there were a car accident and my daughter was hurt, she would be liable. 台語課老師打算開車載我的女兒去安親班。這是可以接受的嗎?我不認識這個女老師,她沒有權限載我的女兒到任何地方。如果發生車禍,我的女兒出事了,她要負責的。
4. The security guard had no idea there was a group filming inside the school. I realize it’s a big school with many students, but I have higher expectations that he would be more aware. Are the security guard's trained for emergency situations like a kidnapping? 警衛根本不知道有一個攝製小組在學校裡面。我了解到這是一所有很多學生的大學校,但我希望警衛能更清楚學校的一切。警衛是否有受訓練去處理警急狀況,比如像如果發生綁架要如何應付?
5. Why was my daughter even picked to be filmed for her Taiwanese class? I believe she has a natural talent for languages, but her Taiwanese certainly is not fluent, or good and there are children in her class with better Taiwanese. The children picked to be filmed should be based on merit, not how attractive or cute they are in front of the camera. This is teaching children the wrong message, that physical attractiveness and not merit is more successful. She told me didn’t want to be filmed, that Taiwanese teacher pressured her. I feel like Taiwanese teacher exploited her as a foreign kid who can repeat her Taiwanese lines. This is unethical and exploitive. 為什麼我的女兒被挑選來甚至拍影片,我相信她有語言天賦,但她的台語肯定是不夠流暢,在班上一定有能說更好台語的孩子。孩子們被挑選來拍攝,應根據其成績優點,而不是是在鏡頭前他們是如何可愛和吸引人。這是教孩子錯誤的訊──即外表吸引力是比較容易達到成功的。她告訴我不想被拍攝,但台語課老師給她壓力。我覺得台語課老師利用她,作為外國孩子可以重述老師的台語,這樣的事是不道德和剝削的。
I feel like there should be more of a concrete compensation for me and my daughter’s distress and duress and an apology is not adequate enough at this point. 對我和我女兒的痛苦和脅迫, 我覺得應該有更多具體的補償。在這一點上,只是道歉是不夠的。
Kindest regards,
KB

Most all of my friends whether they are Taiwanese or foreign have been extremely understanding and supportive. My Taiwanese coworkers certainly are, as they can relate both as a teacher and mother.

Of course I got immediate support from foreigners having lived here forever with kids: One wrote:
"Good for you. WAYYY back when we just arrived here we had a VERY similar thing. One afternoon as we were about to leave school (we both worked at the same school that our kids went to) the principal came in BEAMING to tell us that "Today, X went to the professional photographer's studio to have photos taken for the school's advertising!" She clearly expected us to be absolutely THRILLED about how famous our child was now going to be, and was COMPLETELY nonplussed at our reaction, which followed very similar lines to the above re: Who drove him, who gave permission for him to be taken off-campus, who is the photographer, who supervised that photoshoot, and who gave permissions for my child's image to be used for the school's advertising? She was just completely baffled - and frankly, hurt."

Another wrote:
Writing the letter and giving the school a step by step breakdown of your view point is crucial. The importance is that no matter how dangerous or wrong the situation was, they obviously didn't feel the same way. The same could be pointed out for driving a scooter the wrong way, at night, in the rain, without headlights, without a helmet, and carrying multiple kids. It is wrong, and it aches to the very core of my being in its wrongness, BUT that wrongness isn't shared universally, unfortunately. Vent to us, rant and show your friends the anger and disappointment, but understand that no matter how wrong and grievous the school's actions, they may not understand or deal well with your anger. A list of things that you provided to them is helpful in the future, IF there are other foreign kids, but it would seem unlikely that a policy change would occur. At the very least, you can blog and warn other foreigner parents of the likelihood of something like this happening to their kids.

One friend who has been here for 15 years with a son warned me I wouldn't get much of anything but an apology, which is fine, but I at least, the very least I want them to understand the gravity of the situation. For this to be seen as dangerous for any child.

 What was hurtful was the message I got from my  friend who also has been in Tainan for 10 years (without children). He wrote:
Concerning the drama with X school. I don't want to interfere with your personal life. I will just explain to u a bit about Taiwanese society. FB is not private. No matter what u think the friend settings are. Recently a few people have been taken to court, bc of FB posts. This is becoming a "thing" in taiwan. A bunch of foreigners screaming and forming a lynch-mob will not help your cause. Be careful with Taiwanese. That Taiwanese comment on FB is a warning if u read between the lines. People calling Taiwanese clueless and lacking common sense is considered a racial slur and can cause a shitload of trouble. In the end, only Z will suffer. These foreigners chiming in and screaming kidnapping really know nothing about this culture, don't get swept away with the mob mentality. Step back, think and make a decision to resolve this in private, to protect Z. Friendly advice only. Not taking sides. But this thing has the potential to cause a lot of trouble if too many people get involved. 

 I told him that what he said, "Wasn't particularly helpful, kind, or accurate to say the least." To me this isn't about race as much as its about individual responsibility. He came back with;
 "I don't join mobs. I'm a lateral thinker. The big picture says, you'll get a halfhearted apology, nothing more. Was trying to help u..All I said was: resolve it in privateExcuse me for saying: follow reason, not anger. The Christian u r and all. "

 His message wasn't helpful or kind because it wasn't accurate. It was based on assuming I had not waited for a quiet resolution, which I did, I waited almost a week for some kind of official response, and just got 2 texts from the teacher over the holiday weekend of an apology AND if my daughter can still resume filming (obviously she doesn't get IT). I am aware of foreigners here in Anping (and their children) being targeted and harassed because of FB posts, (with local police and embassies involved) and I still don't see the danger in covering the asses of the teacher or school, especially when her immediate response was to blame my daughter. The cheap shot at my faith was disappointing. Who ever said being a Christian equals some friggin religious or moral law not to get angry!? There isn't. Jesus got plenty angry at the exploiters, (money changers scene case in point). Jesus referred to the political/religious elites as "vipers".

At the same time, my friend, also an expat with children made the point:
Choosing friends based on who is willing to agree with you only provides comfort and supports your status quo in life. The courageous friends will tell you like it is and challenge your beliefs and views, and will be the ones who truly encourage you to break out of your limiting views.

Which I agree, but if thats true, then its a reciprocal, two way street give and take. I think telling me to be "quiet" because I am this "irrational, angry woman" is just mindlessly echoing the mob of both culture's collective consciousness: Irrational, angry women are dangerous, uncomfortable, unfeminine, etc. I'm the one who has to be culturally respectful of the teacher losing face, eventho I'm in the right.

The truth is my anger isn't anger as much indignation, and it obviously makes him and perhaps others uncomfortable, and judgemental. I definitely see conflict resolution as a cultural difference for sure, he wants me to "stop being angry and move one" and I want the teacher penalized and safeguards put in place so this may not happen to any other child regardless if they are Taiwanese or foreign.

Besides this one friend I did get 2 responses (minority feedback) from the community that this teacher is "passionate", has "won awards for Taiwanese", which fell on deaf ears the moment I received that call and was told, by the anchingban, "No no one knows where your daughter is, she wasn't at school. She's missing." My need for restitution was cemented the moment this star teacher blamed my crying kid to our faces, that she forgot to tell me (and homeroom teacher and anchingban) even tho she didn't let my kid know the filming time until the last minute, nor let any of us adults know for that matter.

If I don't get the appropriate response, I am seriously thinking of hiring an attorney and pressing formal charges. If taking this to court is the only way to make those in charge understand the gravity of what transpired, so be it. Perhaps a court ruling can make a clear statement that this isn't about race or cultural differences, but breaking the law and child safety issues. Obviously I hope it doesn't have to come to that. I'm drafting a plan the school can implement to improve child safety, so the school can be a shining example in the community of child safety as well as cultural sensitivity to foreign kids (they are not the adhoc school advertisement, mascot). I hope local law enforcement and PTA can get involved and there be a school assembly to teach the teachers, parents as well as students. 

Its a shame that it did not have to turn out this way. My child could of happily participated in an educational film, if she wanted to by her choice (she said this teacher pressured her) and if I was asked for my consent and if all the guardians at least knew where she was and what time it would all be over, this could of been a completely different scenario.

So now I'm waiting for this meeting and until then I'm giving the school principals the benefit of the doubt that they will do the right thing.

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